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Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Essay Analysis, 2018–2019

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Last year, we noted that the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, seemed to have begun embracing the less-is-more movement with regard to its application essays, having cut back its required submissions slightly, and this year, the program seems to have adopted that mind-set a little more (with the exception of its optional essays). It has gone from three mandatory essays down to two and changed the bulk of its career-focused question from an explanation of the past to a projection into the future. As for that aforementioned optional essay, Berkeley-Haas has broken unique ground with an elaborate questionnaire prompt that appears complicated at first but is actually rather straightforward. Overall, candidates still have a good opportunity to present a well-rounded impression of themselves to the school, from who they are today to the professional they expect to be in their projected career. Our full analysis of Berkeley-Haas’s updated essay questions follows…

Essay #1: Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date. Elaborate on why it is meaningful to you. (300 words maximum)

Before you start hyperventilating, let us reassure you that you absolutely can convey a meaningful and compelling story in just six words. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Ernest Hemingway’s famous “six-word novel,” which reads, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In fact, entire Reddit, Pinterest, and Tumblr pages are dedicated to these succinct narratives, and several publications and Web sites have regular contests to see who can craft the best six-word tales. So, Berkeley-Haas may not be the first to come up with the idea, but it does appear to be the first business school to make it a part of its application!

In addition to presenting several examples for applicants on its team Web page, the Berkeley Haas admissions committee offers two key pieces of advice for this essay in a video application tip: using contractions (e.g., it’s, can’t, won’t, didn’t) is totally acceptable, and perfect grammar is not necessary. These are both important space savers. Thankfully, the school also gives you a 300-word essay in which to further elaborate on your mini story (up from 250 words last season), so you can expound on some elements of the narrative that may not be immediately understood, but take care to not use that portion of this essay response to simply retell your story in more detail.

Start by thinking carefully about how you want to present yourself as an applicant and an individual, and consider what you might say in your other essays for the program, to ensure that each piece you submit is complementary of the others and offers something different about you. You might consider this first essay the “colorful” essay and the other one  the more “serious” submission. In this one, you have a special opportunity to provide a window into your life experience and personality. Your six-word story should captivate and intrigue the admissions reader, leaving him or her wanting to learn more. (Almost by definition, the reader will be enveloped in mystery!) Then, the second, 300-word portion of the essay should unravel any mystery, illuminate your character, and clarify the significance of the core narrative in who you are today, thereby giving the admissions committee a critical sense of understanding.

Essay #2: Briefly describe your immediate post-MBA career goal, and discuss how it will put you on a path to a meaningful and rewarding career. (300 words maximum)

Yet again, Berkeley-Haas has reframed its career-focused essay prompt. This year, rather than asking about candidates’ “prior experiences” and the foundation/impetus those have provided, the admissions committee asks applicants to discuss how their first post-MBA position will be the initial chapter of an ultimately fulfilling professional story. The school knows only too well that many candidates change their career goals during the course of the MBA program, given their exposure to new people, ideas, and options, so focusing on an applicant’s immediate post-graduate aspiration allows the admissions committee to assess where that individual is right now in his/her thinking and development. The concept of motivation is key, so you want to demonstrate that you are a forward-thinking person who sees business school as a vital step on your professional and personal journey and truly understands how the experience fits into your vision of your future. Also, take special note of the words “meaningful and rewarding” in the school’s prompt. Berkeley-Haas wants to know that you are pursuing an MBA because you are passionate and enthusiastic about the career you envision will follow, that it appeals to you in a personal and significant way—not just as a potential path to a bigger paycheck or fancy title (or worse, that you simply feel you are supposed to get an MBA for some reason). So be sure to have that excitement and drive show in your response by being authentic and demonstrating that you have truly thought about your path and are eager to get started.

The elements this essay question demands are ones typically included in a standard personal statement essay, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which we created to help applicants write this style of essay for any school. It explains in further detail how to consider and present your career goals in essay form, with examples, so be sure to claim your complimentary copy today.

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

4.What was the primary language spoken in your childhood home?

  1. 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.

And for a thorough exploration of Berkeley-Haas’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, which is also available for free.

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. To help you on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers. Download your free copy of the Berkeley-Haas Interview Primer today!