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UVA / Darden Essay Topic Analysis 2012-2013

Continuing our series of posts analyzing the essay topics of top business schools, we’re now turning our attention to UVA / Darden’s essays for 2012-2013.

Central lawn of the Darden School

While Darden has kept last year’s structure of one 500-word essay and two shorter essays, the adcom has revised all three topics this year, placing slightly more of an emphasis on an applicant’s professional experiences and goals.  Let’s take a closer look at each question:

Essay 1: Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. How did this experience change your perspective? (500 words maximum)

Making a new appearance on Darden’s application, this question asks applicants to explain how they thought through and resolved a difficult professional situation or problem.  There are a wide range of viable topics here, from a conflict with a colleague, to an ethical dilemma, to a particularly complicated work assignment.  Regardless of the event you write about, the key to a strong response will be to provide the adcom with insight into your rationale, explaining the various issues you weighed and the reasons behind the course of action your chose.  In the second part of the question, applicants are asked to take a step back and reflect on how that difficult experience has shaped their outlook, indicating that the adcom is interested in learning about the evolution of an applicant’s approach to business issues.

Career Goals Essay: What is your short-term career goal and why? (250 words)

This prompt is an abbreviated version of the typical career goals essay, focusing only on applicants’ career plans for immediately after graduation rather than for the long term.  In addition to describing their ideal target employer(s) and job position, applicants are also asked to explain the motivation behind their choices.  Connecting your detailed plans to your prior career experiences and demonstrated passions will go a long way towards proving to the adcom that your plans are realistic and well thought through.

Contribution Essay: At Darden, a core part of the academic experience is participation in and contribution to your learning team. In what ways will your teammates say that you add value? (150 words)

A slight variation from last year’s application, this straightforward question presents an opportunity for applicants to highlight their teamwork skills, strengths, personality and general interests to the admissions committee.  Keep in mind that this question also offers applicants a great chance to showcase their familiarity with the Darden program and prove that they’ve done their homework, as well as demonstrate that they’ve thought through the contribution they would make and the strengths they could bring to the program.  With only 150 words allotted for this essay, applicants will need to be highly efficient with their writing.

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Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis

Schools: UVA / Darden


  1. Where in the world are you coming up with essays 2 and 3? Seems pretty clear that there is only 1 essay this year.

  2. The other two questions are technically ‘short answers’ and can be found are in the online application.

  3. Is there a way to know what questions are being asked of recommenders? I couldn’t find those questions on their website, whereas a few other schools do mention the recommender questions as well.

    • Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your question. The questions are typically only available to the recommenders (who get a login to the online app once you add them to your application). Having said that, some schools do post a PDF of the recommendation form on their web sites – in case candidates are curious.

      In Clear Admit’s case, we have a document that compiles all of the recommendation forms for leading MBA programs which we make available to our admissions consulting clients. If it’s Darden in particular that you would like to see, here are their instructions/questions:

      Please write an assessment of the applicant that addresses the prompts below. We are looking for your candid and accurate assessment of the applicant’s potential to be a successful leader and what specific traits the applicant possesses that evidence this potential. Please be as specific as possible and use concrete examples where applicable.

      1. Please comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant. How long have you known the applicant and in what connection? If applicable, briefly describe the applicant’s role in your organization. (250 words)
      2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (250 words)
      3. How does the applicant’s performance compare to other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (250 words)
      4. Please make additional statements about the applicant’s performance, potential or personal qualities you believe would be helpful to the admissions committee. (250 words)

      There is also an extensive ‘grid’ of skill assessment and some other items in the form, but the basic questions are above…

      Best of luck,


  4. Thank you Graham! How is the leadership grid? Do they have to select one option out of a number of options for each of the parameter mentioned? Can they only select one option for each parameter and how are the options stacked? I mean do they increase in importance from 1 to 5 or ‘least impressive’ to ‘best option’ or something like that?

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