Meet The Berkeley Haas MBA Class Of 2020

It’s no secret why prospective students choose the Haas School of Business. It’s not the Mediterranean warmth, picturesque marinas, or rugged hills surrounding Berkeley. Yes Berkeley may be the ultimate college town, a magnet for free thinkers with a storied history of activism. Still, that isn’t what makes Haas the only choice for many MBA applicants.

How about being an hour away from Silicon Valley – awash in tech jobs and venture capital – or a 20 minute BART ride to San Francisco? Well, the Class of 2020 weighed that, but it wasn’t what closed them on Haas. Instead, it was something more intangible…something that aligns with their ideals and resonates in their passions.


They are called the Defining Leadership Principles. Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, they are anything but a marketing ploy or academic fluff. How serious do students take them? According to internal surveys of MBAs and undergraduate business majors, three out of four students cite the Defining Principles as a main reason for choosing the school. As applicants, they are assessed by how well they personify these principles in essays and interviews. As students, scholarships and awards are doled out based on the example they set using the principles. This seriousness extends beyond the students. Faculty hiring decisions and evaluations, for example, also incorporate how well they exemplify the principles in their teaching and beyond.

Students volunteering at the Alameda Point Collaborative during orientation week. (Week Zero)

In other words, the Defining Leadership Principles are a non-negotiable social agreement, one that governs the class’ behaviors and expectations – not to mention the school’s curriculum and direction.  For the Class of 2020, Haas’ delivery has exceeded the principles’ promise that enticed them during alumni calls and campus visits.

“Berkeley Haas maintains a strong culture of curiosity, innovation, and selflessness through its Four Defining Leadership Principles,” writes Benny Johnson, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant.

“Unlike many such initiatives that amount to PR stunts, I was pleasantly surprised to see that reality reflects the school’s chosen ideals.”


Those ideals are divided into four parts. “Question the Status Quo” turns Berkeley’s traditional agitations into a positive for business – a way to shepherd ideas that defy convention and foster innovation. “Confidence Without Attitude” is a statement that values decision-making based on analysis and testing over politicking and indolence. At the same time, “Students Always” highlights the importance of life-long curiosity and learning to spur personal growth. Finally, “Beyond Yourself” is a call to act ethically and responsibility, a reminder that students to think long-term and act responsibly so they can make a difference far beyond Haas.

“Beyond Yourself” is the principle that made the biggest impression on Afnajjer Hernandez when he reached out for advice from current Haas students.As we ended the call, I thanked them for their time. They responded with, “Not a problem! Just remember, help those behind you when you’re in my shoes.” Even during a casual informational call, the students never forgot to go “Beyond Yourself.”

In contrast, Alan Man, a “hugger” and EY consultant, identifies intimately with each of the Defining Leadership Principles. “I am so excited to be a part of, and contribute to, the culture at Haas and to be part of an organization that has values which truly represent my own values,” he says. “Each principle has a place in my heart – talk to me about which defining principle I identify with the most because I will give a different answer each time.”

The Defining Principles were also game-changers for alumni like Liz Koenig, a 2018 grad and member of Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs. Notably, they guided where her classmates devoted their energies. “Question the Status Quo” and “Beyond Yourself” have defined my experience here,” she explains. “Every day, I see students who have decided, “This needs fixing” (whether it’s food systems, Bay Area housing stock, or the lack of tampon machines in the Berkeley bathrooms) and then, without a beat, rolled their sleeves up and started working towards a solution. They are just as motivated by their desire to dream up innovative solutions as they are by their commitment to making the world better to those around them.”


Entrepreneur and investor Heather Hiles talks to the new MBA class.

The Defining Principles are embedded top-to-bottom, in every course, event, and activity – carefully crafted and closely guarded. You’ll also find this spirit in the incoming class. “Confidence Without Attitude?” Meet Katharine Hawthorne. From the outside, she has mixed her quant and creative sides. A Physics major at Stanford, she worked in finance jobs by day. At night, she was a dancer, touring across the world with 10 dance troupes. Hawthorne even ran her own dance company at one point. In the process, she developed skills certain to enrich the experience of her classmates.

“Dance taught me how to lead, inspire collaborators, and connect to audiences,” she says.

Haas also doesn’t consider itself a “place for those who feel they have learned all they need to learn.” This is part of its “Students Always” principle – one that demands students step out of the comfort zones. You won’t find someone who did that more than Katie Rentz, who was trained in oceanography at the U.S. Naval Academy. As a naval officer, she was responsible for ship navigation. Eventually, she was deployed into something different…with SEAL Team Five in Iraq. Turns out, it was a defining experience that prepared her for even bigger challenges to come.

“I never imagined my next assignment would entail a boots-on-the-ground deployment,” she muses. “Rising to the challenge of training for and completing something I never thought I would be called upon to do was transformative for me both as a leader and personally.”

Then there’s Patrick Crocker. Most recently, he was a Judge Advocate General’s Corps, popularly known as a JAG. Before that, you would’ve found him underneath TCU’s Superfrog mascot costume…or as Foghorn Leghorn at Six Flags Over Texas. Now, he is more an exemplar of “Beyond Yourself” – a man who has lived up to the most profound of commitments in the most difficult of circumstances.

“I’m most proud of having such a strong marriage with two great kids, given everything my family has been through over the past 10 years,” he explains. “I loved being able to serve my country in the Army, but service can put a big strain on relationships and marriages. Through eight moves, two deployments, and countless nights and weekends away from my wife and kids, I’m so proud of where we are as a family right now. “The world breaks everyone,” as Hemingway wrote, and I am one of the many who is stronger in the broken places.”


New MBAs getting to know each other during a team-building exercise.

You won’t find many broken students in the Class of 2020. For the most part, they are gathering resources, and like-minded peers to take small steps to improve the world. Exhibit A: Tiffany Tran. In 2016, she was listed among  Greenbiz’s 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders. At Annie’s – a division of General Foods known for macaroni – where she helped significantly reduced her headquarters’ carbon footprint. Even more, her sustainability events were major events at Annie’s, drawing nearly three out of every four employees.

Tran was hardly alone in making an impact. In the U.S. Navy, Benny Johnson led a billion dollar R&D budget “through multiple continuing resolutions and government shutdowns.” At EY, Alan Man enhanced programming for the LGBTQ group, ultimately being named a global finalist for EY’s 2016 “Better Begins with You” Award. In Spain, Oriol Pi Miloro launched the country’s “It Gets Better Project,” a global non-profit that supports teens enduring LGBT bullying.

“Working with the It Gets Better Project has been a life-changing experience,” he shares. “When I reflect upon the strength we have brought to the life of so many teenagers, it motivates me to keep changing lives on a larger, global scale, ideally through my work and my professional expertise.”


By the numbers, it was a forgettable year for Berkeley Haas – on the surface, at least. During the 2017-2018 cycle, the number of applications dropped from 4,132 to 3,821. In some ways, this can be seen as a mild correction, as this is still 300-400 more applications than the classes that graduated from 2012-2016. It also falls in line with similar MBA programs during a down year for applications. Notably, Haas’ 7.5% drop in applications was exceeded by MBA programs at Yale SOM (-7.6%), Chicago Booth (-8.2%), and Michigan Ross (-8.7%).

On the plus side, Haas was able to maintain its ultra-high class quality. The school reported an acceptance rate of 12% — a number that ranks just below Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. By the same token, average GMAT scores climbed a point to 726. To put this progress in context, the average was just 715 three years ago! That said, the undergraduate GPA average dipped from 3.71 to 3.66 – still the second-highest number the school has reported in a decade.

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

London Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Washington University’s Olin Business School

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