Battling for Bay Area Supremacy – Haas Essay Analysis 2013-2014

University of California Berkeley (Haas) – 2013-2014 Essay Analysis

While Haas’ MBA neighbor across the bay certainly gets a lot of the attention in the Bay area, Haas is one of the unquestionable leaders in the global MBA world and considered to be a top 10 global business school in the eyes of many.  The school is defined by four key principles that you need to keep in mind when writing your essays (see more on Haas’ website):

  1. Question the Status Quo
  2. Confidence Without Attitude
  3. Student Always
  4. Beyond Yourself

Haas CourtyardBefore you start writing, think about each of those principles and how you fall into each category.  It’s also a good idea to think of examples in your personal and professional life where those principles were a foundation for your decision making process.  You may (hint) need to use those examples one day!


Essay 1: If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 word maximum)

This is a great way to get to know you without the admissions committee having to say “Tell me about yourself”.  Think long and hard about who you are as a person, your passions, character, and what differentiates you.   Don’t get too caught up in the artist, rather focus on what the song represents and make sure it represents you!  We suggest downloading the lyrics to make sure there are no hidden meanings (lots of interesting stories here).  Tupac fans beware.


Admit Advantage: First you need to determine what you want to say.  Go back to the 4-6 leadership characteristics that you should have defined in advance.  Haas is giving you an incredible opportunity to sum up who you are, so take full advantage of the opportunity.


Admit Advantage: The ideal song is from an artist / genre that you like, so you can add that as a reason you chose it.  However, the meaning of the song is paramount, so you may have to search for a song that truly encapsulates who you are even if you don’t know the artist well. 


Essay 2: What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)

This essay is meant to gain meaningful insight into your most substantial accomplishment.  While they left out the clarifying question “why is it your most significant accomplishment”, a more complete essay will provide your rationale for choosing this particular accomplishment.  This will provide the admissions committee with insight into your value compass to understand what is important to you.


Admit Advantage: This is an open invitation to give the Haas admissions committee insight into what matters most to you and your definition of success.  Don’t relegate yourself to a career accomplishment on this essay.  While you certainly could address a career accomplishment, perhaps there is an equally meaningful community achievement or perseverance through a personal trial that would be beneficial for you to highlight…but, you only have one so choose wisely!


Admit Advantage: Think about your MBA brand before you write this essay.  Map out the key leadership traits that you want to get across to the admissions committee and try to identify accomplishments that highlight these traits.  Force rank your accomplishments based on meaning to you and make sure that it ties in with one, if not more, of these character traits.


Essay 3: Describe a time in the last three years when you overcame a failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)

Now that you’ve shown them that you can accomplish something significant, it’s time to talk about a time when it didn’t work out so well.  As you likely know (or will soon find out), you are bound to fail at some point in your business career (the AA founders have both had failures along the way – Kofi more than Eric, though).  Failure is a part of life, but the real measure of a leader is how you bounce back from failure.  Don’t dance around the failure—it’s OK to list a real failure as long as you have learned from it.  Don’t forget to answer ALL of the questions.  What specific insight(s) did you gain?  What did you learn about yourself?  How did it shape you as a person (i.e. what behavior did you change as a result)?


Admit Advantage: If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not pushing hard enough in your career.  That’s part of the evaluation, so don’t be shy stating your failure.  After all, they are asking you for it!  Keep in mind that it should be in the last three years as they want to see a more recent example of your perseverance.


Admit Advantage: The learning from this experience is arguably just as, if not more, valuable than the actual failure story itself.  The admissions committee wants to see that you were able to process the failure and any associated behavior that contributed to it, change the behavior, and apply the learning to a future situation. 


Essay 4

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 word maximum for 4a. and 4b.)

This is a traditional yMBA/yHaas/yNow/ST/LT goal essay wrapped into one set of essay questions.  The admissions committee is looking to understand the progression of your background leading you to where you are today (pursuing an MBA at Haas) and where it’s going to take you in your career. This essay is a classic balancing act challenge as you need to think about several things:

  • What experiences have you had that have led you to pursue an MBA?
  • Why do you want to get an MBA at this point in your career?  Could you stand a bit more work experience?  Is there a circumstance that leads you to want to go now?
  • Look forward: what are your short-term and long-term goals, and how will an MBA equip you to successfully achieve those goals?
  • Why do you want to go to Haas, specifically, to help you fulfill these goals?


The main challenge here is to be able to write an essay that answers the question and touches on all of these previously-mentioned points within the word limit.  Make sure to map out the key reasons for an MBA in advance of writing this one.


Admit Advantage: Avoid the trap of focusing too much on your career background.  Lots of candidates want to use this question as an opportunity to regurgitate their resume.  That would be a mistake here.  Each word is precious, for this essay specifically, so use enough background to provide context to discuss why an MBA is important and how your past experience can help you deliver on future success. 


Admit Advantage: The natural question is “What should my word breakdown be between 4a and 4b?”   There is no specific answer, but I would lean a bit more towards 4b to show why an MBA from Haas is a good fit for you and how it can help you achieve your goals.


Optional Essay #1 Please feel free to provide a statement concerning any information you would like to add to your application that you haven’t addressed elsewhere. (500 word maximum)

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  • Explanation of why you do not have a Letter of Reference from your current direct supervisor or peer
  • Explanation of criminal conviction, criminal charges sustained against you in a juvenile proceeding, and/or court-supervised probation
  • Explanation of academic suspension or expulsion
  • Any other information that you did not have sufficient space to complete in another section of the application (please begin the information in the appropriate section)
  • Additional work experience that cannot fit into the space provided
  • Additional information about your academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere
  • This essay is self-explanatory, but gives you a good set of themes for Stanford and other schools’ optional essays.  Again, if you don’t have anything to address outside of your core essays, don’t feel obligated to do so.

 Admit Advantage: 500 words is a maximum number of words, but by no means is it the guideline.  Say what you need to say and stop writing.  Frankly, if you need that much room to explain extenuating circumstances, you’re not likely to get in.


Optional Essay#2 If not clearly evident, please discuss ways in which you have demonstrated strong quantitative abilities, or plan to strengthen quantitative abilities. You do not need to list courses that appear on your transcript. (250 word maximum)

This is a great opportunity for career changers from non-quantitative backgrounds to demonstrate their ability to handle the quantitative rigors of business school.  If you haven’t addressed your lack of quantitative skills and analytical skills, that could be a problem.  Common ways to address this question may include things like analytical experience in a non-traditional field (i.e. statistical analysis on customer download data in the music industry), or taking courses outside of your undergraduate experience, or perhaps serving as a volunteer treasurer of a non-profit.  Either way, you have to work to address this in advance, so get started now.

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