Posted on July 21, 2020

Darden MBA Essay Tips and Deadlines: 2020-21


The application to join Darden's full-time MBA Class of 2023 is now live! Darden has retained its 5 short questions from last year and has added 2 new questions. The applicants have a total of 700 words for 7 short essays to showcase their candidacy to the admission committee.

Due to applicants' limited access to testing centers amid ongoing global pandemic, Darden is now accepting standardized tests, including the GMAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and Executive assessment for the full-time MBA program.

From Darden Admissions Blog: Beginning this year, applicants with strong alternate indicators of academic, personal, or professional accomplishment may apply for a test waiver. Candidates may submit a waiver request any time prior to submitting an application in order to start a dialogue with the Darden Admissions Committee on how best to demonstrate their academic success and potential to succeed in the program. For example, candidates may choose to submit a prior SAT or ACT score as part of their waiver request.

Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions, says, "Standardized tests have always been just one indication of a student's ability to succeed at Darden, and we continue to broaden our criteria for consideration, accepting a number of standardized tests and offering test waivers to create flexibility for applicants. Our Admissions Committee stands ready to help you consider your options and put your best foot forward in our application process."

Application Deadlines:


Round Application Deadline Interviews Admission Decision*
Early Action September 2, 2020 Schedule your own  
Round 1 October 5, 2020 By Invitation  
Round 2 January 4, 2021 By Invitation  
Round 3 April 7, 2021 By Invitation  


* Decision dates for the 2021 application cycle will be updated once available.

Here is our analysis of Darden's essay questions:


Essay #1: Darden strives to identify and cultivate responsible leaders who follow their purpose. Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact. (200 words)

Darden cares about cultivating high impact leaders. Therefore, when brainstorming ideas for your leadership story for this essay, choose an accomplishment when you made a meaningful impact on your organization or community. You have the option to choose professional or non- work story (extracurricular, or community work), but you should emphasize your 'responsible leadership' and 'focus on purpose' that generated meaningful results and created a significant impact on your organization or community. That is, you need to explain that the decisions you made and the results you achieved benefitted your organization or your team member in a significant manner.

For organizing your ideas, as always, we recommend following the STAR Method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result); however, keeping in mind the stringent word limit, you MUST highlight the 'result/ outcome part' of your story. Though the essay prompt does not ask you to reflect on the significance of the experience, you may wrap up your story (if space permits) with a final comment on why this experience was meaningful to you.

Essay #2: Diversity and inclusion are critical to our mission, and they work best when they are an integral and celebrated part of our community. Share a time in which you engaged with a perspective, identity, community, or experience that was different from your own and how it impacted your worldview. (200 words)

In Darden's case method of learning, students are presented with an actual business problem, along with all the relevant associated data, and tasked with identifying a solution to that problem. Each student analyzes the situation and information on his/ her own, then discusses it with the members of the learning team, and finally does so in the classroom. So having one's ideas and opinions challenged is vital to Darden's experience. This is the reason why the admissions committee wants to assess if an applicant can listen, reflect, learn, and grow in this environment.

Again, you may choose a personal or professional example/ story. Given the word limit of 200 words, you may not write more than 1-2 sentences on setting up the situation, but make sure to focus more on your thought process and the resulting change in your opinion/ perception. It is crucial to describe 'before' and 'after' situation, so you can share the inflection point that triggered the shift in your thinking.

Essay #3: Tell us what you would want your learning team to know about your– personal, professional, or both." (100 words)

Through this essay of only 100 words, you will introduce yourselves to your learning teams. At Darden, you will be solving cases within your learning teams of 4 to 5 members, so your learning team members should learn that you will be a great team player who will contribute significantly to the team. Tell your team members what team working skills and attributes you have and show them what you will bring to the table by sharing some stories/ anecdotes that highlight those skills in a personal or professional context. Again, Darden allows you the flexibility to choose both personal and professional experiences.

When selecting examples for the above three essays, you want to make sure to maintain a balance between your personal and professional examples so that you can showcase your well-rounded personality to the admission committee.

Essay #4: What is your short-term, post-MBA goal and why? (150 words)

This is a fairly straightforward goals essay. Note that the question asks you only about your short-term goal and not your long-term vision. So, you need to elaborate on your post-MBA objectives. Please identify the position that you hope to hold immediately after the MBA program, specifying a job title/ role, industry, and 1-2 organizations/ companies that interest you. Articulate your goal and explain why this goal is exciting and vital to you. Please make sure that your goals are ambitious as well as realistic. The schools want to know that the path you have chosen is attainable, and the program has resources to aid you in reaching that goal. To provide a convincing response, you can give a very brief career history and explain what skills and knowledge you possess that will help you accomplish your goal in your chosen field.

Essay #5: The Batten Foundation Worldwide Scholarship provides all Darden students in our full-time MBA program with an opportunity to participate in a Darden Worldwide Course. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you want to travel, and why? (50 words)

Darden expects its students to participate in at least one global opportunity during their two years of MBA. In 50 words, identify the name of the country that you would choose for your global assignment, explain reasons for your choice, and how your choice will enhance your learning and the learning of your peers. This super short question not only reveals your knowledge of Darden but also speaks about your personality and interest. You may use this essay to show a different side of you that is not presented elsewhere.

Essay #6: List up to three hobbies or interests you enjoy in your free time.

Under this question, the Darden admission committee wants to know your three hobbies or interests that you like to pursue in your free time. Remember your hobbies and interests make you unique, so feel free to share them to help the admission committee get to know you better. Since there is now a prescribed word limit for this question, you may just provide a list of 3 hobbies, as directed.

Essay #7: What are you excited to explore in Charlottesville? (25 words; see video clip within the application)

This is an interesting question that offers you a platform to share what excites you in the small city of Charlottesville. Though it is a super short question, it will give the Ad Com a peek into your interest in the activities you would want to explore while pursuing your MBA.

These seven short essays provide you ample opportunity to showcase your all-rounded personality to the admission committee: your professional accomplishments, career goals, leadership and team working skills, personal interests and hobbies, travel interests, and your preference for the location of Darden campus.

Executive Director of Admissions Dawna Clarke "At Darden, we love getting to know our applicants, and our short answer questions are a great opportunity for you to highlight important personal characteristics — leadership, curiosity, inclusiveness — as well your passions, goals, and dreams. Outside of the interview, these questions are our best opportunity to get a feel for your voice and personality. Make the most of it!"

For more, check out our Discover Darden blog post as well as Dawna Clarke's app tip video for insights about what makes a compelling essay.

For some useful techniques to help you meet the tight word limits of 200 words, click here

Free Resources:

10 Key Essay Tips with Examples

Essay Analysis of Other Top Programs-2020-21

 MER Students Share their success Stories

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. (Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

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