The Darden School at the University of Virginia claims to have released its essay question for the year, but last year, it released a single essay question on its blog but then added more when the complete application was later released. Let us hope that Darden makes things simple for applicants this year and takes a “what you see is what you get” approach—keeping the required application essays to just one. We will stay on top of this and update our essay analysis as needed, if Darden happens to be up to its old tricks again!
Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or action you have taken. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words maximum)
Darden’s use of the word “courageous” here may fluster some applicants, leading them to wonder, “At this point in my career, can I really say that I have been courageous in my professional life?” In this context, you do not need to equate courage with heroism. Do not worry if you have not yet bet the farm on a new technology or stared down a Wall Street raider—the admissions committee knows that most candidates are still in the earliest stages of their careers and therefore understand “courage” in relative terms. So, rather than equating courage with heroism, think of courage as referring to “risk.” Have you ever stuck your neck out for something you believed in or stepped out of your comfort zone to take charge of something? Some moments to consider include the following:
- Taking a risk in telling someone senior that his/her plan will not work
- Asking for a greater level of responsibility to execute on a high-profile project
- Pushing your firm to change its thinking on a client/supplier
- Advocating for an individual to be hired, fired or promoted
In any of these circumstances, for a story to work, something must be at stake for you—your reputation needs to be on the line.
You can also consider discussing moments that touch on personal risk. Maybe your most courageous decision was leaving a job or declining one offer to accept a more challenging nee. Or, perhaps your most courageous moment came as the result of a failure or disappointment, or you took responsibility for an error and learned invaluable lessons. Our list could go on and on.
As you write, work to create a narrative structure that has a clear inflection point, one at which you can choose one of two paths. If your reader does not understand the risks to you that are inherent in these two choices, then your ultimate decision will hardly seem courageous. So, to reiterate, your narrative must involve and present a very clear conflict that forced you to take decisive action and altering your path in some way. Then, after presenting the results of your decision, you must examine your behaviors and discuss your learning—possibly exploring your relationship with others and/or your understanding of your own capabilities. Reiterating the obvious themes will not work. Your reader needs you to be introspective and show that you have true insight into your actions and that the lessons you learned have been profound and enduring.
For a thorough exploration of Darden’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Darden School of Business Administration.