University of California, Berkeley (Haas) Essay Analysis, 2008-2009

When we posted our analysis of Kellogg’s essay questions, we noted that Kellogg’s were likely the most demanding. Even though awarding this “crown” is obviously entirely subjective (and entirely irrelevant), we would still like to note that Kellogg has a solid competitor in Haas, with its four short essays questions and two long essay questions. Indeed, Haas has maintained its challenging and quirky questions, changing only its first and tweaking the others ever so slightly.

With respect to Haas, the test that applicants will face is keeping their applications “fresh.” With so many Haas essays to “juggle”, candidates will need to consistently offer new experiences in order to maintain the interest of the admissions committee. So, candidates should strive to showcase a mix of personal, professional and community accomplishments throughout, with an eye toward avoiding repetition. 

Short Answer:

1. If you could change one thing you’ve done in your life, what would it be, and how would you do it differently? (250 word maximum)

While many candidates are no doubt relieved to see that the abstract question about a hypothetical dinner partner is now gone, Haas has replaced this question with a challenge; candidates must discuss a change, meaning that an element of regret must enter the question. As you consider your response, you should keep Haas’ phrasing in mind, wherein they are asking for something “you’ve done” and asking “How would you do it differently?” Because of this particular word choice, it seems Haas is asking you to narrow in on one choice and then take personal responsibility for your actions. While they are not explicitly asking for a mistake, many candidates will no doubt answer with one. Remember though, a change can also be represented in a missed opportunity. While it may seem difficult, in only two-hundred and fifty words, it is still entirely possible to construct an interesting narrative. Remember to “show” the reader a story and to fully explain your initial reasoning and the flaws therein, as you resolve the hypothetical situation with a stark contrast via your “new” choice. 

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 through these short answers – meaning that you will have to exercise judgment. Again, even in 250 words, you can tell a brief story. The key to this essay 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. Describe an innovative solution you have created to address a specific challenge. (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 need not be earth-shattering, but can simply be the story of you thinking differently or making a unique choice. 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. What steps have you taken to learn about the Berkeley MBA program, and what factors have influenced your decision to apply? (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 be.

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 situation in which 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. Your 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. Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the “MBA Mission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer our guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

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