Meet UC-Berkeley Haas Gatekeeper Morgan Bernstein

‘I DIDN’T GET MY MBA TO COME BACK TO WORK AT HAAS!’

Morgan Bernstein heard about an opening in admissions at Berkeley Haas from Abby Scott, currently assistant dean for career management and corporate relations. At first, she was skeptical. That little voice kept whispering that to return to your alma mater meant you’d somehow failed. “I said, ‘Abby, I didn’t get my MBA and then do these jobs in marketing and tech to then come back to work at Haas — that’s not what you do!’ And she said, ‘Well why not?’

“I had worked with the admissions team as a student volunteer, so I had the behind-the-scenes lens, and I said, ‘You’re right — what do I have to lose?’ And I pretty much had my informational job interview and a job offer within a week’s time.”

Bernstein became assistant director of full-time MBA admissions at Berkeley Haas in January 2011. She was a year and a half out of business school, already on her third job, and “feeling pretty deflated.” Initially, she says, her plan was to “just try this on for size for a year or two while I figure out what I want to do.” And she still had those creeping doubts, the voices saying she should be aiming higher, doing more, making more. But “once I controlled the volume on that and just allowed myself to settle into the job, after a couple of years, I got comfortable and realized how much I loved it.”

Bernstein was promoted to associate director after a couple of years. After a little over five years, in March 2016, she became executive director of full-time MBA admissions.

WANT TO CRAFT A SUCCESSFUL APP? OFFER MORE THAN GREAT STATS

The MBA program at Berkeley Haas has long been one of the premier West Coast programs, but in the last 10 years Haas has joined the elite schools on both coasts at the top of several rankings. It has been ranked No. 7 by U.S. News & World Report the last two years and placed No. 9 in the most recent Poets&Quants ranking. Moreover, in metric after metric, Haas seems primed to continue its run of excellence. Last fall the school boosted enrollment by 32 students as part of its long-term effort to reach 350-student class sizes, and its climb up the ladder of Graduate Management Admission Test average scores continues apace: Haas’ fall cohort boosted the school’s GMAT average by 8 points, and by 10 points from two years ago. Its GPA average (3.71) and its female and international student representation (40% and 39%, respectively) are on par with its peers in the top echelon of leading schools — and all this while maintaining a relatively consistent acceptance rate that is among the lowest in graduate business education.

Which leads to the obvious question, when talking with one of the people most responsible for the fate of an application: What’s the secret to a successful app? What gives one he edge over another?

“Ultimately, there are a few elements that admissions has some input into when it comes to the rankings,” Bernstein says. “GMAT, GPA, potentially intended industry — although as we know, many people change their paths when they actually get into business school. But obviously we are selecting a class that is so much more than just stats. I’d have to go back to look at exact numbers, but I want to say that in any given year we’re denying upward of 50% of people who have 750s and above. So good stats help, but they are not everything. It’s one data point.”

Unsurprisingly given her own story, Bernstein says the edge doesn’t necessarily go to the student with the sterling GMAT score — instead, Haas admissions is looking for cultural fit.

“Haas being a school that is known and is sort of making our mark for culture and being a values-driven MBA,” she says, “that’s definitely something that the admissions committee is looking for: evidence of cultural fit.”