In lieu of doing a half-baked update to our 2017 Darden MBA application guide, we’ve opted this month to post some guidance about the Darden essays directly here on the blahg — so, bonus, as a subscriber to the blahg, you’re already getting a leg up on the Darden app if you’re planning to try there!
As a follow-up to our original post talking through story selection for the “evolving leadership style” question, we wanted to also mention something important, which is often overlooked by many applicants. This happens not only with this particular essay prompt, but with many others too.
We focused in the original discussion on the second sentence in the prompt, and specifically the phrase “How would you describe your evolving leadership style?”
But what about the first one? They start off by saying “Darden strives to identify and cultivate leaders who follow their purpose.”
That’s not just a throwaway line — it’s actually important for you to think about as you figure out what to say!
Everything in an essay prompt is thoroughly considered. It’s specifically designed, and the adcom puts it there for a reason. (Which, BTW, is how your essays should also be constructed!! Everything for a purpose, nothing extraneous.)
Given that fact, then what’s up with that first part of the question? What are they signalling? What impact should it have in how you evaluate your ideas for discussion in this essay?
We draw your attention to the important word of “purpose.”
Now, you may immediately draw back in horror.
“Purpose?!?? I have no idea what my ‘purpose’ is!! That’s why I want to go to bschool, so that I can hopefully find out!!”
And yeah, we get it! When you’re a younger whippersnapper (or, very often, an older one), this whole “purpose” thing can be dumbfounding. You keep hearing about “purpose” and you know you’re supposed to have one — and you just don’t! You’re bumbling along trying to make the best of your life and all you know is you’re feeling unsatisfied with your career so far, or you’re bored, or you feel like you need to be doing more.
How on earth does “purpose” fit in?
You just want to make a good living and be happy.
When you’re examining this (or any) essay question, one place to begin is to focus on the words.
When you look at the word “purpose” what else does it evoke?
Maybe a word like “mission” or “values” — those would also be useful to do brainstorming on.
For example, were you ever asked to do something that you knew to be wrong? How did you handle it? Did you stand up to the pressure, and not go along with it?
If so, then this is possibly in the same ballpark as talking about “purpose.”
What you want to avoid with this essay question and certain others is going on in some lofty language about “purpose” when it’s not backed up by the details of your profile.
While you very well may want to redirect your entire career towards some altruistic type of career in the future, if you don’t have evidence of working towards some type of mission-driven cause in the past, then that may ring a little hollow with the admissions director reading your essay.
Just because they have the word “purpose” in the question does not mean you should manufacture some type of “purpose” in your life in order to answer it. This can unfortunately backfire, as it often takes the applicant far, far away from the key objective in being authentic in what they present.
And, it’s also unnecessary. You should be able to find “purpose” in the facts your life if you go looking for it.
After all, you’ve ended up in exactly the place you are now in some fashion. You made decisions. You got there through working hard.
Can you identify what’s driving you to date? Is there something you can reflect on to articulate what matters to you and how you’ve arrived at your existing destination?
Even if you feel like you’re currently in a halfway house, an in-between state where not much is going on, we believe that if you actually look around and examine reality, you’ll recognize that hey, you’ve accomplished some stuff, you’ve done some cool things. Right?
So, think back on those achievements. What brought you to them? How did you navigate the opportunities you were given? Where did you seek out something new?
Anyone who’s qualified to apply to a top MBA program has to have at least a handful of examples of situations in their life where they did more than they had to, where they pushed forward and created some type of success.
If you’re aiming for a top-top MBA program then obviously you’ll need to be someone who’s done this over and over for a long period of time, going back to when you were knee-high to a grasshopper. But applying to any top school means that you’ve got some type of foundation of success that you’re building on.
Success comes from making decisions, and acting.
In order to make decisions, you need to have a foundation of something that is guiding you. Some type of moral compass, or value system that you’re using to navigate the world.
This may seem esoteric or hard to comprehend, but if you sit with it, and really reflect on the words in an essay prompt, often it can offer surprising topics that could potentially be explored.
So, one way to interpret Darden’s “evolving leadership style” question is, what kind of person are you, that can be revealed through an example of you making decisions and building achievement so far? That may (or may not) invite discussion for this question, but even if it doesn’t find its way into the actual essay you submit, this type of pondering could be quite valuable in helping uncover some real gems that you can talk about for the adcom. (For any school!!!!)
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