Berkeley (Haas) Admissions Essays for 2012-2013

UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. The Haas admissions team has trimmed down its essay count, going from six to five required essays in this year’s application, and shortening one essay from 1,000 to 750 words. Beyond that, there haven’t been too many dramatic changes this year, although the school’s new Essay #1 is definitely new and different.

Here are Haas’s essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Berkeley (Haas) Application Essays

  1. If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words)

    This question is new this year, and replaces another essay prompt that asked “What brings you the greatest joy?” We expect that many applicants will over-think this essay, and trick themselves into coming up with a song that is neither close to their hearts nor does a good job of expressing who you are. Admissions officers frequently say, “There is no right answer to our essay questions,” but this guidance is particularly true in this case. Do not be afraid at all to have a little fun with this essay. Ideally your response will be deeper than saying “‘Call Me Maybe’ expresses me best,” but if a fun pop song expresses some aspect of you very well, then so be it! We doubt that many applicants’ chances will be ruined by this essay… If anything, this is a chance to have a little fun and stand out from the pack. Completely stumped? Then don’t sweat it… Don’t feel the need to pull off an irrational gimmick here just to try to stand out.
  2. What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 words)

    This question carries over unchanged from last 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 also carries over unchanged from last year. This question is quite specific as far as essay prompts go, and hits on 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. Anyone can be a thorn in everyone else’s side, but 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 unchanged from before. Again, 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. 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? (750 words for 6a. and 6b.)

    This question also carries over unchanged from last year, although the word limit has dropped from 1,000 to 750 words. 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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