UC-Berkeley Haas Essay Analysis, 2011–2012

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has streamlined their essays somewhat this year, finally removing a small piece that was arguably redundant, and that pertained to your research on the school (wasn’t that covered in the broader personal statement?). Haas still peppers you with a few quick hits of 250 words—five of them, in fact—that will require you to brainstorm at length to keep the reader learning. As you write these essays, you will be challenged to draw from various experiences to ensure that the reader is engaged, but you should not focus solely on discussing different experiences in each essay; you should focus on revealing different skills as well. Two stories about landing a new client are definitely redundant. Two stories that occur at the office, one about landing a new client and the other about being an effective mentor, serve to introduce new aspects of your experience. Still, if possible, you should offer a mix of professional, community and personal experiences in your essays to demonstrate that you have a strong internal motor and various arrows in your quiver.

1. What brings you the greatest joy? How does this make you distinctive? (250 word maximum)

This question will no doubt bewilder a lot of candidates: “What do they want to hear?” “What is a reasonable answer?” “How do I make myself distinct?” We suggest that you think about (surprise!) what truly brings you the most joy in your life and then focus pointedly on a single experience or a group of experiences within that area of interest. Perhaps you are happiest when you are indulging your imagination through art or pushing yourself physically in some kind of athletic activity. Although both of these options can be interesting, neither is necessarily “distinctive,” so you will need to determine—and then communicate—the way in which your particular passion for the activity in question is unique. This could entail how you engage in this interest or perhaps the circumstances in which you first developed an affinity for this aspect of your life—or another angle on the topic altogether. Obviously, conveying a sense of the joy you obtain from this thing or activity is important, but revealing how that joy is manifest in a way that is specific to you will mean the difference between a successful essay and one that is commonplace.

2. What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)

Your most significant accomplishment can be from any sphere—professional, community, academic, personal—but when you are choosing which to feature for this essay, be sure to maintain a sense of balance among these spheres in the totality of your application. In short, try to represent as many dimensions of your candidacy as possible as you respond to these short-answer questions. So, whichever aspect of your profile you choose to highlight here, it should not be represented elsewhere in your application. This means that you will have to exercise judgment. 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 him/her to draw a clear conclusion about your capabilities. Even with just 250 words, you can sufficiently recount a story that accomplishes this goal.

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)

To successfully respond to this question, you do not need to present yourself as some kind of rebel or rabble-rouser—you can challenge authority while still acting diplomatically. What is important to Haas’s admissions committee is whether you have the strength of character to stand up for what you feel is right. So, if you have a story about a time you blew the whistle on a fraud, this would of course be a fitting experience to share, but we expect that most candidates will instead have relatively simple stories about instigating less dramatic—yet still meaningful—changes within their companies. Maybe your firm originally had a “trial by fire” culture that left newcomers floundering and you launched a system of training modules that facilitated and standardized the process of bringing new hires up to speed. Again, much as you should also do for essay one, you will need to spend some time focusing on the manifestation of your actions—the change itself is not nearly as important as how you brought about that change.

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)

Haas’s questions are not getting much easier—four short questions in, and the admissions committee wants to hear about a failure you have experienced. Many applicants feel that failure is the most difficult topic to write about, because few have had “heroic” failures (e.g., you left your job to start a nonprofit that could not raise the necessary funds and had to fold)—which are relatively easy to write about and reflect well on the candidate—and instead have had embarrassing failures (which applicants typically should avoid sharing). So, what is the right kind of failure to discuss, if you do not have one of the heroic variety?

The first thing to do when trying to identify which failure experience to share is to analyze your successes. Most successes that are worth discussing were hard earned, meaning that they most likely involved some failures along the way—you may have simply forgotten about some of the failures you experienced as part of the successes you ultimately achieved. For example, the popular new product that you launched may have initially been mispriced; you may have encountered production delays that you should have been able to avoid; you may have had trouble convincing a single retailer to sell it or originally targeted the wrong venues. Of course, these are just examples, but the nature of business is that projects are revised, deals are delayed, efforts are stymied. To write a strong essay response to this question, you must clearly convey your specific actions and intentions, thereby revealing a sincere effort on your part that simply yielded unexpected results in the end. You will also need to identify and share key learnings from the experience that caused you to change your overall approach going forward.

5. Describe a time when you led by inspiring or motivating others toward a shared goal. (250 word maximum)

In essay two, Haas’s admissions committee is interested in learning about how you operate as a “lone wolf.” In this essay, the school wants to understand that you can also be a team player—that you can rouse others to aspire to greater heights and to work toward (or more likely achieve) a team goal. One can certainly generate inspiration and motivation via fiery speeches and grandiose displays, but these are not the only ways. Humbly setting an example for others to follow can be just as effective. In the end, though, the particular manner in which the inspiration was produced is not that relevant, but you will need to demonstrate a clear cause-and-effect relationship between your actions and the reactions of others as you worked together to achieve your goal.

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?

6. b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (1,000 word maximum for 6a. and 6b.)

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of UC-Berkeley Haas’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Haas School of Business at the University of California–Berkeley.

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