Berkeley (Haas) Essay Analysis

Sometimes short answers can be more challenging than essays with no limits at all. Berkeley essentially demands that you wow them quickly, with a series of four short answers:

1. What is your favorite quote, and why is it meaningful to you? (250 word maximum)

The quote that you select should directly relate to something specific about your character and/or experiences. You cannot afford to choose a generic quote (i.e. “Never say die!”), but need to be as specific as possible in showing that you are thoughtful about both the quote and yourself. The ideal quote is not only original and interesting in itself, but illuminates an aspect of your background/experience/personality that stands out from others. You essentially need to prove that you reinforce the spirit of this quote and therefore must offer compelling examples that link you to this original thought.

2. Tell us about your most significant accomplishment. (250 word maximum)

Your most significant accomplishment can be from any sphere professional, community, academic, personal, but you should try to maintain a balance and represent as many dimensions of your candidacy as possible throughout these short answers – meaning that you will have to exercise judgment. Even in 250 words, you can tell a brief story or state your accomplishment and explain why you view it as such (much like HBS’s Essay 2, only 50 more words for your example). The key in this instance is to choose an experience that is simple but powerful – one that speaks for itself and draws the reader in, allowing the reader to come to a clear conclusion about your capabilities.

3. At Haas, we value innovation and creativity. How have you demonstrated these qualities in your professional or personal life? (250 word maximum)

If you have not yet offered a professional experience at this point, now is the time – for the sake of balance. Your example of innovation or creativity need not be earth-shattering, but can simply be the story of you thinking differently or making a unique choice. In this essay, you will notice the word “demonstrated”; the committee wants to learn about you through your experiences. You need to be telling a story, not stating facts. When telling a story, even in 250 words, you still need to provide a discernible beginning, middle and end, which in this case probably will be your discovery of the idea, actions you took to implement and clear results brought forth by your actions.

4. If you have visited Haas, please let us know what about your visit made the most lasting impression on you. If you have not visited Haas, what steps have you taken to familiarize yourself with our MBA program? (250 word maximum)

Quite simply, Haas wants to know that you are applying for the right reasons – for the program’s brains (academics, environment, etc.) not its beauty (rankings). You need to explain your connection with the program and show that you have engaged in a process of discovery and self-evaluation in coming to the conclusion that Haas is for you. The more personal and detailed you are in your approach, the more compelling your answer will become. A good test of your sincerity is deleting any reference to Haas and inserting the name of another school. If your essay still makes sense with another school’s name inserted, the odds are that your response is too generic. If it your statement becomes nonsensical because you have another school’s name relating to Haas specific resources, you have done your job (and should reinsert Haas!)

Required Essays:

1. Give us an example of a time when you displayed leadership. (500 word maximum)

You might feel relieved to find a 500 word maximum at this point. However, by now, your depth of experience might be challenged; some find it difficult to offer a strong answer to this question, after discussing their most significant accomplishment in short answer two. Clearly, you should reserve a story that is more complicated for this essay and one in which your actions are methodical. Whereas the short essay demands an impressive “blast” of experience, in this essay the AdCom is more interested in understanding your leadership style and thus your process orientation. You results are still quite important, but the characteristics that you display on the path to these results should be revealing.

2. What are your short-term and long-term career goals? How do your professional experiences relate to these goals? Why do you want an MBA from Berkeley at this point in your career? (1000 word maximum)

Haas inverts the traditional structure of this essay question, placing your goals before your career experience. You too can invert your answer or you can begin with your career context; it does not really matter as long as you answer the question in full. It is vital that your professional experience not be a roving discussion of all of your accomplishments, but that your career directly relates to your goals. You need to create a logical connection – a cause and effect – between your past and your future, ensuring that your MBA is the clear link between the two.

As I have stated before, there is no room to be vague in addressing your career goals. It is not enough for you to write, “When I graduate I want to go into marketing” or “With my MBA, I will enter the field of consulting”. What kind of marketing – consumer products, business to business? What knowledge do you have of this business and why will you excel in it? Remember, this is not a statement of dreams, but a statement of purpose. So, it is important that as you develop your short term goals you consider the specific role you will play, the reasons why you will excel in that role and hopefully show insight into why there may be an identifiable need for your skills in this position. You can take any direction that you so choose from your short term goals as long as there is a causal connection with your long term goals. Your long term goals can be less specific than short term goals; they essentially represent an ideal aspiration if short term goals are reached.

Berkeley explicitly asks: “Why do you want an MBA from Berkeley at this point in your career?” A common mistake among applicants is simply to compliment the school. The spirit of the latter half of your personal statement should not be “Haas is great”, but “I will utilize specific Haas resources to achieve ambitious goals.” And, the idea is not to generate a list of “specific Haas resources”, but to develop a well thought out themes or argument – almost like stating your case to the jury – where you prove that by taking advantage of specific programs within a few disciplines that directly relate to your career, you will achieve your goals.

While Haas does not explicitly ask you what you can offer the school, word count permitting, it is generally a good idea to discuss ways in which you can contribute in class and beyond, if this has not been accomplished implicitly throughout the essay.

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