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October 26, 2011

Oh Joy! UC Berkeley Haas MBA Essays for Fall 2012

"Oh Joy!" alludes to the subject of the most interesting of UC Berkeley Haas MBA essay questions for Fall 2012 admission. You can find my joyful take on that essay question along with the rest in this post. 

The  University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business is one of the hardest MBA programs to get intoThe 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. Last year, Haas made much of its changes to its curriculum. The key component of this change is the Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD):
You can also read testimonials from my clients admitted to Hass in 2010 and 2011I 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).  I also visited Haas in the summer of 2011 when no students were there. It was a really useless visit as part of a conference I attended. Visiting schools when they are not in session is not particularly effective unless you have great face time with the admissions staff. I had face time, but that wasn't so useful either. My student sources are much more useful to me.

Haas has done some significant changes to their essay set this year.  I have taken the questions from the website.  Please pay special attention to the paragraph that is included with the questions:

"At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — question the status quo; confidence without attitude; students always; and beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are.(Learn more about Berkeley-Haas' Defining Principles)."

Understanding the above will greatly enhance your ability to establish fit with Haas.

I can say 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 they have already written several other applications. If your objective is to get into Berkeley, take the extra time required to craft truly excellent school-specific answers to their questions. For my rant on problems with the way Berkeley's online application essay word counter works, formatting, and word count issues, see here.

1. What brings you the greatest joy? How does this make you distinctive? (250 word maximum)
This question was actually discussed in the Wall Street Journal:
For the class entering in the fall of 2012, the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business began asking prospective students what gives them the greatest joy, a change from its prior "What are you most passionate about?" query. The school is hoping to tap into issues that excite applicants—the pleasure of a certain hobby, for example—rather than a self-impressed treatise on solving world hunger.
 "There are many [applicants] who still think there is a formula to get into business school, who think there's a certain type of response the admission people want to see," said Stephanie Fujii, executive director of full-time M.B.A. admissions at Haas. According to Ms. Fujii, there isn't.

Of course, bores will put some dull answer together about how their work brings them the greatest joy, but guess what? That answer is highly like to suck. If Haas wanted to  know about your goals or work here, they would ask about it.

Joy is about emotion. It is not primarily 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 similar questions (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. 

The objective is to provide Haas with some insight into who you are as a person through this essay. Whatever it is that you do write about, joy 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.

PART 1. Start by thinking about what actually brings you joy:
1. What really does make you happy, puts a smile on your face, makes you want to get out of bed, and/or make you feel good? 
2.  When were you the most joyful? Why?
Now after you have a list, edit out all those things you would either be embarrassed to discuss or think are inappropriate (e.g., sex and drugs). When you look at your list is anything that actually stands out to you as particularly distinctive?  If so, you might have just found your topic and you can skip PART 2 and go to PART 3, at least for the moment.
PART 2.  Take your list of things that are joyful to you and ask the following questions:
1.  Are there any obvious patterns connecting all or some these things that make you joyful together?  (If you are into mind mapping, this would be a good chance to use it).  Note any patterns.
2.  Do these pattens constitute themselves as informed by a single idea or personal characteristic? If so, you have found a potential topic.
PART 3. For something that gives you joy to actually fit the question, it must make you distinctive. 
1. How does this thing that brings you joy make you distinctive? 
2. What form does this distinction take? Is it about your values, personality, strengths, actions, and/or background?
At this point, you will hopefully have one or more things that passed the distinction test.  If not, go back to Parts 1 and/or 2.
PART 4. At this point, you hopefully have one or more possible topics to write about it.  Select the topic that does the following:
1. Highlights a very attractive part of who you are that would serve as an effective first impression.
2. Is an answer that is attention getting.
3. Would be viewed as a positive attribute at Haas.
Conclusion: For creative types (artists, musicians, poets, and writers) and athletic types this will likely be a relatively easy question.  For wage slaves who have no life, this essay will be hard to deal with.

2.  What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)
Please see my analysis of the similar 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.

3. Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 word maximum)
This question relates to one of Haas' Defining Principles:
Please see my analysis of  Stanford Essay 3 Option D and MIT Essay 1 as my analysis of those two questions would apply here.

4. Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)

While this is pretty much a standard failure question, the odd phrasing is due to its relationship to another Key Principle:
"We are a community designed for curiosity and lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth. This is not a place for those who feel they have learned all they need to learn."
You want to focus on failure that you were responsible for and learned from. It is critical that you learned something meaningful about yourself. 
The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the failure was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state the result.
4. Explain what you learned.

5. Explain the connection between that learning and subsequent experiences. Explain how you applied what you learned to a new situation or situations.

5. Describe a time when you led by inspiring or motivating others toward a shared goal. (250 word maximum)
This question also relates to another Key Principle:
Confidence Without Attitude 
"We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance. We lead through trust and collaboration."
6. a. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals?
   b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (1000 word maximum for 6a. and 6b.)

Regarding 6a., 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 1 (or essays like it), 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 6b., keep your Berkeley specific content focused on explaining how Haas will help you with your goals. 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.

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 GapSWOT, 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.

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 KnowledgeHarvard Business ReviewHarvard 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 PodcastNet 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 this essay, 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 career change. In either case, it is critical to explain why you want an MBA from Haas.

Optional Essay 1.  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 think 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 from another school's essay set.

Optional Essay 2. If not clearly evident, please discuss ways in which you have demonstrated strong quantitative abilities, or plan to strengthen quantitative abilities. You do not need to list courses that appear on your transcript. (250 word maximum)

If you have clearly demonstrated strong quantitative abilities, you need not worry about this question.  If you have not done anything about this issue, you should put together a plan for how you will prepare yourself for Haas. If you have improved your quantitative abilities through short courses, your work, exam preparation(CFA), or otherwise, you should enumerate it.  This is a just the facts/what is your plan essay, so keep it simple and very clear.

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

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. For those looking for overall counseling services, if you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com. You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment.  

The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why.  
Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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