Acceptance Rate Berkeley Mba Essays
Hemingway, by Lloyd Arnold, late 1939. Public Domain.
“The worst thing that you can do is be afraid and try to give the safe answer… Be courageous and tell us who you really are and what you want out of business school, and I think that you will find that strategy will take you all the way.” –Pete Johnson, Associate Dean of MBA Admissions, Berkeley Haas
Berkeley Haas showed some literary panache in posing a Hemingway-esque challenge to MBA candidates with this new essay for its 2017/18 cycle: “Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date.”
Never someone to be intimidated by a challenge (literary or otherwise), it’s said that novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote the following when provoked by fellow writers to tell a full story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” According to legend, Hemingway penned the story in a few minutes on a bar napkin and won $10 from each challenger in the wager.
It’s unclear whether you can submit your answer to Haas on a bar napkin. Though you do get 250 words to elaborate on why your six-word story is meaningful to you. The heart of the challenge, which replaces Berkeley’s “choose one song that expresses who you are,” is to distill an emblematic experience into something autobiographical and memorable.
So where to start? Berkeley Haas Associate Dean for the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions, Pete Johnson, offers this advice:
“Be courageous,” says Johnson, who spoke on the Admissions Director Panel at the CentreCourt MBA Festival in New York. “I think a lot of applicants say ‘well, you know, I’m an engineer but what I really want to do is work in digital music,’ and they write it out and they show it to their partner or whoever who says, ‘no don’t write that, they’ll think you’re crazy!’ When people do that, it goes flat. When somebody really tells us what they’re enthusiastic about it literally leaps off the screen.”
Haas’s six-word story is a pointed example of shorter not being simpler. Knowing that a good story conveys a beginning, middle and end, it’s a mighty feat in six words. To paraphrase a literary maxim oft attributed to Mark Twain, ‘If I had more time I’d have written a shorter letter.’ Morgan Bernstein, Executive Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at Haas, supplies some great insight for the essays on the Haas website.
“There is no right story other than your own,” says my Fortuna Admissions colleague Sharon Joyce, former Associate Director of Admissions at Haas. “And this is not an exercise in grammar. So think first about what you want Haas to take away from the essay before you try to capture that experience in six words.”
In terms of strategy, Sharon advises to first think about a memorable experience and why it brought you great happiness, or proved to be a distinctly rewarding challenge. Then, allow yourself to play with possibilities. Allowing yourself to have a little fun and stay curious can go a long way toward replacing any feelings of dread (or, for the more quant-minded among you, terror). For some inspiration and amusement, view these clever submissions from a six-word memoir contestfeatured on NPR, which includes, “Met wife at her bachelorette party.”
“The six-word essay prompt allows the admissions team to understand ‘what makes you tick’ above and beyond what they’ve already gleaned from your academic record and work history,” says Joyce. “This might be an opportunity to share an experience where you went beyond yourself to succeed, or grew in confidence from a lesson in failure. Write not what you think sounds so very b-school, but rather share your sense of purpose and authentic self.”
If you’re ready to write like Hemingway, remember that he’s also credited with proclaiming, “The first draft of anything is sh@*.” It’s almost always true, even for the writer who knocked out one of his most memorable stories on a napkin.
Matt Symonds is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, a dream team of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools. He is the author of “Getting the MBA Admissions Edge,” and co-organizer of the CentreCourt MBA Festival with Poets & Quants.
Admissionado back once again with fresh, off-the-shelves essay analyses for Haas's 2017 application! We wanted to jump in and give you a head-start on those essays questions jog that imagination, and give you a few tips and tricks to get started on your Berkeley Haas essays to get you started on the best foot this year. Soooooo, without further ado:
Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA 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. (250 words maximum)
Tip: A successful six-word story will pique the reader’s interest in the forthcoming explanation. Together the story and explanation will share a specific and personal experience that helps the reader get to know you better, giving insight into your character, value, or how you would uniquely contribute to the Berkeley-Haas community. View sample six-word stories and video tips from the admissions committee.
If you take a peek at the “six-word stories” prompt from the Haas admissions committee, you’ll notice that it’s pretty loose. The good news? With six words, it’s hard to do something “wrong.” The bad news? No such thing as bad news. We eat challenges like this for breakfast. Bring it on, Haas.
Before we get to the six words, let’s consider the angle carefully: “memorable experience.” This is helpful to keep in mind because they’re not looking for a catchy slogan and then some words to back it up. So, what are they looking for? Well, it doesn’t really matter. This is the part where the ol’ Admissionado approach will help get you out of your own damn way. The temptation is to stew on those six words before anything else, which is a bad idea.
We have a much better idea – go to your “greatest hits.” What story do you absolutely HAVE to tell Haas? Which story will reveal something about you (that won’t naturally be covered elsewhere) that completes a key missing dimension to your app? Peek ahead to the rest of their questions. Let’s say you’ve got a great leadership story teed up for one of them. If that’s the case, maybe you want to use THIS space to reveal how silly and LIKEABLE you are.
(Because your calculation would be that (a) Leadership + (b) Insane Likeability = (c) Dangerous Potential For Future Success.)
But flip it. Let’s say that when you’ve picked the BEST stories for the rest of the prompts, you find that you’re MISSING a great leadership story. Or that there’s a dimension to your leadership repertoire that MUST be told and is missing. Even if you have a colorful story that COULD be told here, you may want to favor that other leadership angle, if that’s the right move. The point is, pick the story, not the catchiest six-word story that comes to mind. No matter what the story, you can always develop a KILLER six-word redux.
So, Step 1 here is pure, unadulterated Gestaltian strategy. The question is: what puzzle piece goes here that completes the rest of your Haas application and gives you the greatest bang for your buck? Once you’ve sewn that up, you’re ready to craft the thing.
At this point, you can start to have fun with the six-word aspect of it, and ping-pong between starting with a six-word “story” (the six words themselves, that is) and then fleshing out an actual 250-word exploration/explanation around it. Or, write the story first and then mess around with how the six-word aspect might look. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck, because you have an out: “start with whatever thing isn’t stuck” (whether it’s the six-word thing, or the story part). No matter how you begin, you can always refine both, together.
What does 250 words look like? It’s probably two normal-sized paragraphs or three shorter ones. However you skin it, it’ll need to be efficient.
What are good angles to pursue here? Generally, self-deprecating, humorous stuff is more likely to work well over heavy, poignant stuff. Why? Limited space. To tell a very deeply meaningful story with concision… is almost to undermine or disrespect it. Imagine giving a moving eulogy about a loved one as EFFICIENTLY as you could, in a three-sentence wrap-up. Woops? It may be the one occasion where economy of words is NOT preferable to… verbosity. When you emote, efficiency can sometimes feel unfeeling. Don’t get us wrong, it’s doable. It just needs to work really, really well.
The “Lesson-Learned” Story
Dear world, I’m going to tell you about a time when I learned a lesson the hard way. Or, a time when I was humbled in a huge way. Or, a time when I was so sure about my beliefs and was then proven wrong.
The key theme for something like this is the “turning point” moment when we are able to see a Before and After picture and your recognition of it. That kind of introspection can say a lot about a person’s future as a businessman/woman.
The “And-That’s-When-I-Discovered-this-Ridiculous-Quirk-About-Myself” Story
This one’s more style than substance. It’s all about revealing something about yourself – and possibly even the way you go about it – that makes the reader smirk when reading it and want to meet you. It could be admitting to a cool hobby that’s unusual, or a strange belief you have that’s wildly contrary to more popularly held ones, or something strange you do that people have pointed out makes you so “you.”
To just say it outright can be weird, but Haas has given you an opportunity to encase it in a “story” so it may go down smoother. The idea here is to make the other person smile when you admit this, not much more than that. If you’re trying to even slightly impress them, you’re going to belly flop. Keep this one light.
The “Light-Bulb-Moment” Story
“And that’s when I discovered the world of X, and my passion for it.” Or “Sitting there, desperately willing my bladder to cooperate on the ‘It’s a Small World After All’ ride at Disneyland, my game-changing idea for an app was hatched.”
If you have a really sincere passion for something (perhaps best if non-work-related since you’ll be delving into that stuff in upcoming essays), and its “origin story” is traceable to a single experience, this could be a cool place to dip into it.
The work-related version CAN work, however, if the story is unbelievably funny, or insane. The key here is to channel your emotions when the light bulb actually went off in your mind. What was going through your head? Watching people’s gears churning can be a great way to imagine them as future leaders. It’s hard to do, so, when done well, it can really have an impact. The key is not to get ahead of yourself and write about the light-bulb moment with all your future knowledge. Write it before-during-and-after you experienced it.
So, from the perspective of (A) “before you had those game-changing insights” to (B) the things that were happening in real-time that were causing the light-bulb to go off, finally to (C) the updated perspective, now that everything had changed in your mind. Those are three DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT headspaces. The best versions of light-bulb stories deliver all three.
The “I-Guarantee-You’ve-Never-Met-Anyone-Who-Could-Tell-You-THIS-Story” Story
“Ever marry someone, only to find out later on that they were once married and you had no idea? Not totally uncommon. It happens. Ever then find out that that previous spouse was a (benevolent) dictator of a small nation? Less common. Here’s how that story goes.”
If you have a story that you’re sure no one else on planet Earth could ever tell, do it here. The more ridiculous, insane, un-fortuitous, improbable, unbelievable, etc… the better. The ultimate litmus test must be that you’re sure no one has a similar story. Not even the same story, but even a similar one. It has to be THAT ridiculous. Why? Because that’s how it’ll stick. The kind of story you couldn’t even write in Hollywood because the audience would reject its absurdity! That’s the story to tell here.
The “And-That’s-When-Everything-Changed” Story
Sometimes there are inflection points in life that are so profound that the “life before that inflection point” can be almost unrecognizable. Chances are, there’s an incredible story to tell. The key (a pattern you’ll see over and over again in our essay analyses) is to devote time to the Before, such that the inflection point and whatever comes After actually means something. There needs to be a stark contrast between the two. There needs to a lot of change for an “everything changed” story, heh. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Tell it in real-time as though it were happening now, rather than writing it through a reflective “looking back on it now” lens. Writing in present tense is a neat trick to help accomplish that.
Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA Essay 2
Respond to one of the following prompts. (250 words maximum)
Describe a significant obstacle you have encountered and how it has impacted you.
Describe how you have cultivated a diverse and inclusive culture.
Describe a leadership experience and how you made a positive and lasting impact.
Tip: Responses can draw from professional or personal experiences. Through your response, the admissions committee hopes to gain insight into your achievements, involvement, and leadership footprint.
Describe a significant obstacle you have encountered and how it has impacted you.
Notice the word “encountered” as opposed to “overcome.” A deliberate choice, for sure. On the one hand, they want to know how you handle things that get in your way (“obstacles”). But then they ask about how the obstacles impacted you. Which is interesting. They’re after something more here than your garden variety overcoming-obstacle-MBA-essay…
Let’s start with figuring out what kind of obstacle is worthy of this essay. It can’t just be something that makes succeeding at your goal a touch harder. Say you’re in a car trying to get to a concert and it starts to rain really hard. Okay, maybe you need to use your windshield wipers. Maybe traffic slows a bit. Maybe instead of the trip taking 30 minutes, it turns to a 35 minute trip. This is a low-grade obstacle. Haas is talking about something entirely different here.
You’re in a car trying to get to a concert. There’s one main road that’ll get you there in 30 minutes, but then, a giant tree falls right in the middle of the road. You can’t just take another route and get there in time because this was the only real road that was going to get you there. Now THAT’S an obstacle that poses a legitimate threat to your ability to succeed entirely. That’s Part 1.
Part 2 is all about “impact.” For an obstacle to have had impact on you, the stakes need to be high. It doesn’t necessarily matter what they are, you just need to sell us on the fact that it all meant something to you. Don’t overlook this because it’s an essential ingredient to this essay. We need to understand why the obstacle (and the potential for failure here) would cost you so much. Once we have those two things we’re ready to rock.
Let’s get into a sample outline to help unpack it all:
Paragraph 1 – Get us up to speed by explaining the situation, highlighting what needed to be accomplished, and why it was so crucial to succeed: Goal and Stakes. Then – and this is a nuance that most will miss – convince us how and why the project was heading toward success. We need to understand the confidence level of things “before we get to the obstacle.” Then, introduce the obstacle that threatened the success of the thing. (Roughly 80-100 words)
Paragraph 2 – Explain the new gears you had to go to in order to deal with this obstacle. Explain the actions you took, and the decisions behind those actions. Reveal your thought process and emotional state – this is the key here. (Roughly 80-100 words)
Paragraph 3 – Finally, reflect on how that experience made a MARK on you that hasn’t washed away. Presumably, it’s somehow positive. But it can be just about anything. It might have been a lesson in “never trusting even the surest of bets,” or “always have a Plan B” or whatever it is. There has to be a sense of “without this experience, I would probably approach challenges differently, but thanks to this experience, my version today is so much better off.”
One way to be convincing here is to admit to a real change in perspective: I used to think X, but because of this experience I now think Y. Or, through future action: years later, I’d encounter a similar setback and because of this experience, whereas I would have gone about it X way, this time I went about it Y way.
Describe how you have cultivated a diverse and inclusive culture.
Once again, this one’s all about the Before and After. Whatever thing you’re talking about here (presumably a work-related experience), what were things like BEFORE you took action? You need to “establish that status quo” very clearly so we can understand you as a change agent when you tell THAT part of the story.
Part 1 – Establish the status quo. This is the Before. This is the situation as it was that inspired you to want to CHANGE IT. Explain that. Explain what it was about, the state of affairs in this Before moment that compelled you to want to alter it. Don’t assume it’s plainly obvious to us. What was it about that status quo that felt in need of altering? Why? Sell it to us. Give us the same itch that infected you. (80-100 words)
Part 2 – Now, tell us what you did to change things. Be specific. Show us that you were making conscious decisions with a specific goal in mind. Show us your tactics, walk us through the actions. (80-100 words)
Part 3 – Did it work? Prove it. (50-70 words)
Describe a leadership experience and how you made a positive and lasting impact.
MBA Impact essays are all about – you guessed it – the Before and After. Don’t just tell us that you left impact. We need to understand the DELTA of what it was like after you’d done YOUR part compared to how things were before all that.
Part 1 – Establish the “before.” Don’t skimp on this. Most MBA applicants want to get to the leadership part so quickly, they skip over this, and the essay ends up packing LESS punch because of it. Explain the stuff that REQUIRED action. The stuff that REQUIRED a strong leader to make something happen.
Part 2 – Now take us through what you did to LEAD this change. The best version of this is to reveal your calculations along the way, as if letting us hear the dialogue playing inside your own mind as you established mini-goals and then developed actions around achieving those goals. We want to see those gears in action. Be specific in describing your actions. That’s where we’ll see your leadership abilities, not in your explanations of how you were a leader – those won’t weigh anything. It’s all about seeing it in the actions themselves.
Part 3 – Don’t forget to assess impact. Impact isn’t just a one-time thing. Impact implies something indelible. Something forever changed. We need evidence of this. Prove to us that whatever thing you led persisted even after you were finished with that particular episode. Perhaps that was your goal all along, or perhaps it was a bonus. Either way, it needs to have resulted from some element of success in both your idea and your execution (as a leader).
Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA Essay 3
Briefly describe your immediate post-MBA career goals. (50 words maximum)
How have prior experiences motivated and prepared you to pursue these goals? (250 words maximum)
Tip: You are encouraged to reflect on both what you want to do professionally after business school and why this path interests you.
50 words tells you everything you need to know. This is about clarity, and efficiency with words. Clarity plus believability will deliver maximum impact over shininess of goal. You want the reader to mutter to himself: “Wow, this kid has a very clear and focused outlook.” This is the part where you want to come across as a doer, not a dreamer.
for the second part of thew question if you’ve followed Admissionado in any way, you’ve heard us say a million times “connect your past experiences to your future goals.” In an essay where they ask for that outright (wahoo!), try to avoid “selling” your reader on your past. Resist the urge to want to impress us by hinting at how impressive your achievements are – it’s not about that here. The idea is to forge a strong connection between those experiences and your ability to pull off your stated goal from one question earlier. This should read like a military battle plan. Efficient. Well-thought-through. Contingency plans for when things don’t go your way. Everything considered, no stones unturned.
One great way to get out of your own way is to clearly lay out a few skills/traits one (yep, “one” – general) will need to succeed in the stated goals. Then explain how experiences you’ve had in the past have helped promote you toward that. Be specific in mapping certain skills picked up, certain insights gained, that will prove vital to success. Do this a few times.
Give us a sense of chronology, also. A sense that you understand the building-block nature of how success in your goals will go. First this, then this, then that. And a systematic attack plan for all of it. The more sober and well-considered the plan, the more likely we are to believe you will be successful “at things in general” – because the truth of it is, no one will check to see if you pursued THIS PARTICULAR GOAL. No one cares. They only care if you seem like the kind of person who will succeed AT ALL. And you pull that off through a smart, detailed, sober plan, that maps prior skills gained to skills required in your future goals.
Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA Optional Essay
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
The optional essay and our stance on it has changed over the years (for more on that, read this). Years ago we’d say to do it always-no-matter-what. Then schools seemed to make a POINT of not wanting stuff they didn’t specifically ask for. And now, given the trend toward shorter and more targeted applications, it can go either way.
Generally, if a school gives you a berth, take it. Haas is giving you that berth here, so, if you have something to say that hasn’t been covered elsewhere, say it. (If you’re working with a solid admissions consultant, you may want to run it by him/her to get a seasoned opinion.)
For those whose quantitative abilities may be questionable, either through a not-mind-blowing GMAT score, or through a career arc where those abilities aren’t necessarily evident, this is an excellent space to make a great case for yourself.
But even beyond that, the best way to approach this is to consider all the dimensions which give your candidacy real MIGHT, and differentiation power against the competition. Then review what stuff you’ve covered in your other essays, and where there are HOLES, it MAY be something you can address here. It tends to be less helpful when you double-up on a trait, with presumably a not-as-good-story-as-the-one-you’ve-already-told-elsewhere. A “second” impact story, for example. It’s more powerful if you’ve come across as the Indian IT tech guy with mad quant skills, but you also have this insane depth of experience with volunteer/community work that looks completely different from the typical MBA applicant. This could be a place to explore that. Or if you’re Chinese with an interest in finance, is there some aspect to your international travels that makes you seem utterly different from your demographic? This could be a spot to explore that.
Whatever you do, don’t play defense here and say stuff just to say stuff. More like: imagine a blank canvas and a shot to say EVERYTHING AWESOME you need to say; imagine it’s FIVE things, and you’ve been able to cover THREE of them in the other essays. Great, pick one of the two things you haven’t covered (whichever promotes your multi-dimensionality the MOST), and dig in right here.
Whatever you do, this is NOT the place to meander and be verbose. The optional essay is all about extreme efficiency, and matter-of-fact-ness.
View the prompts on the Haas School of Business [url=mba.haas.berkeley.edu/admissions/essays.html]website[/url].
And that's that. Helpful, eh? If you have any questions on it or Haas or anything, just reply here or shoot us a PM. And if you want more Essay Analysis Goodness, check out more schools here. We're updating 'em daily as new prompts are released, so keep checking back.
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