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Berkeley / Haas Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

The 2014-2015 UC Berkeley / Haas Essay Topic Analysis is now available. 

While Berkeley / Haas has slightly altered its essay set for the 2013-2014 admissions season, the school begins its list of questions with the same reminder as in previous years:

“At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — Question the Status Quo; Confidence Without Attitude; Students Always; and Beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are.”

Applicants would therefore do well to select examples and respond to each of the program’s required essays in a way that, in aggregate, touches upon these four principles.

Haas has also reduced the overall length of its essay set.  While last year’s application featured a total of five required essays, this year’s application has only three 250-word essays and one 750-word essay.

Now let’s examine each prompt individually:

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

Making an appearance on Haas’s application for the second year in a row, this question signals the adcom’s interest in getting to know applicants on a more personal level.  While applicants have a myriad of options in choosing a song to discuss, the most important part of a candidate’s response will be to show the adcom that he or she has a strong and well-developed sense of self-awareness.  On the margin, it’s also worth keeping in mind that picking a song that is not on everyone’s playlist may help one stand out from other applicants and showcase a tendency to go off the beaten path rather than merely follow the pack.  No matter how applicants proceed, they should not presume knowledge of their chosen song on the part of the admissions reader; citing lyrics or musical moods and mapping them to one’s own character or personality rather than expecting the reader to make connections based on their own knowledge of the song will be vital.  Furthermore, applicants ought to review all the lyrics of the song they choose to ensure that the message they want to convey is supported by the entirety of the song.

We understand that unusual questions such as this one can seem extremely challenging, so applicants should feel free to contact us for a consultation, in which a Clear Admit Admissions Counselor can help a candidate think through the elements of his or her profile and determine how to best respond to this prompt.

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

Another repeat from last years’ application, this is a very tall order for a 250-word essay, so brevity will be key.  Applicants will clearly want to select an impressive achievement to discuss – ideally one in which they had a positive impact on a person, group or organization (as it would reflect well on applicants who say that they consider it significant that they improved something for others).  It will be important to comment not only on the results, but also on the actions and thought process by which one brought them about.  Note that the question does not limit responses to the professional realm, so candidates should feel free to think of examples from their outside activities in selecting a topic for this short response.

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 words maximum)

This prompt about learning a valuable lesson from a failure represents a fairly conventional b-school essay topic, with the added challenges of choosing a topic from the last three years and conveying all of the pertinent details in just 250 words.  As is common practice for this sort of response that requires candidates to introduce negative information, applicants would be wise to summarize the situation and the failure itself in relatively few words, reserving the bulk of the essay for a treatment of the insight they gained from this experience and the ways it has shaped their development and experiences since.  Haas’s wording about overcoming a failure suggests an emphasis on reflection, humility and a willingness to learn from one’s mistakes, so applicants should also demonstrate a proactive approach to growing from the situation they chose for this response.

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 words maximum for 4a. and 4b.)

This is a fairly standard career goals essay asked by virtually all MBA programs, requiring applicants to provide an overview of their career to date, describe their short- and long-term objectives and explain their reasons for seeking an MBA from Haas in particular.  As a general rule, specificity of career goals is of the utmost importance.  Given the wording of Berkeley’s question, it will also be beneficial for applicants to draw explicit links between their previous experiences and future objectives in addition to touching upon the skills they’ve gained and lessons they’ve learned over the course of their careers.

As the subject of the final question of this prompt suggests, demonstrating an understanding of the unique merits of Berkeley’s program is crucial to an effective response to this question.  Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities – whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Haas – will pay dividends here.

Interestingly, Haas chooses to end its essay section with the typical career goals essay, whereas most schools lead off with this topic.  Rather than providing an overview of, and introduction to, one’s candidacy, as is the case with the career goals essay for most schools, this essay will instead be the culmination of one’s message to the adcom.  As such, applicants should make sure to tie together the themes that they’ve introduced in their other responses, and end on a note of enthusiasm about the program and the timing of their application.

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