Admissions, Application Tips, Exec Application Tips

All About the Application: Essay Advice

By Susannah Fuller-

About those essays. So much to say. So few characters! The best thing about applying to Darden is knowing that we will take the time to review your entire file in an effort to get a sense of who you are and who you will be in our program. But, the hardest thing about applying to Darden is knowing that we are going to review your entire file in an effort to get a sense of who you are and who you will be in our program.

Which part of the application is most important? Well, all of it. And this includes your essays.

However, there’s no need to worry! Applicants frequently overthink their essay responses, feeling that there must be something specific we are looking for? Let us be clear: We are not reading your essays with a prescribed or “right” answer in mind. We want to get to know YOU, not us. The essays are our opportunity to begin to get a sense of your voice, your perspective, your experiences and your writing ability. In fact, how you choose to answer a particular question is often as insightful as what you choose to write about. The best essay responses are those that are responsive to the question, but also authentic and genuine. And remember, whenever possible, show don’t tell! 

Here are a few more tips as you think about crafting a successful essay response:

  1. Think about your application holistically. How do your essays fit into the story you are telling about yourself through your application? There is a tendency to view the application process as just that: an application process (entering requested information, completing forms, responding to questions, etc.). Another way to think about it is as a narrative exercise. This is your chance to tell your story, and each part of the application shares a piece of that story. This is especially true of your essays. This is our best opportunity (within the context of the application) to get a sense of your voice, your perspective, your experiences. Be you, but more importantly, help us get to know you! 
  2. Leave time for pre-writing. Sometimes the first idea you have is the best idea, and sometimes the best idea is born of significant thought and reflection. A little planning can save you a lot of heartburn, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to craft the best essay without feeling hurried or rushed.
  3. Find a good editor. Of course, your essays should reflect your own thoughts and work, but it is always a good idea to ask for a second opinion. After you’ve written an essay response, set it down for a little while and come back to it later. Also, share your draft with a friend or colleague and ask for their feedback – Is it good? Is it responsive to the question? Does it sound like me? An editor (and a fresh set of eyes) can also help you catch those pesky typos and grammatical errors you might miss after reading an essay a few times.
  4. Don’t cut and paste. We know other schools’ essay prompts, and we can always tell when applicants have repurposed essay responses. We (as B schools) know that we are not making it easy on you by asking you different questions, and we know that applying to business school takes a lot of time. However, we have reasons for each of the questions we ask, and we always appreciate it when applicants take the time to craft a unique response.
  5. You can use the same example more than once (but with a caveat). We have a number of short answer questions in our application this year, and applicants have asked about whether it is appropriate to use the same example more than once? The answer is “yes,” but make sure you are responsive to the question. Also, is it the best example given the prompt?
  6. Use the Additional Comments section as needed. This section is an opportunity for you to provide additional context for the information you have shared in your application – if needed. This could mean explaining a rough semester in college or a gap in employment (remember, ambiguity is not your friend in the Admissions process!). Our advice is to be brief, make your point and provide action items if appropriate. Be mindful that we are reading many, many applications, so anything you choose to share should be both valuable to you and potentially to our Admissions Committee. Discretion is the better part of valor!

Of course, while we can’t read or review your essay responses before you submit your application, we are here to help in any way we can. If you have questions, hit us up at or ExecMBA@darden.virginia.eduNo question is too small.