For its first required application essay, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, wants candidates to dig deep on a personal level and discuss something about which they are passionate, and for its second, applicants are asked to explain where they hope to go professionally after earning their MBA. The school’s third prompt hearkens back to a question Haas last posed in 2010 and centers on the school’s four distinctive defining principles. This time, however, candidates are asked to respond via a short video, rather than a traditional essay. Applicants must then submit a brief essay on their firsthand experience with a diversity-related situation or issue. The Haas admissions committee takes a slightly different approach to the optional essay than most programs do, offering both a short, multipart questionnaire (which is less complicated than it might seem at first glance) and a straightforward prompt that invites applicants, if needed, to address any unclear or problem areas in their profile. Together, the essays should allow you to offer insight into who you are as an individual and who you hope to be as a future business leader, to complement the information presented in your resume, recommendations, and basic stats. Read on for our more detailed analysis of all the school’s 2023–2024 prompts.
Berkeley Haas 2023–2024 Essay Tips
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 revving. 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 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 basketball 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: How will an MBA help you achieve your short-term and long-term career goals? (300 words max)
With this rather no-nonsense query about your motivation to earn an MBA and expectations as to where you will go with it professionally after graduation, Haas simply wants you to spell out what you have in mind as you approach this phase of your life and career. With just 300 words, focus on presenting your answer as directly and thoroughly as possible. Keep in mind that the rest of your application needs to provide evidence that your stated goals align with your existing skills and interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed objectives are achievable and thereby lend credibility to your statement. Also take care to present your goals in such a way that the transition from your short-term objective to your long-term aspiration makes sense. Although the school does not explicitly ask you to discuss your past experiences here or why its program in particular is the best one for you, succinctly touching on both of these points would be advisable and important to both providing context for your stated goals and demonstrating your fit with and need for a Haas MBA specifically.
This straightforward question basically constitutes the core of a typical personal statement essay. And because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we created our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. This publication is available free of charge and provides both detailed guidance and illustrative sample essays. Be sure to download your copy today.
Required Essay #3: (Video) The Berkeley MBA program develops leaders who embody our four Defining Leadership Principles. Briefly introduce yourself to the admissions committee, explain which leadership principle resonates most with you, and tell us how you have exemplified the principle in your personal or professional life. (Not to exceed 2 minutes.)
Start by taking a deep breath. We understand that video essays can make you feel like you are being put on the spot, but Haas is really not trying to stress you out. The admissions committee simply wants a more dynamic representation of your personality than a written essay can provide. So just deliver your response honestly, as smoothly as you can (despite any nervousness you might be feeling), and be yourself.
If you have not done so already, you should of course start by familiarizing yourself with the four Defining Leadership Principles so you can determine which one you connect with most and should therefore speak on in your video: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. This question offers you incredible flexibility and is essentially an opportunity for you to share a strong relevant story from your past—one that relates directly to one of the four key principles. First you must “introduce yourself to the admissions committee,” and given that this part is about a topic you know very well (you!), the only real challenge will be keeping this portion succinct. (Remember that your entire video can be no longer than two minutes!) After that, launch right into your story. Absolutely avoid beginning your anecdote with a statement like “The key principle I have displayed is [fill in the blank].” Instead, let your actions speak for themselves and naturally reveal the connection with one of Haas’s four key tenets. If that connection is not clear on its own, you need to keep refining your story until it is. In a little under two minutes, you can absolutely convey a clear narrative with a distinct beginning, middle, and end that shows the admissions committee your strengths, rather than simply stating that you possess certain characteristics. Do not use any part of your video to pitch your candidacy, detail your career goals, or express your admiration for the program.
Remember to bring energy and enthusiasm to your submission. You are trying to connect with the admissions committee as well as communicate information, so a little charisma is welcome.
Required Essay #4 (Short Answer): Can you please describe any experience or exposure you have in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging whether through community organizations, personal, or in the workplace? (300 words max)
Without question, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are on many people’s (and companies’) minds these days, and Haas is certainly not the only top MBA program asking its applicants to discuss these topics. Some schools are asking candidates to discuss a time when they cultivated a more diverse community or encountered a challenge related to DEI or had their world view altered by a DEI-related experience, but Haas’s prompt leaves things a bit more open-ended: “any experience or exposure” (emphasis ours). Given that this is a required essay—albeit a short one—this leeway will likely be helpful to candidates who might have less exposure to such issues or environments.
You can draw from any area of your life (professional, personal, community/volunteer), so truly reflect on the entirety of your background for possible stories for this essay. Consider your role in the different situations. Were you a leader of a diverse team? A participant or member of a diverse group? An observer? The object of someone else’s focus? Next, consider both your actions and the effect the experience had on you. Did you learn a valuable takeaway or change your mind about an issue, person, or group? Did you change someone else’s perspective? Were you inspired to act in some way—or to maybe cease acting in some way? Did you have to (or choose to) speak up or confront someone, and if so, why?
You do not need to have led a revolution or camped out for days in protest to craft a compelling, effective response to this question (though such stories would understandably make an impression). Authenticity, honesty, and sincerity are all key here. Speak genuinely and directly about your personal experience in the DEI/justice/belonging space and share its import for you and the effect it has had on you, so the Haas admissions committee can understand your level of familiarity and engagement with these meaningful issues.
Optional Essays: The admissions team takes a holistic approach to application review and seeks to understand all aspects of a candidate’s character, qualifications, and experiences. We will consider achievements in the context of the opportunities available to a candidate. Some applicants may have faced hardships or unusual life circumstances, and we will consider the maturity, perseverance, and thoughtfulness with which they have responded to and/or overcome them.
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)
2. What is the most recent occupation of your parent(s) or guardian(s)?
- Skilled worker
3. 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
4. What was the primary language spoken in your childhood home?
5. If you have ever been responsible for providing significant and continuing financial or supervisory support for someone else, please indicate.
- Extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)
6. 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 Berkeley Haas’s first optional essay prompt is somewhat elaborate, it is not necessarily all that complicated, and we imagine it will offer some 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, though the note about using bullet points implies that succinctness would be appreciated. This is not, however, a blank-slate invitation to dump every bit of remaining information about yourself that you feel the school is lacking. Also, 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 Guides! Download your free copy of the Berkeley Haas School of Business Interview Guide today.
To learn more about the essays for other top business schools, visit our MBA Essay Tips and Examples Resources Page.