UC-Berkeley Haas Essay Analysis, 2014–2015

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

Historically, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, has been a bit of a wild card with respect to its application essay prompts, asking applicants about their favorite songs and/or times when they were “students of their own failures.” This year, Haas’s questions are pretty darn conventional, though one could argue that the school’s third essay question is a bit of a twist on the traditional personal statement. We discuss that twist in our essay analysis, which follows…

UC Berkeley HaasEssay 1: Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world. How did this transform you? (400–500 word maximum)

To show how you have changed, you will need to offer not just the “after” but a clear “before and after” scenario. Do not just assume that the admissions committee will understand that you had a powerful experience. You must figuratively hold their hand, walk them through the situation—explaining how you originally perceived the world—and then describe that “transformative” moment when everything changed, leading to new and different behaviors and perceptions on your part.

The first part of this essay will build toward that moment or experience, through a narrative, and show how you previously viewed your world. Then, you will come to a deeply influential experience that is in sharp contrast, leaving you no choice but to change. The experience you describe can be a professional or personal one, and it can also be something that happened to you, such as a political debate or a book you read. While the catalyst itself is important, the admissions committee is far more interested in your capacity for change.  The school is not expecting you to become a completely new person but wants to know that you are open to the world, critically evaluating your thoughts and adapting when necessary. Your narrative should demonstrate some or all of these traits!

Essay 2: What is your most significant professional accomplishment? (200300 word maximum)

This is a classic essay question! So many schools used to pose this query, but now Haas is one of the very few that still does. Why not give applicants a chance to showcase their best professional accomplishments as they apply to a school that is meant to be a catalyst for professional success?

Your response should be very straightforward. Identify the accomplishment and then use a narrative approach to illustrate how you achieved your goal. That said, this is not the place to brag—the admissions committee should understand that you performed quite well without you having to explicitly say so! By relying on sharing what you did and how you did it, rather than claiming why you are so great, you will show both that you are an elite performer and that you are appropriately humble.

Remember, any great accomplishment is hard won. If you story does not have a clear conflict, it is not the right story to share. You do not want to portray yourself as a hothead, battling to achieve something important to you, but you do need to show that through your efforts, you met challenges and overcame them. And you can do this in 300 words!

Essay 3: What is your desired post-MBA role and at what company or organization? In your response, please specifically address sub-questions a., b., and c.

a) How is your background compelling to this company?

b) What is something you would do better for this company than any other employee?

c) Why is an MBA necessary and how will Haas specifically help you succeed at this company? (500600 word maximum for 3a, 3b, and 3c combined)

Haas wants to know about your goals and why you need its MBA program specifically to facilitate/accelerate your career. However, the school is asking you to discuss your career path in an indirect way—essentially forcing you to walk a few steps in your post-MBA shoes, rather than imagine an ideal now. Haas appears to be pushing candidates to really think about their post-MBA aspirations and consider the plausibility of their paths, possibly to lessen the chance of admitting those who do not have sufficient direction to succeed.

In the first section, you should relate your strengths to your target company, showing examples from your existing professional life and, in some rare cases, personal interests. Definitely take the time to research your target firm and understand what it seeks and the values it holds dear. Avoid clichés like “I am tech savvy and dynamic and would be a perfect fit for Google.” Such a declaration would be way too superficial—you must show a profound understanding of your target company to demonstrate the “fit” that will impress the admissions committee.

“Better…than any other employee” is a pretty high bar for you to clear, but do not be daunted by this phrasing. We would advise you to think carefully about your professional strengths and relate them to a task that you see yourself fulfilling or even to an intangible aspect of how you will conduct yourself (maybe you foster community incredibly well, even though doing so would not officially be part of your job as a marketing associate at Clorox). If you can offer something that you truly do better than others, that is great, but most candidates will reveal an aspect of their experience that is inordinately strong, and that should be compelling enough.

In section C, we revert back to pretty typical personal statement phraseology. And 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. 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.

Optional Essays

(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)

However difficult it might be, avoid the temptation to simply paste in a strong essay from another school here or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

(Optional) 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)

This optional essay is not the place to make excuses or try to explain a bad grade. Instead, ensure that for you, the glass is half full. Although you can acknowledge an area of weakness, you should focus on revealing your areas of strength. Your goal in this essay is to briefly and powerfully demonstrate that your quantitative abilities only appear as a weakness but are in fact a strength. Several examples of how you can execute on this are revealed in the mbaMission Optional Statement Guide. If you truly do not have any quantitative strengths to highlight, you would be wise to enroll in a course that would provide you with better skills in this area, and be sure to mention that course in this essay.

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