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UVA Darden MBA Essays: Tips & Strategy

UVA Darden campus in springtime

UVA Darden’s MBA application features three short essays that ask you to get introspective about who you are, what you value, and what you’ll bring to the Darden community.

The low word counts require you to use the space wisely, ensuring that you deliver well-honed narratives that provide enough specificity to showcase your unique and memorable characteristics.

We strongly encourage you to outline all of the essays beforehand, as opposed to writing each one individually. This will help to ensure that each essay shares something new; this helps you capitalize on the limited space. For example, if you plan to talk about leadership in one essay, it may not be in your best interest to use an example of leadership in another essay. Use your limited real estate strategically to convey a compelling narrative across your essays and avoid repeating anything that might be found elsewhere in your application.

Don’t be afraid to express your own writing style in your Darden essays. While it can be a daunting task to provide so much information in such limited space, the admissions committee can learn a lot about your personality by the way you write – how you say it, not just what you say. Every sentence should feel natural and authentic. If you’re artistic, maybe you weave illustrative details in your storytelling. If you’re funny, don’t be afraid to deploy humor. An admissions coach can help you refine your essays so that they showcase both your personality and professionalism.

Decoding the UVA Darden MBA Essays

Essay #1: What would you want your classmates to know about you that is not on your resume? (100 words; hard cutoff)

Darden’s admissions team wants to get to know your personal interests beyond a surface level. This question frames this exploration in terms of what you stand to offer your future classmates, so it is important to dig deep and get personal. Instead of making generalized statements such as “I love to swim,” talk specifically about experiences you’ve had with swimming and the impact it has had on your life, relationships, career, etc. With only 200 words, choose to focus on one or two passions, motivators, or interests that mean the most to you. Then, describe why it is important to you and how you will share it with your peers in a way that will allow you to facilitate meaningful connections. This question is resonant of Stanford GSB’s iconic essay, “What matters most and why?” in that it’s an invitation to share more about who you are and what makes you tick, not just what you do. Note: the “not on your resume” phrasing of the question is key; this isn’t about professional accomplishments. What will your response say about who you are, what you care about, and how you’ll show up in community?

Essay #2: Please describe a tangible example that illuminates your experience promoting an inclusive environment and what you would bring to creating a welcoming, global community at Darden. (300 words; hard cutoff)

This question reflects Darden’s values around creating a diverse and inclusive MBA community. It is an invitation to convey your understanding of, commitment to, and fit with these values. It’s also a behavioral style question, reflecting the admissions committee’s belief that past performance is the best indicator of future action. Start by getting introspective about the spirit of the question and consider the kinds of examples that demonstrate share values and awareness in your leadership.

Of the three essays, this is the longest, and explicitly suggests a structure. Spend the introduction of the essay providing a brief example of a time when you promoted an inclusive environment. This example should demonstrate your motivation and your capacity to drive change through leadership. It’s also worth noting that Darden stresses the “global community at Darden,” so your example could be a time when you promoted the inclusion of global perspectives.

Your past example should provide evidence that you will be effective in what you hope to achieve at Darden in terms of driving inclusivity. Look back to your notes from your research about Darden and reflect on the learnings and skills from your example. It may be helpful to write a connecting sentence that highlights these learnings and skills and frames them in terms of how you are enabled to drive inclusivity at Darden.

Use the rest of the essay to describe one or two ways you will promote diversity and inclusion at Darden. As opposed to saying, “I will be a leader,” provide a specific idea for something you will do to promote inclusivity and what resources or organizations at Darden you will be involved with that will help you accomplish it.

Essay #3: At this time how would you describe your short-term, post-MBA goal in terms of industry, function, geography, company size, and/or mission and how does it align with the long-term vision you have for your career? (200 words)

Again, Darden is explicitly suggesting a structure for the essay. Start off by providing your short-term goal with as much specificity as possible. Short-term goals involve your near-immediate plans – either for an internship and/or two to three years post b-school. During this period, you should be acquiring specific expertise or skills that’s essential for you to reach your long-term vision. Given the slim wordcount and the simple fact that Darden doesn’t ask for your past experience, spend less time, if any, discussing related details or skills that can be found on your resume to explain your short-term goal. Only use those details when they are absolutely necessary to provide larger context. Whether or not your goals seem to obviously connect to your past work experiences, use the following sentences to frame your short-term goals in terms of your passions, and seamlessly dive into how these steps set you up for your long-term vision.

Notice how Darden doesn’t ask for the same level of specificity for your long-term vision as it does for your short-term, post-MBA goal. You can still provide something specific, but Darden is giving you with the opportunity to discuss your long-term goal in ways other than a job function or company, like creating a type of impact. The admissions committee expects you to have a clear understanding of where a Darden MBA can take you, and that you have thought about how the MBA, coupled with your short-term goals, will make clear progress in the intended direction. (For more insight on crafting short- versus long-term MBA goals, read our related article on how to create MBA goals.)

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including UVA Darden. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we can coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to a top business school, request a free consultation.

Fortuna’s Trisha Nussbaum is an MBA admissions coach and alumnus of NYU Stern with a background in tech consulting.  

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