Darden Sets Earlier App Deadline For MBAs

Darden MBA candidate and ex-Marine Derek Rey with fellow class of '15 Darden MBA student Lindsay Luke

Darden MBA candidate and ex-Marine Derek Rey with fellow class of ’15 Darden MBA student Lindsay Luke

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia moved up its first round deadline for MBA applications by two days today (June 17) and tossed off a new required essay for applicants.

The new early-bird deadline is Oct. 8th, while the third and final deadline has been moved back a week to April 8th. Darden’s second round deadline, when the school receives the bulk of its nearly 3,000 applications, is Jan. 8. The application will be released online later this summer.

Sara Neher, assistant dean of MBA admissions, says the new question came out of a brainstorming session involving the school’s admissions team as well as career management center staff.


The new question, with a 500-word limit:

Describe the most important professional feedback you have received and how you responded to this feedback.

The new question replaces last year’s prompt:

Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or most courageous action you have taken at work. What did you learn from that experience?

Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the Darden School

Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the Darden School

Neher said last year’s question didn’t always elicit the kind of responses she had hoped for, even though Neher had done an instruction video for applicants that spelled out exactly what the school wanted. “Last year we got a lot of responses on how they (the applicants) decided to take a particular job and that was not what we were looking for,” she says. “So we wanted to focus it more on the workplace. Many of the responses started reading the same after awhile: ‘After i graduated from college, I wanted to work in consulting and i had to decide between a large firm and a small firm.’

“This time around, I wanted to make sure it would give us something we wanted to read,” adds Neher. “If you are going to read thousands of these, you want to at least make sure they are interesting.”

The school is telling applicants that it wants them “to reflect on your work experience – both the lessons you have learned, and how you have used that information to grow. When we read your answer, we hope to learn more about your professional background and about how you use feedback and interaction to better yourself, as well as how well you can articulate your learnings.”


Before settling on the new essay, the admissions team met to discuss the responses from the previous year’s question and “whether it helped us make better decisions about the applicants,” she says. “This year we brought the career development center into that brainstorm. We wanted them to be part of the conversation and that was really useful.”

The new essay is similar to a question on Darden’s recommender forms. “We really like the responses we get from the recommenders,” adds Neher. “It’s not the exact same question, and we don’t expect the answers to match up. But it really gave us good insight into the type of person the applicant is in the work place, what they do at work, and it gives us a clue as to what kind of experiences they will bring to the classroom.”

The school also decided to retain only one required essay. Three years ago, Darden cut its essay requirement in half. Neher says she is happy with the result, believing that fewer applicants are recycling essays written for other schools because there is only one essay. “There is no debate about it,” she says. “Applicants are really trying to answer our question, and I appreciate that.”


Neher said applications for the Class of 2017 were down slightly from the 2,721 candidates who applied for admission in the previous. year. Darden accepted 25.1% of them, or 682 applicants, and enrolled 324 students in its full-time MBA program.

She attributed the decline to the negative publicity the University of Virginia received after Rolling Stone magazine published a lengthy article about an alleged gang rape at a UVA fraternity house and a deeper sexual assault problem on campus. The highly controversial article, which was focused on undergraduate students, has since been retracted by the magazine and resulted in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Rolling Stone by a UVA dean who claims that her reputation was ruined as a result of the article.

“The applications were a little bit down, but nothing alarming and consistent with everything at the university from the law school to undergraduate admissions,” she says. “The Rolling Stone article had a pretty big negative impact on the institution. I was really worried with all of the bad press around the University of Virginia and the timing of when they retracted that article. I think it had some impact on our later application rounds.”

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