Posted on July 23, 2014

Darden Essay Question Analysis – 2014-15

Application Deadlines

Round 1: October 10, 2014

Round 2: January 7, 2015

Round 3: April 1, 2015

Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or action you have taken. What did you learn from that experience?
(500 words maximum)

Like last year, Darden again requires applicants to write only one essay question for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle.  This implies that the story you choose is all the more vital because you will be evaluated just through that. It is very frequently said that we are the choices that we make. So the Admissions Committee will get to know you from what you tell them about the choices you made, the path you took, the reasons that made you  choose that particular path, the actions you took and  the learning you gleaned  from that experience. This essay is a way for Darden to know about your personal traits (motivation, maturity, integrity and self-awareness), the traits they admire in their prospective students.

The key words in the essay question are ‘courageous’ and ‘professional’. You are specifically being asked about a decision you made in your professional environment and to elaborate on the courageous element in it. Through this essay question, Darden not only expects you to share your story of a courageous decision that you made at work, but also wants you to narrate your thought process during that time, and the learning you gleaned through that experience.

The time consuming part in the process of working on this essay is the brainstorming bit. You have to sit and analyze the best possible example that you’d like to give and weave a story around it.

 1.      Brainstorming ideas for this question:

In order 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 and you had to think out of the box and make a choice that required ‘courage’ on your part.

For example, you may have encountered one or more of the following situations:

  • Time when you encountered a situation that demanded you to take immediate charge and handle it in your way
  • Time when you had to go over and beyond what was defined, expected or popular
  • Time when you had to make an important decision without having all the information you needed
  • Time when you had to convince a person, perhaps a senior, or a group to accept one of your ideas that no one initially approved of
  • Time when you faced an ethical dilemma and had to make a difficult choice
  • Time  when you pushed yourself  out of your comfort zone in any other manner
  • Time when you told your boss  that his/her plan will not work
  • Time when you asked for more responsibility than you were actually given

A very important aspect to be kept in mind is that all these examples would have a dose of ‘risk’ that was taken by the writer. A courageous decision that was taken by you would have, most probably, had some amount of risk that you took. Going by the literal definition, ‘courageous’ means ‘not deterred by danger’. This means that your story shall have a danger, or a risk, as mentioned before, that you chose to overcome by doing what you felt was the best at that point. Focus on that and highlight it.

Remember, whatever your story is, it should present you in a positive light, revealing your strengths in the areas of diplomacy, honesty, maturity, ethics, self-awareness 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 and your emotions would reveal your character traits and your ability to navigate through complex situations.

2.      Structuring the essay:

Make sure your 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 from it?)

Since the second part of the essay question asks you to share what you learned from that experience, 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. The experience may have revealed to you your strong attributes which you yourself were not familiar with earlier. You can elucidate in two ways: explaining what you learned about yourself, or explaining what you learned about your surroundings . For example, you might have never known that you could lead a team so effectively, but this decision you took 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.Treat the experience like a journey and show it in your essay. Show how you embarked on the path to personal development and how it led to the inception of one quality in you that you are most proud of.

In the following example, the applicant wraps up his story by outlining what he learned.


Challenging the client team at a client location and winning my proposal made me more confident in speaking my mind about the project issues at work. Since then, I have never hesitated in expressing my opinion, and it has helped me provide many valuable contributions to the projects.

The assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at Darden, Sara Neher, offered several tips to prospective students for the Darden application essay for this year. She emphasized that it should be a decision you made on your own, no matter how small       or big it is. The key is that your decision should have made a difference. An excellent essay, she said, is the one that is able to express the candidate’s emotions well.

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