Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Essay Analysis, 2019–2020

Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Essay Analysis - mbaMission

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season.  

Applicants to the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, this season will be responding to two totally new required essay questions. We were a little sad to see that the school’s unique and challenging six-word story prompt had been removed, but we imagine many candidates are not. Instead, Berkeley Haas wants applicants to dig deep on a personal level and discuss something about which they are passionate. For their second essay, candidates must explain the school’s role in their anticipated development as a leader. For its optional essays, the admissions committee has maintained its multipart questionnaire prompt (which is much less complicated than it may seem at first glance) and an open-ended prompt that gives applicants the opportunity to address any unclear or problem areas in their profile. These four essays together should allow you to present a well-rounded impression of yourself to the school, complementing the information presented in your resume, recommendations, and basic stats with insight into who you are as an individual and who you hope to be as a future business leader. Our full essay analysis for Berkeley Haas follows…

Required Essay #1: What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum)

Perhaps you are familiar with the psychological concept of “flow,” which is a mental state people enter when they are completely immersed in and focused on something they enjoy and are enthusiastic about—it is also described as being “in the zone.” With this question, Berkeley Haas is basically asking you to discuss what puts you in the zone. If you are truly excited about something—and, we would assume, therefore engage in it on a regular basis—writing about it should not prove too challenging. Like all other application questions, this one has no “right” answer, so do not try to guess what you think the school wants to hear. Authenticity is key to your success here. Note that the prompt includes the words “when you are doing it,” so although you may feel strongly about certain causes or values, such as animal rights or environmental matters, for this essay, you will need to discuss an activity rather than an ideology.  

The school does not stipulate that your topic needs to come from a specific area of your life (e.g., professional life, community service, personal life). We appreciate that you are likely passionate about your career, but this is not automatically your best choice for a topic here, especially given that the school’s second required essay offers a better opportunity to discuss your professional side. What Berkeley Haas wants to learn from this essay is what gets your heart pumping and mind racing. Enthusiasm and intensity can be very inspiring and energizing and can lead to big ideas and actions. Sharing what incites such feelings in you gives the admissions committee an idea of where you might someday make an impression on the world, how you might leave your mark—especially once you are equipped with all you will gain and learn during your MBA experience.

That said, do not worry if the thing you feel so fervently about might initially seem commonplace to someone else. For example, perhaps you feel passionate about basketball. Because this is an interest anyone could share and enjoy, you might have concerns that it could sound pedestrian or unremarkable—and for many, this is a completely unremarkable pastime and one they should not write about. If, however, you can show that you have engaged with basketball in a way that takes the activity well beyond being a commonplace hobby and that it is something you connect with on a deep level and in various ways—perhaps having played for many years, you now coach youth teams from underprivileged neighborhoods in your community—then it most definitely becomes an acceptable discussion topic. In such a case, basketball could be used to reveal intensity, dedication, commitment to yourself and others, growth, longevity, and/or resilience. Of course, we are offering basketball here just for illustration purposes. We imagine you likely feel the flow when engaging in a completely different activity or even engaging in disparate activities that are unified by a single behavior, such as when you are creating something, or perhaps motivating others. The options are very much endless.

Once you have identified the passion you wish to discuss, avoid simply telling the admissions committee about it and instead illustrate how it manifests in your life. For example, rather than starting your essay by stating, “I have been watching and playing basketball since I was a child,” you need to create a more vivid impression of your dedication and involvement, such as “From playing with my brothers after school to varsity ball in college to now coaching a youth league in my community, I can hardly remember a time when basketball wasn’t an integral part of my life.” Or consider a more narrative approach, such as, “Dripping with sweat, I thrust my right arm up and knocked the ball away, just as the buzzer sounded.” Once you have set the scene and presented the object of your fervor, you must then explain why you connect with it so strongly or so well—perhaps it gives you a sense of peace or purpose, or it makes you feel connected with others in a meaningful way, or it allows you to challenge yourself mentally or physically. A successful essay response will not only paint a clear picture of your passion but also highlight the elements of your personality that make it significant to you.

Required Essay #2: At Berkeley Haas, we are redefining leadership. We value different opinions and perspectives, recognizing that we always have more to learn about others’ lived experiences and histories. We encourage speaking up and listening, and courageously use our power to address barriers and drive change for positive impact.

Tell us how a Berkeley Haas MBA would enhance your leadership profile, incorporating specific examples. (300 words max)

Although the school does not explicitly ask that you discuss leadership within the context of your career for this essay, we believe that focusing on your professional experience is best here. After all, you are not applying to business school to get better at your extracurricular pursuits! The intro to this prompt implies that Berkeley Haas seeks individuals who take an inclusive, if not collaborative, approach to leadership, so keep this in mind as you craft your response. Also, note the verb “enhance,” which carries with it the idea that you are building on something that already exists, improving it and taking it to a new level. You will therefore need to provide some basic context about your past leadership experience and current style. But with only 300 words for the entire essay, you will need to keep this information succinct and direct. This is certainly not the place to try to impress the admissions committee with a detailed story about a past leadership success. Instead, strive to convey the leadership abilities and mind-set you have developed thus far, to set the stage for your discussion of the elements you hope to acquire in the MBA program and how the school can help you do so.

The admissions committee very directly requests “specific examples” to illustrate why Berkeley Haas is the right place for you to advance your leadership experience and knowledge, so you will need to do some focused research on the program to identify the resources, events, and other offerings that align with your needs and interests in this area. In essence, this is a very targeted “why our school?” query, so we encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which we created to help applicants write this style of essay for any school. It explains ways of approaching this subject effectively and offers several sample essays as guides. Click here to access your complimentary copy. 

Optional Information #1: We invite you to help us better understand the context of your opportunities and achievements.

  1. What is the highest level of education completed by your parent(s) or guardian(s)? 
    • Did not complete high school
    • High school diploma or equivalency (GED)
    • Associate’s degree (junior college) or vocational degree/license
    • Bachelor’s degree (BA, BS)
    • Master’s degree (MA, MS)
    • Doctorate or professional degree (MD, JD, DDS)
  1. What is the most recent occupation of your parent(s) or guardian(s)?
    • Unemployed
    • Homemaker
    • Laborer
    • Skilled worker
    • Professional
  1. If you were raised in one of the following household types, please indicate.
    • Raised by a single parent
    • Raised by an extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)
    • Raised in a multi-generational home
    • Raised in foster care
  1. What was the primary language spoken in your childhood home?
  2. If you have you ever been responsible for providing significant and continuing financial or supervisory support for someone else, please indicate.
    • Child
    • Spouse
    • Sibling
    • Parent
    • Extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)
    • Other
  1. Please elaborate on any of your above responses. Alternatively, you may use this opportunity to expand on other hardships or unusual life circumstances that may help us understand the context of your opportunities, achievements, and impact. (300 words maximum)

Optional Information #2: This section should only be used to convey relevant information not addressed elsewhere in your application. This may include explanation of employment gaps, academic aberrations, supplemental coursework, etc. You are encouraged to use bullet points where appropriate.

Although the school’s first optional essay prompt is somewhat elaborate, it is not necessarily all that complicated, and we imagine it will offer certain applicants an easy way of highlighting particular elements of their background without having to try to fit them into a different essay. The school clearly wants direct information and basic explanation(s) from this option, so simply answer the questions and succinctly provide any necessary clarifications using the allocated word count. The second optional essay prompt asks applicants to focus specifically on information they deem most “relevant,” and the lack of a word limit means candidates can fully explain whatever they feel the admissions committee truly must know to be able to evaluate them fully and fairly. This is not, however, a blank-slate invitation to dump every bit of remaining information about yourself that you feel the school is lacking. And however difficult, avoid the temptation to simply reuse a strong essay you wrote for another program here or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to incorporate into your other Berkeley Haas essays. Be judicious in your use of this opportunity, and submit an optional essay only if you truly believe a key element of your story or profile is needed for the school to have a complete and accurate understanding of you as a candidate. Consider downloading your free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which 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. 

The Next Step—Mastering Your Berkeley Haas Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And to help you develop this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers! Download your free copy of the Berkeley Haas School of Business Interview Primer today.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Deadlines

  • INSEAD (Round 4)
  • UNC Kenan-Flagler (Round 3)
  • USC Marshall (Round 3)
  • Carnegie Mellon Tepper (Round 3)
  • London Business School (Round 3)
  • Cambridge Judge (Round 4)
  • NYU Stern (Round 4)

Click here to see the complete deadlines

2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

Click here for the 2019–2020 MBA Essay Analysis

MBA Program Updates