Posted on July 9, 2013

Darden Essay Question Analysis: 2013-2014

Like last year, Darden again requires you to write only one essay question for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle.

Let us take a look at the question:  

Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. What did you learn about yourself? (500 words maximum)

Darden has repeated its last year’s question about ‘challenging work situation’ or ‘complex problem,’ but it has slightly modified the second part of the question i.e. your reflection on the experience. That is, ‘how did it change your perspective’ from last year has now been replaced by ‘what did you learn about yourself, which means the lesson you learned from the situation has now to be only about yourself.

Through this essay question Darden not only expects you to share your story of a challenging and complex situation that you encountered at work, but also wants you to narrate your thought process during that time, and the learning you gleaned through that experience. Your response to this question should demonstrate your maturity and self-awareness to reflect on your own actions.

1. How to brains storm ideas for this question?

To brainstorm ideas/stories for this essay question, you need to look for instances when things didn’t work the way you had expected them to be. For example, you may have encountered one or more of the following situations:

  • A time when you faced challenges keeping your team members aligned with each other or getting the desired output from them on a project
  • A time when you encountered a situation that demanded you to take immediate charge and handle it in your way
  • A time when you had to go over and beyond what was defined, expected or popular
  • A time when you had to make an important decision without having all the information you needed
  • A time when you had to convince a person or group to accept one of your ideas
  • A time when you faced an ethical dilemma and had to make a difficult choice
  • A time when you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone in any other manner

Remember, whatever your story is, it should present you in a positive light, revealing your strengths in the areas of diplomacy, honesty, maturity, ethics, creativity, and integrity. Be honest in providing details of what you thought, how you felt, what you said, and what you did. These vivid details of your story would reveal your character traits and your ability to navigate through complex situations.

2. How to structure this essay?

Make sure your challenge story has the following four components:

  • the situation/the challenge,
  • the action (how you dealt with the situation?)
  • the outcome/result (what happened in the end?)
  • the significance. (what did you learn about yourself?)

Since the second part of the essay question asks you to share what did the experience teach you about yourself, it is imperative that you explain at length why that experience is meaningful to you,  in terms of what you achieved and what you learned about yourself. The experience may have revealed to you your strong attributes, which you were not familiar with earlier. For example, you might have never known that you could lead a team so effectively. Still, this complex situation offered you an opportunity to successfully lead a team that yielded great results. You may also describe how you are now applying or trying to apply those lessons in similar situations at work. The key here is your essay should eventually demonstrate your growth.

In the following example, the applicant wraps up his ‘challenge’ story by outlining what he learned about himself.

Example: This experience reinforced my belief to listen to my inner voice and do what is ethically right. It taught me to deal with emotional barriers in the workplace; I was glad that I rose above those barriers. Also, this experience taught me to be logical and patient when dealing with sensitive issues in the workplace. The maturity gained from this experience has helped me become a better team player. Finally, the experience has boosted my confidence, so in similar situations in the future, I will be able to take the decision fast enough to meet the demand of the client.

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.