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How to Answer the New Berkeley Haas MBA Essay and Video

When you apply to the University of California -Berkeley Haas School of Business, they want to know what makes you feel alive, how an MBA will help fuel your MBA goals and what kind of leader you are —and they want you to show them.

Haas has added a video essay as one of the required MBA application components for 2023–24 and changed its Essay #2. My colleague Peter Johnson, a former Assistant Dean for the Full-Time MBA and Admissions at Haas, and I have fresh advice on how to answer these essay questions. 

Haas introduces the essay section of its application with a statement of its Defining Leadership Principles (DLPs). The Berkeley MBA program develops leaders who embody these principles: 

  • Question the Status Quo
  • Confidence Without Attitude
  • Students Always
  • Beyond Yourself 

The new video essay asks applicants to “briefly introduce yourself to the admissions committee, explain which leadership principle resonates most with you, and tell us how you have exemplified the principle in your personal or professional life.” Videos must clock in under two minutes.

 

Acing the Video

Video replies are gaining popularity among all b-schools. It’s a useful way to assess poise and presence as well as the thoughts and information you share. It’s also a way to enhance authenticity. While essays can now easily be cranked out with ChatGPT (although we definitely don’t recommend it), an effective and personal video is harder to automate.

Videos are also a great way to assess judgment. Is a reply TMI? Admissions committees want to get to know the real you, but it’s obviously important to be appropriate. And, finally, videos can be a fun and fresh way to express your excitement about Haas. The DLPs are a distinctive draw that attracts students to Berkeley, so it can be a creative way to share your enthusiasm.

Be succinct. Two minutes may seem like a lot when you’re staring into the eye of the camera with admissions on the line — but it’s really not. With only that short window to work with, don’t try to address all four of the principles. Instead, focus on one of the principles and demonstrate how you reflect it with clear and cogent examples. 

Once you’ve sketched out your thoughts and know what you want to say, practice!  As noted the evaluation of these responses are likely to be graded on communication skills and poise as much as on content. And if you’re a bit intimidated about talking on camera or mastering the technology, Fortuna has you covered. Our fellow coach Cassandra Pittman explains how to ace your video here, and Karen Hamou offers advice on what to wear

 

Advice for Essay #2.

Leadership was the topic of Berkeley’s second essay last year. Now that the video is covering that theme, the new Essay #2 asks, “How will an MBA help you achieve your short-term and long-term career goals? 

Last year, this was a question embedded within the application and was 150 words on immediate short-term goals. With the word count expanded to 300, this question is likely probing more deeply to see if applicants have realistic goals that can be met through the program at Haas.

Although the prompt asks, “How will an MBA help…,” this essay is really looking beyond the credential of the recognized degree. Berkeley wants to know what skills you will build or enhance and what experiences you will leverage in pursuit of career goals. It’s important to be specific. Make sure you call out what specific aspects of Berkeley ’s MBA program will bolster your success after graduation.

We sometimes suggest citing companies that heavily recruit at Haas when applicable as a way of showing your awareness of the school and the link between your goals and what is achievable. For the budding entrepreneurs, perhaps mention Haas alumni entrepreneurs who are working in a similar space.

Our take on the rationale behind this question is this:  The committee wants to know if your personal and professional goals are aligned with the program at Haas and how you will leverage the Berkeley MBA experience to achieve them.


Start with a Splash in Essay #1

Essay #1 remains the same: “What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why?”

As someone who has read thousands of applications, we love the wording of this question. Any opportunity to learn about what ignites the spark in a candidate is really exciting to read. (Remember that most Haas admissions readers will be plowing through some 2,000 application essays in a single cycle.)

This question is also evocative of the iconic Stanford GSB essay, “What matters most to you, and why?” –  which similarly gets personal and requires a profound level of self-reflection and sincerity. This question also underscores that Haas is looking for people who will actively contribute to the community and beyond, not just in the classroom. This essay prompt allows the admissions team to understand “what makes you tick,” above and beyond what they’ll glean from your academic record and work history.

Your intellectual acumen and accomplishments being a given, what are you passionate about and why does it ignite that spark of life within you? A successful essay will share a specific and personal experience that helps the reader get to know you better, giving insight into your character, values, or how you would uniquely contribute to the Berkeley Haas community. 

Given that you only have 300 words, the maxim to “show, not tell” is critical here. You want to bring the reader on the experience with you so they can smell, taste, feel and connect to whatever it is you’re describing – what it felt like to summit that mountaintop and peer into the volcano’s smoky belly, or the felt experience in a devotional act of creation that erased any sense of time. 

Unless it’s deeply sincere and absolutely rings true, a community service moment or tutoring exchange isn’t necessarily the experience to spotlight. Dig deep and dare to have a little fun here; your voice can convey your personality.

 

Short Tips for Short Answer Essay #4

The final required essay asks, “Can you please describe any experience or exposure you have in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging whether through community organizations, personal, or in the workplace? (150 words max)

One of the goals at Berkeley Haas is to develop leaders who value diversity and aspire to create an inclusive environment in which people from different backgrounds feel welcomed and supported.

Some or many applicants will not have direct experience in supporting DEI, especially international candidates for whom the concept may be new.  Even so, it’s important to demonstrate awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion and to share one’s own exposure to the concepts and perhaps how they hope their time at Haas will add to their ability to be inclusive leaders. 

Remember that diversity can be much broader than race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Feel free to explore differences in national origin, class or lived experiences and the lessons you learned from these experiences. 

The optional questions remain the same.

One final change this year is that Berkeley Haas has moved to using the Common Letter of Recommendation from GMAC: This change eliminates one additional question specific to Haas that asked recommenders to explain how applicants reflect the value of “confidence without attitude.” Haas explained to us that they adopted this change to streamline the process, making it easier on many fronts for applicants, letter writers and programs.

 

Sign up for our free consultation to learn how we can offer more personalized coaching.to optimize your MBA application. 

Fortuna Admissions coach Dr. Sharon Joyce is the former associate director of admissions at Berkeley Haas. Fortuna Director Peter Johnson is Former Assistant Dean for the full-time MBA Program & Admissions at Berkeley Haas.

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