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Darden MBA Essay Tips (2018 Entering Class)

Darden is among the few top MBA programs apart from Harvard, INSEAD, Ivey, and IESE to persist with the Case study method as the primary mode of teaching. The MBA Admission team tried using indirect methods of evaluating the candidate’s fit for such a learning environment where active classroom discussion is valued. But the team has taken a step in the right direction this year by directly asking a question that will give hints on how the applicant will cope with a case study method.


Q) "When preparing for class at Darden, students formulate an opinion on each case before meeting with their learning teams and class sections. When encountering different views and perspectives from their own, opinions frequently shift. Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others." (500 words maximum)


The question does not require you to quote Darden MBA curriculum or demonstrate the future that is possible with the program. Instead, the question is measuring your learning capability, extroversion, and ability to change opinion when challenged with new information.

Case Study Method

Case study method follows a four-step process:

1) Individual Learning

Before you discuss the problem statement with the learning team, at an individual level, you have to read research papers, reports and check on the corporate website to find the clue about the culture and evolution of the product or the team.

Although essays demonstrate individual learning by how you narrate the learning path, a large part of the evaluation is done through your GMAT score and GPA. The transcripts will reveal your strengths and weakness in learning new concepts. Courses that require the application of analytical skills would be valued more than those that favor rote learning.

If you have a strong quant score in GMAT and consistent performance in Quant-focused courses, you are on a strong ground. Apart from GMAT, GPA, if you had participated, and performed in the top 5% for Math Olympiad or any competition that require problem-solving and analytical skills, highlight that in the resume.

2) Learning team

To navigate the large class size at Darden – 345+ students every year, the school has divided the class into sections (60 students each) and learning teams of 5-6 each. The sections are created to reflect the incoming class, but the Assistant Dean of the full-time MBA program chooses the learning teams based on diversity in nationality, professional and cultural backgrounds, not necessarily to represent the class but to encourage case discussions that are engaging and guaranteed to fasten knowledge acquisition.

While individual learning is important to develop a basic understanding of the problem, only through discussion with the learning teams would ‘new information’ be added to the group’s knowledge base. When teams are created with diversity as criteria, a subject matter expert (SME) and a career switcher with limited knowledge about the industry, are likely to be present in the same team. SMEs can lead the discussion, but the novice team member can raise questions that can challenge the assumptions of the expert. While explaining a concept to a novice, the expert can cover areas that would otherwise remain untouched if all the members of the team had a fair understanding of the subject.

3) Classroom Discussion

The real learning happens during classroom discussions. The professors spend 1 hour each for a case discussion. They have to prepare and plan the outline of the discussion and shortlist participants who are likely to push forward the discussion. Even the first participant to provide the background information is chosen beforehand.

Planning and Preparation are vital for a case-study method to be effective.

In a nutshell, the essay wants to see how you organize information, plan, prepare and reach a conclusion.

Are you rigid with new information?

How thoroughly do you check the validity of each data?

How are you influenced?

Does your ego stop you from learning?


4) Final Resolution

There are two types of discussions. Most cases taught in Business Schools are close-ended with a specific resolution. However, with a 300+-class size at Darden, the discussion can veer in different directions, even if the Professor follows the Socratic method of questioning.

Open Ended cases are rare, but they are the most useful. Some cases don’t have a conclusion for eternity but are a footnote for the era. The internet boom and the demise of pet.com and Webvan might be a case for late 90s exuberance and early 2000’s pessimism, but in 2017, Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Food will be evaluated as a decision of strategic maneuver to outsmart local grocers.

Most resolution or conclusions of the cases are challenged when participants bring in additional information that questions the assumptions of the case.

Case study method is a form of inductive learning – using multiple examples to generalize and find a rule in a chaotic Business environment. Participants have to be humble with the idea that the conclusion of the class can also be wrong when the case is discussed in a new era with an evolved customer base or technology.

What is valued at Darden?


1) Challenge the Assumptions


The Darden MBA Admission team is expecting candidates who can question the assumptions about the industry, market, customer segment, and fund-raising strategies during case discussions......
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Above Post is an excerpt from Darden MBA Essay Guide

Complete Darden MBA Essay Tips in F1GMAT's Darden MBA Essay Guide. Download Now.

Sample Essay:
Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others
Description: 499-word Sample Essay of a Marketing Lead working for a Technology Giant who took over the team under extreme circumstances

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