Applicants weigh several criteria in evaluating business schools. There is prestige and return, network and location, specializations and aid. Candidates can conduct self-assessments and set benchmarks, parse rankings and collect alumni anecdotes – and compare every institute, club, excursion, and elective imaginable. In the end, the choice is based less on data and more on impressions.
Today, most actions create a data point that can be collected, filtered, and framed. Still, it is often the personal touches that leave the biggest impression on applicants. How quickly do students respond? How open are alumni to sharing their network? How does the community make them feel welcome and important? It is the intangible over the quantifiable, the sense that the community is bound together by the same purpose and values.
“At the end of the day, after visiting each school and chatting with current students and alums, determining the best fit was all about my gut feeling,” writes Una Kim, a member of the Class of 2021 at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
CLASS PROFILE: BERKELEY HAAS MBA CLASS OF 2021
Historically, the Haas School has a knack for making prospective students feel good. Word has gotten around. This year, for example, the school received 12.2 applications for every open seat, making it one of the most in-demand full-time MBA programs in the country. One reason: Berkeley Haas has staked out a philosophy, exemplified by its Four Defining Leadership Principles, which govern how students act inside and outside the school. These principles have fostered a culture grounded in openness, mutual respect, collaboration, and ethics, where life-long learning and long-term thinking are elevated.
Sound too good to be true? Ask any Haas MBA alum about the Defining Leadership Principles. They can quickly rattle them off: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. That’s because they aren’t “just for show,” says Victoria Williams-Ononye, a 2019 Poets&Quants Best & Brightest MBA. Instead, these principles are “embedded in the school’s culture” – a means to unify the class…and hold students accountable to each other. More than that, they create an emotional connection that resonates with alumni, students, and applicants alike.
AN INSPIRING ENERGY
“I wanted to attend a school with an ethos of curiosity and humility,” says Jose Avalos, who arrived in Berkeley from the New Haven Public School system. “All the schools I applied to fit the bill, but Berkeley Haas pulled at my heartstrings a little more.”
Avalos wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2021 who was drawn to Haas’ distinctive culture. Caitrin Hall, an entrepreneur who studied anthropology, marveled at her peers’ enthusiasm. “Their energy inspires me to jump in and create things together,” she gushes. In contrast, Akonkwa Mubagwa was struck by his classmates’ achievements…and how nonchalant they were about them.
“I have met people who excel in their respective fields, be it the military, the non-profit world, education, consulting and investment banking, or by helping underrepresented minorities to achieve their goals in life,” Mubagwa writes. “While I am always amazed by their accomplishments, they never make me feel insecure about my own. They’re rather eager to hear about me and are quick to highlight how my story resonates with them.”
“STRENGTH THROUGH MEEKNESS”
Una Kim uses a different word to describe Haas MBAs: Humble. “In a world that rewards supremacy, prestige, and individualism, I am inspired by my fellow Berkeley Haas classmates who demonstrate humility and selflessness in both big and small ways,” she says. “From sharing interview questions with peers who are vying for the same exact internship position to offering to drive others to and from the furniture and grocery stores even though they live on the opposite end of campus, Haasies motivate me to cultivate strength through meekness.”
Indeed, Haas boasts an array of strengths. Consistently ranked among the Top 10 MBA programs in the world, the school is located in the heart of tech innovation, with a decorated faculty and world-class facilities. However, none of these are truly Haas’ biggest strengths, says Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions, who has spent 15 years at the school. He boils the program’s success down to two words: each other.
“Haas students will always talk about their love of their classmates – the support they receive in and out of class from their cohort, and the respect they have for their peers. We are on the smaller side for a top MBA program, and I think that that enables students to get to know each other well, which is a big part of what makes Haas special.”
LEARNING THROUGH SERVICE
The Class of 2021 is certainly special, featuring the likes of humanitarians, social entrepreneurs, inventors, and teachers. Take Holly Cramer. Before joining Haas, she served as a program manager for humanitarian relief, where she oversaw an effort that delivered over a million food parcels to migrants displaced by the Syrian Civil War. This was hardly Cramer’s first foray into service, however.
“My defining moment was in my late teenage years when I took some time off after high school to understand what I wanted to do next,” she explains. “I put myself into new environments completely outside my comfort zone. I worked in rural Mexico at a women’s substance rehabilitation center in a cleaner and childcare role. I also worked in Peru and Cambodia as an English teacher…These places taught me about the universality of human experiences, the importance of preserving individual dignity, and the paths of individual and societal healing after trauma.”
After graduation, Mihir Mehan followed a traditional career path, starting as an engineer before moving into investment banking. Over time, he realized his skill set was needed in the nonprofit sector – particularly in his native India, where 300 million people lack electricity and another 120 million have no access to banking. Eventually, he joined Tata Trusts as a consultant, working on the Saathi program to reduce the digital divide in rural India.
“The initiative addresses the gender gap in 250,000 villages across 18 states by engaging 70,000 women volunteers to successfully train 25 million women to use smartphones and the internet,” Mehan writes. “In 2015, 1 in 10 Internet users in rural India was female. By 2018, four out of every 10 Internet users were female—and we are headed toward parity.”
“FOOD IS LOVE”
Caitrin Hall may be the adventurer of the group. She has already bicycled across two continents. However, her passion is food – and it is an area where she sees a wealth of ways to innovate. As a brand manager at Organicgirl, for example, she launched a new product line: “organic, hand-harvested, triple-washed, butter lettuce salads.” Despite hiccups early on, the product has emerged as one of Organicgirl’s signature products – and a company life-saver during 2018’s romaine e-Coli recalls.
“Food is a meaningful vocation to me because of its positive impact on human vitality—both personal health and community togetherness,” Hall observes. “In my family, we say “food is love.” Creating healthy, delicious food is a way we express care for each other.”
Una Kim earned an economics degree from Harvard and worked as a strategy consultant for Deloitte. She even built a financial model to help a $90 billion dollar firm acquire an analytics firm. However, this “woman on a mission” also carries a secret. She has recorded songs and voiceovers for children’s audiobooks involving beloved characters like Dora the Explorer, Scooby-Doo, and Winnie the Pooh. Once, she even managed a fighter jet assembly line – making her a real-life Kim Possible! Speaking of innovators, Lauren Taymor, a sustainability consultant, developed a benchmarking tool to “improve buildings’ resilience to climate-related events.” Speaking of consulting, Akonkwa Mubagwa actually launched his own forensics technology consulting firm in 2017. One of his first clients? The Belgian government!
To read profiles of a dozen Haas first-years, go to page 3.
To read our exclusive Q&A with assistant dean Peter Johnson, go to Page 3.