The MBA Gatekeeper To Berkeley Haas

Stephanie Fujii, Haas School of Business

Stephanie Fujii, Haas School of Business

At the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, the future is rising out of a hole in the ground. And fortunately for the school, construction of its new six-story, $60 million building didn’t have to wait until people living in trees climbed down. After all, it was only seven years ago that the university had to delay groundbreaking on a new athletics facility for nearly two years, until a group protesting the proposed cutting of redwoods and oaks gave up their fight, and their arboreal home, and descended to the ground.

Construction on Haas’s new North Academic Building started late last year, and is expected to be finished in time for the fall semester of 2016. Funded entirely by donations from alumni and other supporters, the building will house eight tiered classrooms and four flat classrooms, and offer 858 class seats. Windows on the west side will look over the university campus to a panorama of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, and on a clear day, provide a glimpse of Silicon Valley. Students feeling constrained in one of the 28 study rooms will be able to decamp to a 3,000-square-foot cafe with outdoor seating under towering redwoods.

But for prospective business school students, earning a classroom seat in the new building – or anywhere in Haas – will be no easy feat. Haas remains one of the most selective business schools in the world. In 2014, 3,475 applications came in for the MBA program, and only 459 applicants were offered admission. Haas’s 2014 acceptance rate, at 13.2%, makes it more exclusive than MIT (13.8%) and nearly as hard to get into as Harvard Business School (11%). One scary data point: Over 80% of Haas applicants with GMATs of 750 or above are not getting admitted to the school’s MBA program.

So, what does it take to get admitted to Haas? As for applications to any top U.S. business school, one key element of preparation is talking to people who know about the school and its programs. Finding students and alumni who can brief you can be immensely helpful, and not difficult to accomplish. Talking directly to an admissions officer could be the holy grail, to gain insights into the evaluation and admissions process so you can prepare your application accordingly. But forget about it – these people are far too busy to spend time answering questions from people who haven’t even applied yet.

So we’re giving you the next-best thing. Poets&Quants met with Stephanie Fujii, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions at Haas, and asked her questions potential applicants would most likely ask. While you may not be able to talk with Fujii, here on Poets&Quants, she can talk to you.

Fujii has worked at Haas in admissions since 2005, the year after she received an MBA from the school. She’s been in admissions long enough to pass along a wealth of useful information to would-be applicants. As a gatekeeper, she can share her knowledge of what works, and what doesn’t, in a Haas application. She can reveal what she and her admissions colleagues argue over when evaluating the merits of one applicant over another. She can describe the difference between male and female applicants. She can lament the side-effects on applicants of spending too much time on internet B-school forums. She can explain why she and her colleagues might take a look at an applicant’s sky-high GMAT score and GPA, then go ahead and toss the application onto the ding pile. And, of course, since we’re discussing Berkeley, she can talk not only about what is wonderful, but also about what is weird.

What would be different about last year’s class (rising second years now) if there were no application essay?

We talked about this a lot with the trend of schools decreasing the number of essays. We talked about what was important to us through the essay responses and learning about candidates. So much of we talk about is fit with our culture and fit with our defining principles. And so we are looking for certain examples of actions that people have taken, how people think through their decisions, how they reflect on their growth and development, and we certainly get some of that through the letters of recommendation and the interviews. But we still find the essays to be really important in allowing us to get a little deeper into who these applicants are, aside from the roles that they’ve held. We had a new question that we tried last year which was, ‘Describe an experience that transformed how you see the world, and why,’ and that was really something that wasn’t necessarily coming through in other parts of the application. But we were really curious, again, to really understand how have our applicants experienced the world, what are the experiences that have shaped who they are and also who they want to be.

A big part of what we do throughout the process when we’re talking about the class coming together is how their backgrounds and their interests (might indicate) what new clubs, what new conferences, what new companies they will create together. We get that from the standard career goal essay. But so much of their passions, you know what’s driven them to get to this point in their life and where they want to go, come out in some of those other essays. We have a number of students who are coming in this year who are passionate about food, from the supply side to how to improve conditions to farmers, to how food is distributed in restaurants or stores. So much of that comes through the stories that they tell us in the essays. We still find the essays to be a really rich place to find that. If we hadn’t have them, I think we’d still have a really smart accomplished class but I think that the way that we see them come together might have been a little different. We would have a smart, accomplished class, but the chemistry that is there, because of such varied backgrounds with a shared sense of values, I’m not sure that we’d be able to have gotten to that.

Business school should be a transformative experience. One thing that really is so distinctive about our culture is it does encourage people to be themselves, and to be vulnerable. And it’s a difficult process. The people who choose to come to Haas come here because they feel that fit with our community and our culture, and realize that this is a safe space to take those risks to learn who they want to be and to go through that process to become that person. A lot of our students have been successful their whole lives. That’s how they got here. And now they’re in a place where they won’t always be successful or they won’t always get what they want. A lot of times with certain standard essays people are still so caught up in what they think is the right answer for business school, or what they think they should want, that they’re not authentic, they’re not vulnerable. When people bring that same approach to business school they miss out on so much because they’re not allowing themselves to take risks, to be wrong, to fail, to really grow.

School dataClass of 2016Class of 2015
Enrolled students241252
Women43%29%
U.S. minorities41%40%
International students43%43%
Average undergrad GPA3.623.61
Average GMAT717714

Source: UC-Berkeley Haas