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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 30, 2009

UC Berkeley Haas MBA Essays for Fall 2010 Admission

The University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business is along with HBS and Stanford GSB, one of the hardest programs to get into. The program is small and attracts a very diverse group of students. The objective of Haas admissions is to find the best applicants in order to put together a diverse group of students who will thrive in a program that values innovation, collaboration, and a high level of participation both in and out of the classroom.

I experienced the energy of Haas students when I attended the end of the Japan Trek Party (For English, see http://groups.haas.berkeley.edu/japan/Haasweek0904p1.pdf) in April 2009. I saw great diversity and real sense of enthusiasm amongst the participants. You can find my Q&As with Haas students here (MBA) and here (MBA/MPH).

Haas has always asked a large number of questions and (lucky for me), they have not changed so much from last year. I have taken the questions from the website:
Short Answer:
  1. What are you most passionate about? Why? (250 word maximum)
  2. Tell us about your most significant accomplishment. (250 word maximum)
  3. At Haas, we value innovation and creativity. Describe a time when you created positive change in a group or an organization. (250 word maximum)
  4. What steps have you taken to learn about the Berkeley MBA program, and what factors have influenced your decision to apply? (250 word maximum)
Required Essays:
  1. Give us an example of a situation in which you displayed leadership. (500 word maximum)
  2. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How do your professional experiences relate to these goals? How will an MBA from Berkeley help you achieve these specific career goals? (1000 word maximum)
Optional Essays:
  1. (Optional) Please feel free to provide a statement concerning any information you would like to add to your application that you haven’t addressed elsewhere. (500 word maximum)
From my perspective, unless you really believe that you have nothing else important to say about yourself, there are no optional questions here. Needless to say, you should not treat the Short Answer Essays with any less seriousness than the Required Essays.

I can that my clients who have been admitted there, all had one thing in common: They took time to craft answers specific to Berkeley's questions. There is a natural human tendency towards laziness that results in many applicants not taking the time to do that. If your objective is to get into Berkeley take the extra time required to craft truly excellent school-specific answers to their questions. Once you write the essays for Haas, you will have significant amount content for writing other school's essays.

Short Answer 1. What are you most passionate about? Why? (250 word maximum)
This is the only completely new question for Fall 2010 admission. It replaces a question on regret, which was a rather depressing question.

Passion is about emotion, it is about motivation. It is not rational and hence is in contrast to the very rational questions that make up the rest of the Haas application. In past years, when Columbia asked this question (and they did for many many years), I have seen successful essays on this topic on a variety of subjects, but the only common thing was that no one wrote about work or their career goals. Given, the 1000 words you have for the Haas goals essay, writing about your career goals here would be highly redundant. Whether it is your committed involvement in an organization, an issue that you care deeply about, a hobby/interest that you have long been engaged, your personal relationships, or your deepest beliefs, provide Haas with some insight into who you are as a person through this essay. Whatever it is that you do write about, passion has to be there. Also, since it is the very first essay, you certainly want to get them engaged and interested in you as an applicant.

Short Answer 2. Tell us about your most significant accomplishment. (250 word maximum)
Please see my analysis of the similiar HBS question. Given that you can only write on one topic, for most applicants, I suggest making it your most significant professional accomplishment. Of course, significance is really the issue and it is important that you explain why it is significant. If you truly believe you have a personal or educational accomplishment that is your most significant, just make sure that admissions will not only understand why you believe that to be the case, but be able to view your accomplishment as a basis for admitting you.

Short Answer 3. At Haas, we value innovation and creativity. Describe a time when you created positive change in a group or an organization. (250 word maximum)
This question is somewhat changed from last year.

I don't want to spend too much time discussing the role of innovation and creativity at Haas because they do it quite well. Just go look at the website! How many times can Haas use "innovation" in a paragraph?

At Haas, innovation is defined broadly as people and organizations creating value by perpetually adapting and developing new processes, ideas, and products. And it's not just about technology. The Berkeley MBA curriculum teaches the strategic and organizational challenges of innovation, and leading-edge innovations in subjects such as finance and marketing. The curriculum covers innovation as technological progress — a world-class specialty at Haas. When you graduate, you will be able to lead innovatively in organizations ranging from a major multinational company to a fast-growing startup, nonprofit, or a business of your own.

Given the Haas focus, you need to show why you fit. While I would never say that one answer to one question can make or break an application, you should assume that your answer here is critical. Keep in mind that they are looking for people with the experience or potential to be great innovators, so if you have no major track record of professional innovations, don't panic. Instead focus on telling a story that shows your potential to create positive change in a very innovative way. There are many possibilities here. My suggestion is that you provide a detailed answer that best highlights your capacity to find a unique solution to a specific problem or opportunity within a group or organization.

While some will write about a work-related topic here, I don't think that everyone must. The key thing is to show your ability to effectively create positive change. Focus on telling a particular kind of leadership story which emphasizes your ability to innovate or initiate. For more about leadership essays, see my comments below regarding Required Essay 1.

Short Answer 4. What steps have you taken to learn about the Berkeley MBA program, and what factors have influenced your decision to apply? (250 word maximum)
You need to try to separate what you say here from what you discuss in Required Essay 2. There may be some overlap, but there is a distinction. In Required Essay 2, you should specifically explain why you need an MBA now from Haas and how doing so relates to your goals. In Short Answer 4, you need to show you have become informed about the Berkeley MBA program and why there is a good fit between you and the program. Haas provides online resources to help you, but in addition, if possible I suggest you visit, meet alums, and/or communicate with current students to become informed about the program. While it is important to show what steps you have taken, it is equally important to make a clear case for why Haas is the right school for you. See the Berkeley MBA Student Blogs. Also take a look at the various institutes and centers connected to Haas. Those who read Japanese should most certainly visit the Haas Japanese website and Haas Japanese students/alumni blogs.

Required Essay 1. Give us an example of a situation in which you displayed leadership. (500 word maximum)
This is the most generic form of a leadership question there is. I suggest looking at my analysis of the HBS and Stanford leadership essays to craft your answer. My Haas-specific suggestion is that you try to make sure that there is no overlap between your answer to this question and your answer to Short Answers 2 and 3.

Required Essay 2. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How do your professional experiences relate to these goals? How will an MBA from Berkeley help you achieve these specific career goals? (1000 word maximum)
I should point out that there is a difference between this version of the question and questions like Kellogg's that ask for a career summary. Berkeley does not ask for such a summary and its inclusion especially at the beginning of your essay will be a sign that you did not customize your answer for Berkeley. Berkeley instead asks for you to explain how your professional experiences relate to your goals. Therefore discussion of your past experience should be made as a part of an explanation of your goals. For those who have already written Kellogg (or essays like them), if your essay begins with a career development section, I suggest beginning with goals instead. Take your career development section and use parts of it to support your reasons for your goals and why you need an MBA now. For many applicants this will not be so much about writing new content as editing it to better answer Berkeley's version of the question.

Regarding the third part of the question, keep your Berkeley specific content focused on explaining why you need an MBA now and how it will help you with your goals.

Before writing this essay, if you have not done a similar essay for another school, I suggest going through a formal process of goals analysis because it will really help you determine the most important things you need to tell Haas.
You can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

To best view the following table, click on it.

How to use this table:

Step 1.
Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER: WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2.
Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3.
If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

See my comments above regarding Short Essay 4.


You need to make admissions excited about your future. To do so, you should think about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), try to go beyond the typical answer to make your goals compelling.

Be informed. Haas needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for, but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Think about conducting informational interviews with at least one peer-level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer-level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior-level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well.

Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to Haas as someone who is not only well informed, but who has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge related to their goals. Some great general sources for learning what is hot:

From the Business Schools: Feed your brain with cutting-edge ideas from the best business schools in the world. Start with California Management Review. Other great sources of information include Stanford Social Innovation Review, Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing,Knowledge @ Wharton, University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers, The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant to the GSB), Chicago GSB Podcast, Net Impact, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and, of course, Haas also have podcasts.

LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!) Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

When you initially write Essay 1, you might find that it does not seem to be coming together as a single essay. If that is the case, you might simply not be telling your story in the right way. The way you tell your story will depend on your situation. Applicants with extensive experience whose goals connect directly to their past experience will be telling a story based on continuity, while applicants looking to change careers will be telling a story based on discontinuity. A story based on continuity is often easiest to tell in a fairly linear way because the future is based directly on what happened in the past. By contrast, a story based on a discontinuity should be told to emphasize the need for the change In either case, it is critical to explain why you want an MBA from Haas.

Optional Essay 1. (Optional) Please feel free to provide a statement concerning any information you would like to add to your application that you haven’t addressed elsewhere. (500 word maximum)
This is a completely open question. While you might very well need to tell Haas something negative, such as an explanation for a low GPA, I would suggest using at least part of it to tell them something positive about you. Feel free to write on any topic that will add another dimension to admissions' perception of who you are. I would not treat it as optional unless you truly feel that the rest of your essays have fully expressed everything you want Haas to know about you. I don't suggest writing about something that would be obvious from reviewing your application, instead tell Haas that one story that will give them another reason to admit you. And whatever you do, please make sure that you write on a topic that is not obviously for another school.

Finally, if you interview with Haas, please see my earlier post.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com
. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.

-Adam Markus
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