Berkeley Haas Essay Questions and Strategic Guidance, 2023-2024

The Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the smallest MBA programs in the top set, with just under 250 students enrolling in its Class of 2024. With so few seats to award, Haas has every incentive to select only those candidates who bring academic excellence and professional accomplishment to campus while also embodying the values at the core of the school’s strong culture. Not surprisingly, even in its application essay prompts, Haas seeks to gauge whether you will thrive as a member of its community.

Haas asks applicants to respond to three written essay prompts and one video prompt. If you are applying to Haas, rest assured that given the breadth of the application, you will have ample opportunity to communicate not only who you are but also why Haas is the right MBA program for you and your goals. We at Gatehouse encourage you to review all the school’s questions and then invest in a thorough consideration of all your significant experiences to date—not just in the office but also in college and even before—so you can craft a robust and memorable picture of yourself across the entirety of the Haas application.

Required Essay #1: What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum)

By asking you what makes you feel alive when you are doing it, Haas invites you to share something that is truly meaningful and special to you. We love any question that gives an applicant the opportunity to focus on and communicate what inspires them. Why? Because these types of essays often inspire us as readers, too! As the reader, we cannot help but get drawn into the candidate’s excitement about their chosen topic—especially when the essay is well executed.

To address the “well executed” element of that previous sentence, we offer a few pieces of advice. First, choose something that indeed inspires you. That sounds obvious, but candidates often assume that because they are applying to business school, they can only choose a topic that is professional in nature. You certainly can do so. Perhaps you love solving business riddles through data analytics and Excel, or maybe you relish persevering through late-night fire drills, as long as you are working with your teammates. However, we encourage you to think beyond the workplace. Consider your hobbies. Maybe you are an avid first-thing-in-the-morning runner who joins other runners in a nearby park. Or you might love the time you spend teaching salsa dance to members of your community. Also consider broader themes that extend beyond the professional realm into other areas of your life. For example, maybe you are a long-time tinkerer who used to build model cars as an 8-year-old with your older sister and who now codes applications to save time for your colleagues.

Second, reflect on the why. We get it: explaining why we feel alive when doing something we love is challenging (“I don’t know… because I like it?”). So, if it helps, contemplate how specifically it makes you feel and how the action empowers you. What have you learned and how have you grown as a result of doing it? Answering these questions will help you tease out the “why” that the Haas admissions committee is looking for. Moreover, answering these questions might reveal more about how the activity has shaped you. For example, the first-thing-in-the-morning runner we mentioned? When she reflected on the why behind her beloved activity, she realized that running had introduced her to people she would have never met otherwise and how unifying a common passion can be. She also loves how she can track and monitor her progress, which allows her to celebrate her gains and motivates her to strive for more. Also, since she started running, she has carried the practice of tracking, monitoring, and celebrating progress into her workplace, where it has been helpful for the office’s new hires as they navigate a long learning curve and training path. This applicant obviously had a lot more to explore and discuss than simply running!

Third, keep your essay vivid and specific. You might have noted that the examples we offer in these guidance posts tend to go beyond “I enjoy using Excel” or “I enjoy teaching dance.” We encourage you to go even further with your statements and stories! Sharing details that capture the heart of the activity for you will bring it to life for the reader—and make it more notable for them, as well. So imagine yourself engaging in the activity, and recreate the feelings it generates in your response.

Finally, remember that this essay is one part of your entire application. It should be able to stand alone but also be additive. So, if you are addressing, for example, your love of data analytics in your response to Essay #2, showcase something else in this essay so the admissions committee can learn something new and different about you.

Required Essay #2: How will an MBA help you achieve your short-term and long-term career goals? (300 words max)

With this question, Berkeley Haas gets to the very premise of an MBA program. The MBA is a professional degree; the value proposition of business school is that will help propel you toward your goals. That Haas would ask you to communicate your career plans is therefore only reasonable—in understanding your professional objectives, the Haas admissions committee will have a better sense of whether the program can fulfill its promise to you. And on a practical note, recruiting actually starts not long after you arrive on the business school campus (get ready!). Although Haas knows that you might discover different career paths in business school that could spark your interest in pursuing a new direction, the admissions committee wants to be confident that you are entering the program with a basic plan already in mind, rather than expecting to figure it out once you have enrolled. Having an idea of where you want to go with your MBA before starting your studies will position you to make appropriate elective selections and hit the ground running with your job search.

When crafting your response to this prompt, consider both what the school is explicitly asking and what it is leaving unsaid. Let us start with the former. To respond effectively, begin with where you are headed: your short- and long-term goals. Your short-term objective should flow logically to your long-term one. An example of nonflowing goals would be something like “Short term, I aspire to be an investment banker. Longer term, I hope to run a consumer business.” When the goals are stated this way, the reader cannot see a connection between them. You need to help the admissions committee understand how your aspirations are linked! Consider this alternative response: “Short term, I seek to be an investment banker focused on the consumer retail and consumer products space. In such a role, I will refine my understanding of industry profit drivers, pricing strategies, and direct-to-consumer versus bricks-and-mortar retail. After advising companies in the space, I hope to eventually join and lead a consumer-focused business as its chief financial officer. I would leverage my training in banking to help the company make financial moves and investments that will drive growth.” Ah ha! Now the admissions reader will understand how you intend to get from Point A (your short-term goals) to Point B (your long-term goals).

Now that you have explained where you see yourself heading, you can frame business school as the bridge you need to get you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future—but not just any business school! Even though Haas does not ask explicitly how a Haas MBA will help you, you would be well-served to anticipate that it wants this information (this is the “unsaid” part of the prompt). First, give the school a sense of why your stated goals are important you and how your past experiences have positioned or prepared you to attain those goals. Then, identify the resources, classes, and experiences at Haas that you need to be able to actualize them. For example, our aforementioned aspiring consumer-oriented chief financial officer might join the Haas Finance Club and benefit from such courses as “Consumer Insights” and “Corporate Finance,” seeing these steps as critical preparation for her investment banking interviews, internship, and post-MBA job offer.

Answering the explicit and unsaid parts of this question well requires that you reflect on what you need from business school and then research what the program has to offer. Talk to students, spend time on Haas’s website and YouTube channel, and sign up for school information sessions. We at Gatehouse love introducing our current clients to past clients who are now at top business schools, and Haas is no exception! Such conversations and research can help you better articulate what you will do and pursue on campus, giving Haas confidence that you will make the most of your MBA experience there.

If you would like more tips on crafting your career statement for Haas, watch our video Your Career Statement – Fact, Fiction, and How to Build One.

Required Essay #3: (Video) The Berkeley MBA program develops leaders who embody our four Defining Leadership Principles. 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. (Not to exceed 2 minutes.)

Berkeley Haas was one of the first business schools to introduce the video-based, recorded interview into its admissions process, and now it is giving all applicants the chance to be seen on camera. Thanks to this new video component, every applicant will have the opportunity to make a deeper, more personal connection with the admissions committee, not just those interviewed by the program. Although some applicants might be intimidated by Haas’s ask, we see this as a way to share more about yourself. Remember, this is a business school, not a Toastmasters’ competition! Haas is not expecting a perfectly crafted presentation; the admissions committee merely wants to put a name to a face and, more importantly, understand how the school’s Defining Leadership Principles resonate with you.

Of course, the first step in preparing your response is to familiarize yourself with the principles (Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Student Always, and Beyond Yourself) and identifying the one that most speaks to you. If several of the principles speak to you, consider what else you have shared with Haas in the other parts of your application, and then select the principle that will allow you to communicate something new or different—something additive. When choosing the one you will discuss, think about how you will show your connection to the principle. Brainstorm times that you have, for example, questioned the status quo and when doing so has led to impact or shaped you further. No matter how much a principle might appeal to you, if you do not have any strong examples of how you have actually lived it, then it is not the principle you should select! What will make your response believable—and compelling!—is sharing a specific moment or experience when your chosen principle has guided you. You could even provide multiple examples, assuming you have sufficient time. Whatever you do, do not try to fit too much into your video; if the admissions committee cannot follow what you are saying because you are rushing through your content, you will not be adding to your candidacy—merely detracting from it!

Required Essay #4 (Short Answer): 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? (300 words max)

Seeking evidence of a candidate’s ability to welcome, include, respect, and work with others has been gaining traction in business school applications. Northwestern Kellogg was first to incorporate the idea into its application via an additional question in its letter of recommendation, and later, MIT Sloan added a pre-interview essay question on the topic. This application season, Columbia Business School has changed one of its core essay questions to focus on the issue, and with this question, Berkeley Haas is doing so, too.

Haas gives applicants extensive latitude as to what they can write about here, so take some time to contemplate how the different concepts have touched your life, whether at work or outside of it. Note that Haas does not require you to share a situation in which you actively championed one of these concepts—though if you have such an example, you could certainly write about it. Remember that if you tell a story in your essay, use the STARR approach: Situation, Task, Actions, Results, and Reflection. (For more tips on how to craft a response using STARR, watch our video The Importance of Business School Application Essays (and How to Write Them).) Keep in mind that you could recount a time when you observed such concepts being ignored or belittled. Here, too, think about the results caused by such behavior and what you learned through the situation.