The set of essays for admission to UC Berkeley Haas School of Business is a holistic exploration of personal to professional topics. A clear understanding of your application strategy, particularly your career goals and strengths/weaknesses, is the key to putting together a cohesive application. While challenging, this is also an opportunity to demonstrate several different aspects of your personality to the admissions committee.
Note that Haas describes four defining principles for the community: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself. Which of these principles do you identify with? Make sure you have strong examples that illustrate how you have demonstrated these principles and use them in the following essay set.
Stacy Blackman Consulting has successfully coached applicants to the Haas MBA program for 15 years. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you set a winning application strategy.
Essay 1: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words maximum)
This is a creative and open-ended question that invites you to show your personality as you open this set of essays. Take the opportunity to think about your favorite music and what song most represents you.
Perhaps it’s a song that you grew up listening to with your family, that reminds you where you came from. Maybe it’s a song that helps you feel optimistic about your future. Music often evokes emotion, and the essay should capture that feeling and describe why it is meaningful to you.
Essay 2: Please respond to one of the following prompts: (250 words maximum)
All three of the potential essay prompts for Essay 2 deal with change, growth and transformation. This essay is seeking to understand how you handle challenges to your own status quo, and what you learn as a result. Flexibility, curiosity and the ability to handle change would be positive personal qualities to demonstrate with whatever example you choose.
Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world and how it transformed you.
If you decide to answer this question think about the moments that have truly changed you. One approach is to think through transitions. Perhaps the transition from high school to college showed you a different way of life, or the transition to working from college exposed you to new people and new ideas.
Traveling for the first time outside your home country may have been another transition. If none of those transitions lead to a topic for this essay you can delve into the smaller incidents in your life. A friendship, family experience, or volunteer opportunity could have opened your eyes to something new about yourself and the world.
Once you have selected a topic for this essay you will need to explain how you were transformed. What was your attitude like before the experience and what are you like now? Was the transformation internal or did you change how you approached other people? Ideally you learned something from this transformation and explaining that lesson learned would be a strong finish.
Describe a time when you were challenged by perspectives different from your own and how you responded.
The brainstorming process for this question can be similar to the option above. Consider the transitions in life when you have been in a new environment or culture that didn’t quite fit with your past experiences.
Those could be the moments when you were exposed to new perspectives and were forced to respond. Another possible scenario would be a new person introduced to your school or workplace, one who brought a new perspective or culture.
While it is normal to be taken aback or threatened by new perspectives, ideally you were open minded and tried to understand and learn through this experience. Describe the experience, your initial reaction, and then use a significant portion of the essay to describe what you learned and how you changed as a result.
Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging.
Difficult decisions are often a moment to reflect again upon your values. What were the stakes of your decision and why did you struggle to make a clear choice? Perhaps you were choosing between priorities in your life, family or work, where to study for university or what career path to pursue. No matter what the decision was it will be important to talk a bit about your process for making it. Why did you choose one option over another and what did you learn about yourself?
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)
This is a short career goals essay and asks you to describe your path to business school along with your future goals. As you describe your path you don’t need to recite your resume here – rather highlight the key experiences that will be relevant in your future career. Think about the cover letter you would write to explain your background for a desired next job, and tailor your approach accordingly.
Describe your future goals in a succinct manner, considering what aspects of your background to explain in the “path” section that will support your goals development.
Be specific about why the Haas School of Business is the right program to pursue your goals as well. As you consider past experiences and your future goals you will be able to see what you want to gain from the Haas experience to fill any gaps.
If you have an advertising background and want to become a brand manager you’ll likely need classes in operations and finance to understand the analytical side of brand management.
Other goals will require specific skills gained from an MBA and your own unique background will inform how you take advantage of the Haas experience.
Make sure you have determined exactly what courses make sense for your career goals and the programs and clubs that you will participate in to reach your personal and professional goals. Thorough school research will be invaluable in approaching this question.
Use this essay to share information that is not presented elsewhere in the application, for example:
Explanation of employment gaps or academic aberrations
For re-applicants, improvements to your candidacy
Haas recommends using this space to address any information that was not adequately covered elsewhere, specifically suggesting that any employment gaps or lack of apparent quantitative skills be covered.
A short gap between school and a secured job is not necessary to explain, but an unexplained gap of several months between two jobs should be addressed. If your resume has significant employment gaps you should describe what you did between jobs in this space. Ideally you can point to additional education, training, volunteering or traveling that you engaged in while unemployed.
If you have a strong quantitative background like an engineering or hard sciences degree, or you work in a quantitative field like finance, it is likely unnecessary to further explain your quantitative skills.
Otherwise, you may want to take one or two examples to demonstrate that you have an analytical mind and can take a quantitative approach to problem solving and evaluating data. As the question specifically asks you not to focus on the grades on your transcript, use this space to describe projects at work, additional post-graduate coursework, or your plans to strengthen your quant skills before you enroll at Haas.
Reapplicants can describe hard improvements to your candidacy such as an improved GMAT score, new grades from quantitative classes, or a promotion. Other improvements might include refined career goals and additional leadership responsibilities at work or within a volunteer activity.