Meet The Berkeley Haas MBA Class of 2019

Some of the members of the Class of 2019 at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

It’s not easy to get into the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business – and that’s by design.

This year, 4,132 candidates submitted an application for the full-time MBA program. In the end, the school selected just 284. In other words, there were 14.5 applications for every seat – a testament to Haas’ enduring popularity and rigorous selection process. So why do so many potential students hope to defy the odds for a coveted spot at Haas.

It comes down to one word: Culture.


In 2010, Haas rolled out what it called its “Defining Principles.” Far from a marketing gimmick, these four principles were grounded in the feedback and experiences of alumni, employers, and students alike. Think of it as a common language and set of expectations that holds the community accountable to each other – a codification of the values and aspirations that have long been embedded in every corner of the program. More than that, the Defining Principles act as a unifying and reference point that guides all decision-making at the program.

How much so? In a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants, Peter Johnson, Assistant Dean of the Full-Time MBA Program and Admissions, outlined that students have applied the Defining Principles to everything from faculty and student classroom behaviors to the criteria used for students to receive scholarships and leadership awards. They also guide the development of new MBA programming, as well as how faculty and administrators are evaluated. Most important – at least to applicants – the Defining Principles stand alongside the usual quantitative measures and professional backgrounds as criteria used to screen candidates who’d make the best fit for the program.


How does it work? One Defining Principle that Johnson seeks is “Question the Status Quo.” For him, a candidate who personifies this principle is someone who has shown an enthusiasm for taking risks and championing ideas – the types of behavior that sparks creativity and fosters innovation. In contrast, Johnson would be leery about admitting a know-it-all, a tendency that flagrantly violates the spirit of the Defining Principles. “A red flag would be someone who doesn’t reflect “Students Always,” who think they are very knowledgeable and here to bask in the glow of their brilliance,” he explains. “Also, that ties into “Confidence Without Attitude.” “Someone who is arrogant and convinced of their position without basing it on evidence and data or lacks the confidence to be able to debate an idea or hear feedback from others would not be a fit in our culture.”


In short, the Defining Principles are a framework for leading and living, for interacting with peers and unleashing their talents. Front-and-center in the program, these principles are the means for students to consciously focus their efforts and measure their progress. Leslie Brian, a Pasadena native who thrived in the food industry, is one member of the Class of 2019 who’ll be striving to embody these principles over the next two years. For her, Haas’ Defining Principles – and the culture they have fostered – helped her identify a community that would bring out her best.

“From the minute I set foot on campus, I felt completely at home at Haas,” she asserts. “Something about the student body was unlike anything I had sensed at other schools. They were incredibly sincere, down-to-earth, determined, open-minded, and warm. As someone who cares deeply about how to make a positive contribution to the world through her career, I knew I wanted to surround myself with individuals who shared those values.”

Brian is hardly alone. The Defining Principles have long been a hallmark of the Haas experience that echoes far after graduation. In a 2016 student and alumni survey from The Economist, Haas ranked first among all global business schools, with a 4.81 average on a five point scale. At the same time, Haas graduates gave their alma mater the second-highest score in last year’s Bloomberg Businessweek alumni survey. Looking at the incoming class, each student has already seemingly identified a principle that resonates with them.


The UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

Tam Emerson, a “passionate change agent” for marginalized communities, personifies “Students Always” in her quest to be pushed out of her comfort zone. Embracing “Confidence Without Attitude,” Jamil Bashir, a Philadelphia native seeking to make an impact, hopes to emerge as a leader “who is competent, confident and collegial.” At the same time, Catherine Swanson is drawn to Haas’ “Question the Status Quo” culture where she won’t have to “fear failure or judgment.” For Michael Devlin, “Beyond Yourself” helped him summon the courage to leave a cushy banking job to move across the country to start over as an MBA student.

“I wanted to make sure that in making this decision I would be able to build a skill set and network that could help me achieve my vision and make a positive impact on this world,” he explains. “The culture and individuals at Berkeley-Haas clearly demonstrate this principle and gave me the confidence that this was the right school for me.”

The Defining Principles aren’t for everyone. And that’s the point – and that’s exactly how Haas students want it. “We’ve planted a stake and said these are the kind of leaders that we want to produce, Johnson notes in a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants. “All the top business school produce smart talent people, but want to produce people who lead in a different way.”


Alas, Haas comes with plenty of stereotypes. Hippies? Try purpose-driven sages with a class that includes eight military veterans. Softies? Um…might be wise to heed the advice of 2017 grad Hady Barry, a member of Poets&Quants’ 2017 Best & Brightest MBAs. “We are kind, but it would be a mistake to take this as a lack of confidence. Haasies remind me of this quote from Wole Soyinka: “A tiger doesn’t proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.”

In fact, you might say the Class of 2019 comes across as a meat-and-potatoes bunch. Bashir describes himself as a “gritty, values-oriented family man who started from the bottom and is striving for the top.” He wasn’t the only class member playing up their underdog roots. “Although I’m not the most talented, I make up for it with relentless determination,” emphasizes Devlin. And Aun Hussain, a native son of Minnesota, positions himself as a “small town kid from middle America, hoping to change the way the world eats.” You might even find a tiger or two like Lucie Bardet, a “biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry leader who has driven millions of dollars in cost savings across five countries.”

It is also a diverse class rooted in organizations ranging from startups and non-profits to Bain and KPMG. Many followed non-traditional paths. America Gonzalez studied international financial management – and spent five years in culinary school. Over the summer, Devlin channelled his inner Forrest Gump, running from San Francisco to New York City to raise $40,000 for ALS research. For a side hustle, Sarah Wallingford McKee, a PepsiCo marketing manager by day, designs everything from websites to logos for clients.


Members of the Berkeley Haas Class of 2019. Photo courtesy of UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

She isn’t the only creative in the class. At Warner Music Group Germany, Caroline Schraer conducted marketing and branding campaigns that produced a #1 hit on the German charts for one artist and a gold record for another. Caroline Swanson’s moment of truth came when she helped steer Bank of America through a Federal Reserve audit. In the U.S. Navy, Jorge Tellez designed a new training program that gave his reports real world experience with protecting a guided missile destroyer. It was a risky proposition – a “Question the Status Quo” moment – that produced the following result: “We flawlessly passed seven subsequent inspections, delivered program certification three months ahead of schedule, and were lauded by inspectors for operating the best security program on the waterfront.”

Impressed? Wouldn’t you like to have this bullet point on your resume: “[My biggest accomplishment] was helping one of the biggest global retailers reduce waste by $200M in three months.” Then again, Wallingford McKee exhibited cool under pressure – and Confidence Without Attitude – when she spearheaded a video production in lieu of Fritos’ partnership with Garth Brooks to kick off a new single. “The project was a first-ever opportunity for Frito-Lay’s internal ad agency, but we were faced with a very short timeline and a minimal budget to execute a quality video. Even more challenging were the conflicting personalities on our creative team. Despite this, we managed to find a director, write a script, film, and edit the video in just five days. I am most proud, though, of how I led our team through the stress of the project.”

The Class of 2019 is a landmark at Haas for several reasons. For one, the class size rose from 252 to 284 students – the school’s largest class ever. Add to that, the program attracted 4,132 applications during the 2017-2018 cycle, another high that eclipses the Class of 2011’s mark of 4,064. Overall, the acceptance race stood near 12%.


Size and scope weren’t the only areas where Haas shined over the past year. For one, the school boasted an average GMAT of 725 with the 2019 Class – up eight points from the previous year. It was a significant bump for the school, as its GMAT average has ping-ponged in the 714-718 range over the past nine years.  Haas also leapfrogged Columbia Business School in terms of GMAT averages, while falling a point short of Booth’s average. Thanks to this eight point surge, Berkeley further distanced itself from public programs like Michigan Ross and UCLA Anderson. Haas’ average GPA even jumped to 3.71, a major move considering it has covered the 3.62-3.66 range like clockwork over the past nine years.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.