Beyond Yourself Haas Essays

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Berkeley / Haas MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2016-2017

Now that the Haas MBA essay topics have been announced for the 2016-2017 season, we wanted to offer our thoughts on how to approach each of these prompts for business school applicants targeting the UC Berkeley MBA Class of 2019.

Haas MBA applicants will respond to three required essays totaling 1,000 words. Once again, there is a reprise of that song-that-represents-you prompt, as well as fairly straightforward questions about the candidate’s career goals and influential past experiences.

To begin, applicants should note the following preamble to this year’s Haas MBA essay questions:

Essays help us learn about who you are as a person and how you will fit with our community. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles – Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. We encourage you to reflect on your experiences, values, and passions so that you may craft a thoughtful and authentic response.

A review of the linked page in this introduction suggests that the Haas MBA is looking for applicants who believe in taking calculated risks in the interest of innovation (Question the Status Quo), drawing confidence from evidence and analysis and eschewing unfounded arrogance (Confidence Without Attitude), lifelong learning and active curiosity (Student Always), and acting in the long-term interest of all stakeholders even at short-term personal expense (Beyond Yourself). We encourage applicants to consider examples of how their values align with these Haas principles, and that they aim to touch on at least one of these four principles in their responses to each of the questions below.

Let’s take a closer look at each of this season’s Haas MBA essays:

Essay 1: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words)
Making its fourth appearance on the Haas application, this prompt asks applicants to identify a piece of popular culture that captures the essence of their personality, values, or goals. This reflects a desire to get to know applicants on a more personal level, while also having a bit of fun with the admissions process.

While applicants have a myriad of options in choosing a song to discuss, the most important part of a candidate’s response will be to showcase their self-awareness by articulating why they connect with content and/or instrumentation of a chosen song in just 250 words. It’s also worth noting that selecting a song that isn’t currently ubiquitous on the radio or in karaoke bars can help one stand out from other applicants and showcase a tendency to follow your own path. At the same time, selecting a song that’s too obscure may create a missed opportunity to connect with the admissions reader over a shared favorite. We therefore recommend selecting a song by a band or artist who several of your friends or family have at least heard of, even if they aren’t top 40 regulars. (That said, if you believe that a song by an unknown local artist is truly your best and most authentic answer to this question, we wouldn’t rule it out — and maybe you’ll win them a new fan in your admissions reader.)

No matter which song they select, applicants should not presume that the admissions reader will be familiar with their choice. Effective responses to this question will quote specific lyrics or describe the song’s musical mood, and explain in detail why they resonate with one’s own character or personality. Remember that the song is a vehicle for sharing information about yourself — and hinting at your fit with Haas — in this essay. If there are several songs you’re choosing among, you would do well to select the one that would best align with the curious and humble, yet boldly innovative, students that Haas is seeking.

As a final note, applicants should review all the lyrics of the song they choose to ensure that the message they want to convey is supported by the entirety of the song. It would also be wise to consider the entirety of an artist’s oeuvre and public image, and to steer clear of the controversial or over-exposed in identifying a song-writer with whom to align oneself in this response.

Essay 2: Please respond to one of the following prompts: (250 word maximum)

  • Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world and how it transformed you.
  • Describe a time when you were challenged by perspectives different from your own and how you responded.
  • Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging.

In your response, clearly indicate to which prompt (1, 2, or 3) you are responding. We do not have a preference among the prompts and suggest that you select the one for which you can share a specific experience, professional or personal.
This prompt presents applicants with a range of experiences they might discuss: a transformational experience that yielded a significant paradigm shift, a challenging team work situation, or a decision that required them to choose among compelling options or act on incomplete information. We recommend that applicants begin by reflecting on their honest answer to each of the three options. While you may naturally gravitate toward one of them, generating at least two potential topics for each and then evaluating strategically will help you hone in on your best option in light of our next piece of advice.

Once you’ve got your list of examples, we recommend that you cross-reference each with (you guessed it) the four Haas principles. The adcom has signaled that fit with the program’s values is very important to them, so this should take priority in your topic selection. That is, covering a difficult decision that required Questioning the Status Quo or entailed Confidence without Attitude will be a better choice than touting an experience that isn’t a fit with any of the four Haas values. Select the experience that feels truest to you while also allowing you to demonstrate that you’re the kind of student Haas wants to admit.

After you’ve identified your topic, you’re in for another challenge: distilling all of the relevant context for your story and an account of your actions in just 250 words. Effective responses will provide the essential who, what, when, and where of the situation in just 1-2 sentences, establishing all of the relevant players and what was at stake for you (and other important stakeholders). You’ll then want to comment on your actions and the outcome with comparable brevity before moving into the why or how of your chosen prompt. Applicants should aim to spend at least one-third of the essay commenting on what the experience meant to them and/or how they have grown as a result. And, space permitting, it would be a nice touch to end with a remark about how this experience has positioned them to make an impact on the Haas community and/or their chosen post-MBA industry or sector.

Essay 3: Tell us about your career plans. How have your past experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? How will Berkeley-Haas help you? (500 words maximum)

You are encouraged to reflect on what it is you want to do after business school, including the types of roles, responsibilities, and organizations that are of interest. Through this essay we hope to learn about your professional journey to date and how an MBA will facilitate your success – broadly defined – in the future.
This is a fairly standard career goals essay, asking applicants to provide an overview of their career to date, describe their career objectives and explain their reasons for seeking an MBA from Haas in particular. This is a good deal of ground to cover in just 500 words, so applicants will need to be judicious in their use of words. We recommend that applicants aim to summarize their paths to b-school and career goals in 200-250 words in order to leave ample room to discuss their fit with the Haas MBA program and Berkeley community.

Applicants should open this essay by commenting on their professional experiences to date and their post-MBA plans. Rather than offering a chronological account of each of one’s previous jobs here, it’s likely a better strategy to capture one’s “path to business school” by commenting more broadly on industry and functional experiences and zeroing in on projects or interactions that sparked one’s interest in one’s post-MBA plans. Candidates should use their best judgment (with an eye to the word limit) here.

Either way, the discussion of one’s path up to this point should lead logically to their future plans. Applicants should give the adcom a sense of what they want to do and what they hope to accomplish with their careers in the long-term. If space permits, they might also do well to mention what sort of position they’ll seek immediately after an MBA to set them along this path. The adcom will be interested in hearing applicants explain the reason they’ve chosen this path, with a particular emphasis on the impact they hope to make on an organization, sector, or region. Of course, applicants should take care to highlight ways that these reasons align with Haas’s four principles described above.

Next, effective responses will spend at least 50% of the essay explaining the candidate’s interest in and fit with the Haas MBA program. This will include the ways the program’s curriculum and student organizations would prepare the applicant to succeed with his or her stated post-MBA plans, as well as how the candidate would contribute to the campus community and the learning experience of his or her classmates. Applicants should aim to go into a fair amount of detail about this, naming specific courses and career-related events that would help to bridge the gap between their current knowledge base and the mastery they’ll need to be successful later in their career. They might also touch on outlets through which they would indulge their personal interest during their MBA studies, joining or even starting a student club around a hobby they share with their classmates.

Clearly, demonstrating an understanding of the unique merits of Berkeley’s program is crucial to an effective response to this question. Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities -– whether through a visit to campus, conversation with students and alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Haas -– will pay dividends here.

Because Haas ends its essay section with the career goals essay, this response will be the culmination of one’s message to the adcom. Applicants may therefore wish to close their response by tying together the themes and Haas principles that they’ve introduced in their other responses, and end on a note of enthusiasm about the program.

Optional Essay: Use this essay to share information that is not presented elsewhere in the application, for example (500 word maximum):

  • Explanation of employment gaps or academic aberrations
  • Quantitative abilities
  • For re-applicants, improvements to your candidacy

New applicants should exercise discretion when responding to this prompt, as providing an optional essay creates extra work for the admissions reader. This will be a good place to address extenuating circumstances that have influenced one’s academic or professional history, to address weaknesses in one’s application, or to explain an unusual choice of recommender. The wording of this question is open enough that applicants may also choose to discuss an element of their background that is not reflected in their other materials (including data forms and résumé), though they will need to demonstrate sound judgment in doing so – i.e. the nature of the content should be such that it makes a material difference to one’s application – and should summarize the information as concisely as possible.

Meanwhile, re-applicants should seize this opportunity to cover developments in their candidacy that have not been covered in the previous essays. This response should be fairly action-oriented, with a focus on describing the steps that one has taken to become a stronger applicant to Haas since being denied, as well as the results of these efforts in terms of new knowledge and strengthened skills. This also poses an opportunity to demonstrate an enhanced familiarity with and commitment to Haas’s MBA program.

Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis, Essays

Schools: Berkeley / Haas

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How To Get Into UC-Berkeley’s

Haas School of Business

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Understand the four key principles UC Berkeley-Haas looks for in the essays of MBA applicants.

Berkeley-Haas has a very close-knit, student-driven and collaborative culture. The school values innovative leaders who embody the four key principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Student Always and Beyond Yourself.

While you want to keep these concepts in mind as you answer the essay questions, also make sure you are authentic and express thoughts and ideas that demonstrate your true inspirations and interests.

Essay 1: (Required) If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words maximum) Your song can be in any language, from any culture, and does not need to contain lyrics. The strongest responses will focus on answering why this song expresses who you are.

Berkeley-Haas wants to know what makes you tick. As expressed in the directions, the song itself is not as important as why it expresses who you are. Be authentic and use an example that shows what is unique about you. Think about a song that takes you back to a special place when you learned something significant about yourself. Or when you stood up for something you believed. Take this opportunity to show the real you when you exhibited one of the four key principles and dive deeper into something that is not on your resume.

Essay 2: Please respond to one of the following prompts: (250 words maximum)
1 – Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world and how it transformed you.
2 – Describe a time when you were challenged by perspectives different from your own and how you responded.
3 – Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging.
In your response, clearly indicate to which prompt (1, 2, or 3) you are responding. We do not have a preference among the prompts and suggest that you select the one for which you can share a specific experience, professional or personal.

First, make sure you are very clear about which prompt you are answering. Use a number to highlight your selection.

Berkeley-Haas prides itself on the close interaction of its small class. With only 60 students per cohort, you truly get to know each and every person within your cohort no matter what industry, function, nationality or any other demographic. Much of your work will be done in teams, some of which you choose and some of which are chosen for you. Use this opportunity to describe how you will interact with other members of your cohort and teams. Make sure to address how you grew from the situation.

It does not matter which you choose, but commit and clearly state which you are choosing. Choose the response to the prompt that displays one of the four key principles.

Essay #3: Tell us about your career plans. How have your past experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? How will Berkeley-Haas help you? (500 words maximum)
You are encouraged to reflect on what it is you want to do after business school, including the types of roles, responsibilities, and organizations that are of interest. Through this essay we hope to learn about your professional journey to date and how an MBA will facilitate your success – broadly defined – in the future.

In this prompt, articulate your career goals, your past experiences and why a Berkeley-Haas MBA is an integral part of those goals. It is important to show that you understand the culture of the Berkeley-Haas program and that it is the right one for you.

  1. Describe your career plans. Explain how these career goals developed and how you see your career progressing over the next 10-20 years.
  2. Talk about your experiences to date that have led you to wanting a Berkeley-Haas MBA. Be clear about what you have learned and what you still need to learn. If you are changing careers, connect the dots to how your past experiences have led to this decision.
  3. Know the program and how Berkeley-Haas, specifically, can help you achieve these goals. Talk with alumni and current students, visit the school and attend a class, research and listen to podcasts or participate in an on-line chat. Make sure you can discuss specific programs, clubs or aspects to the community that will help you achieve your goals as well as how you will contribute to these programs to help them grow.

At Berkeley-Haas, innovation is at the forefront of the culture. Through your application, demonstrate how your past experiences combined with a Berkeley-Haas MBA will support your dreams to make a difference.

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Topics: MBA Admissions Insights, MBA Application Tips, School Specific Articles | Tags: Haas School of Business


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