Berkeley (Haas) Application Essays for 2011-2012

UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2014. Haas made some big changes to its essays (lots of short ones!) this year’s so let’s dig in. Here are the school’s application deadlines and essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Haas Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 12, 2011
Round 2: December 1, 2011
Round 3: January 18, 2012
Round 4: March 7, 2012

Haas Admissions Essays
Before you dive into the essays, be sure to read the passage on the Haas admissions website. Last year this was used as a prompt for one of the school’s short-answer essays. Now, all of the essays are built off of this statement of the school’s principles.

  1. What brings you the greatest joy? How does this make you distinctive? (250 words)
    This question is new this year, although we consider it a distant cousin of last year’s question, which asked, “What are you most passionate about? Why?” We like this version better, perhaps because the old one reminded us too much of Stanford’s first essay question. Also, the choice of words — “What brings you the greatest JOY?” — makes this unique among business school essays. The key here is to write about something that you really, really care about. A good litmus test is this: How knowledgeable are you about the subject? Many applicants will be tempted to go bold and say something like “Fighting global warming is what I’m most passionate about,” because they feel like that’s just what one is supposed to say here, but then can’t back it up with facts. Admissions officers will see right through this, so avoid those temptations here.

    The latter half of this question — “How does this make you distinctive?” — is interesting because that’s almost the implied second half of every essay question that you’ll answer. We actually think that this may mislead some applicants because they’ll feel a need to choose a topic that based on “distinctiveness” rather than “joy.” We recommend at least starting with an emphasis on joy (What do you really, REALLY enjoy doing?), and then revisiting if it looks like you’re falling flat in the distinctiveness department.
  2. What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 words)
    This question carries over from last year, although Haas subtly rephrased it this year. Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.
  3. Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 words)
    This question is new this year. We like this a lot better than last year’s question that asked you to give “an example of a situation in which you displayed leadership.” This new question is far more specific, and gets closer to what MBA admissions officers really wan to see in applicants: a willingness to go beyond the norm, go outside of their comfort zone, and improve on the status quo (and don’t miss the fact that “question the status quo” is one of the school’s four key principles). Note the second part and its emphasis on “positive change”… this also gets to the heart of the matter. They don’t want to just see that you question everything all the time, but rather than you do it when there’s an opportunity to make things better. How did you make a positive impact on the community or organization around you?
  4. Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 words)
    This question is also new this year. Continuing a trend, notice how Haas uses the second part to specifically call out what the admissions committee looks for in your response. As we always advise with “failure” questions, this is the real meat of the essay — illustrating what you learned and, ideally, describing a later time when you put that lesson to work. These essays are all very short, so that last part may not make the final cut, but be sure to give enough emphasis to what you learned. In an essay this short, it’s easy to finish describing the failure and then realize you’ve already hit the word limit; you can’t afford to let that happen here.
  5. Describe a time when you led by inspiring or motivating others toward a shared goal. (250 words)
    This is another new question that is descended from last year’s “an example of a situation in which you displayed leadership” question. Haas clearly wants to dissect applicants’ leadership abilities at a much more granular level than it has in the past. Here, what the admissions committee wants to see is an ability to get things done through others, rather than a tendency to be a great contributor but not necessarily a leader. Other, similar questions from other schools as you to “win others over to your way of thinking.” While that’s not exactly what Haas asks here, think about this question that way if you’re having a hard time coming up with a story from your past experiences.
  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? b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (1000 words for 6a. and 6b.)
    This question is an evolution of a similar one from last year. Once again, we find it interesting how Haas so specifically calls out what it wants to see in your response. This question is essentially the typical “Why an MBA? Why this school?” essay that most schools ask, although Haas makes an effort to explicitly call out parts a and b, which suggests that past applicants haven’t sufficiently answered both parts — especially the “Why Haas?” part. Ask yourself these questions: Where do you see yourself in a few years (and beyond that), and why do you need an MBA to get there? Specifically, why do you need a Haas MBA to get there? Why not another top-ten MBA program? Really force yourself to answer that question, even if not all of your answer makes its way into your final essay response!

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