Essay Analysis
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Round 1


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2+2 Round


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June 9, 2021

Berkeley Haas School Of Business MBA Essay 1

What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum)

This question certainly stands out compared to the common MBA essay fare. One cool way to start is to establish a FEW things you really like to do, and are good at. Think about them, and what makes you really enjoy them. Write it all down and make a list.

Now, look at that list… which of those activities/processes/things makes you feel MOST ALIVE? You have a sense of the status quo, of what you enjoy, but one of these things is special. More exhilarating, somehow. How is that NEW THING different from the rest? This exercise should help you zero in on the key element of an activity that makes you, personally, feel alive. That element will be different for everyone, you just need to identify what it is for you.

We want to open with that key difference between “things you enjoy” and “things that make you feel alive.” After you’ve established that, now we need to know why we should care. Well, let’s put that differently… this section should leave us wanting you to BE IN THAT “ALIVE” STATE. We want to convince the adcom, through your sincerity and passion, that enabling you is likely to lead to good things. That’s the cynical read here, folks. People who are really truly passionate, people who can get into a flow state… don’t quit. That’s what you’re REALLY conveying here. That when the going gets tough, you’re the kind of person who will stick with the MBA and not withdraw (costing the school a bunch of money).

So, initially you’ll explain what makes you feel alive, and here in “part 2” you’ll explain the “why.” But as you do, keep in mind that sincerity will beat melodrama, flowery tear-jerking or inspirational prose any day. Just be clean and earnest, and try to put your finger on what gets activated in you and why.

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August 9, 2019

At Berkeley Haas, we are redefining leadership. We value different opinions and perspectives, recognizing that we always have more to learn about others’ lived experiences and histories. We encourage speaking up and listening, and courageously use our power to address barriers and drive change for positive impact. Tell us how a Berkeley Haas MBA would enhance your leadership profile, incorporating specific examples. (300 words max)

Wow. That is one hell of a trick question. These guys don’t just drop words in for fun. If you were to answer the actual question-question (“Tell us how a Berkeley Haas MBA would enhance your leadership profile, incorporating specific examples”) without paying much attention to that preamble, you could very easily go off on a VERY different (and potentially disastrous) path.

A good answer here MUST be characterized by HUMILITY and the capacity and desire to listen and learn from others. That’s what this question is all about. You need to explain how you’re gonna grow as a leader… by being a better LISTENER and OBSERVER and “EMBRACER” of people who have different backgrounds and perspectives. Because doing so will make you better at leading.

Or we can say it the other way, people who exhibit a LOW capacity or desire to consider the perspective of others (especially the perspectives of those with different backgrounds and influences) are likely to be “bad at leading… because of that.” Why? Well, for one, think about why Haas might believe that leadership needs “redefining” in this way. For example: “The world is more global today than it was several decades ago. Being stuck in a particular mindset can therefore be a real liability in the world of business.” See how we brought it back to business? Yes it’s Berkeley, but it’s still business school, folks. They want you to kick ass in the BUSINESS WORLD not in the “hug it out and sing kumbayah world.”

So, in 300 words, we need to know (a) Where you need to be stretched in this area, where can you improve; (b) Specifically how will Haas help you achieve that needed growth; and finally (c) What might YOU have to offer others? That last part is a bonus piece that many will miss. Don’t just get all high and mighty and tell us how you plan to GRACE others with your amazingness. Instead, talk about this as though your contribution were simply part of a chemical reaction where… the interaction w OTHER AGENTS (your cohort) will combust somehow and lead to something where everyone profits. So this isn’t you talking AT people about your experiences doing ABC cool thing. It’s “by contributing that kind of thing in a class filled w XYZ type people, I hope [ABC cool thing] happens.” This all ties to the ways in which you’re hoping to STRETCH as a leader, but the key aspect is that it’s mindful of others (and people’s impact on each other) every step of the way.

August 9, 2019

Optional Essay #2

This section should only be used to convey relevant information not addressed elsewhere in your application. This may include an explanation of employment gaps, academic aberrations, supplemental coursework, etc. You are encouraged to use bullet points where appropriate.

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.

August 9, 2019

Optional Essay #1

We invite you to help us better understand the context of your opportunities and achievements.

This is an interesting one, and we’ll have more to say about it once we get to part #6 (the essay question part of the prompt). For reference, here are the first five parts:

  1. What is the highest level of education completed by your parent(s) or guardian(s)? 
    • Did not complete high school
    • High school diploma or equivalency (GED)
    • Associate’s degree (junior college) or vocational degree/license
    • Bachelor’s degree (BA, BS)
    • Master’s degree (MA, MS)
    • Doctorate or professional degree (MD, JD, DDS)
  2. What is the most recent occupation of your parent(s) or guardian(s)?
    • Unemployed
    • Homemaker
    • Laborer
    • Skilled worker
    • Professional
  3. If you were raised in one of the following household types, please indicate.
    • Raised by a single parent
    • Raised by an extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)
    • Raised in a multi-generational home
    • Raised in foster care
  4. What was the primary language spoken in your childhood home?
  5. If you have you ever been responsible for providing significant and continuing financial or supervisory support for someone else, please indicate.
    • Child
    • Spouse
    • Sibling
    • Parent
    • Extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)
    • Other
  6. Please elaborate on any of your above responses. Alternatively, you may use this opportunity to expand on other hardships or unusual life circumstances that may help us understand the context of your opportunities, achievements, and impact. (300 words maximum)

Okay, so first of all, for those first five, treat em like “filling out your basic information when you visit the dentist.” Nothing fancy, just simply answer the question.

For number 6, this is where it gets somewhat interesting. Here’s the thing, you should either write about stuff, or not, depending on whether your story TRULY ADDS VALUE TO YOUR APP. We can’t make a blanket statement about what kinds of stories warrant inclusion compared to others… without knowing the full story. So, it’s a case-by-case thang. Here’s what we CAN say, in case it’s helpful:

  1. Regardless of what your “status” is in life, whether socio-economic, or measured in some other way, if you have been on a certain trajectory, and then some personal, life circumstance KNOCKED YOU OFF OF THAT TRAJECTORY, and you succeeded IN SPITE OF IT, that may be a good indication of a publish-worthy story here. This shouldn’t be seen as a contest of whose life is most fraught with challenge. It has more to do with the EXTENT TO WHICH YOUR PROGRESS IN LIFE AND ALONG YOUR CAREER TRAJECTORY HAS BEEN FRUSTRATED by obstacles thrown at you, and only you. (In other words, obstacles that affect other folks, your competition, equally, don’t count here.)
  2. Some stories that can and should be elaborated on here aren’t necessarily “overcame hardship” stories, but rather, super cool explorations of … something so cool and unique that that experience has given you SOMETHING valuable (1) for yourself and with respect to your own path, and also (2) that can be shared with your classmates, to their benefit. Again, what’s “cool” versus “not cool” in this context? “We’ll know it when we see it.” We wish we had a magic answer, but this is one of those rare instances where you just need a good eye to know what’s awesome and what FEEEEELS awesome, but is actually common, or worse, “not as compelling as you think it is.”
  3. One guiding principle you can use is that IF you choose to write about something, it should build on your application strengths, and not just be an “oh, by the way, thought you should know this–––in case that’s of interest” kinda thing. The take-home MUST make the reader feel MORE confident about your “stock’s value” than the version that didn’t include it.
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