Berkeley Haas revised one of its two required essay questions for the 2020-2021 MBA application season. The new question two recasts its leadership prompt in a way that’s far more ambiguous than times past, a positive evolution that gives you more latitude to convey what’s important to you. Meanwhile, Haas is sticking with question 1, which made its debut last year and asks, ‘what makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why?’ The optional question, which seeks to uncover the less visible forces that shape candidates’ lives, remains intact.
As former Associate Director of Admissions at Berkeley Haas, I think the new slate of questions is excellent. I’ll be discussing how to tackle all the Haas essays this Wednesday, August 12, at 12pm ET alongside my Fortuna Admissions colleagues as part of our series: MBA Admissions Essay Masterclasses. This Wednesday’s live, free session features Berkeley Haas as well as Duke Fuqua, UCLA Anderson & Yale SOM – and the opportunity to get your questions answered by former MBA Admissions gatekeepers (register now to reserve your place or view the full schedule).
In the meantime, I’ve captured what Haas is looking for in its new MBA essay question, along with tips for tackling it.
First, be aware that the context Haas offers in the brief intro to its essay questions is vitally important, which conveys the school’s defining leadership principles and interest in fit (mentioned twice). The school has long put a premium on challenging the status quo (first of the four principles) – and the status quo continues to perpetuate inequity and power dynamics that privilege certain groups and marginalize others. Haas is looking for candidates who demonstrate self- and situational awareness, which is an invitation to be both introspective and authentic across your essays – and certainty to do your research beyond a cursory website review.
NEW Haas Essay #2: The definition of successful leadership has evolved over the last decade and will continue to change. What do you need to develop to become a successful leader? (300 words max)
The ambiguous nature of this question is a purposeful contrast to last year’s framing, which established that Hass is ‘redefining leadership’ and went on to articulate its value proposition as a set up to inquire ‘how a Haas MBA would enhance your leadership profile.’ This year, instead of explicitly stating what Haas values and cares most about (although note that is still reflected in the intro to all essays), Haas invites you to articulate your values around leadership within the context of what you’re hoping to develop (with – unstated but implicit here – a Haas MBA).
The set up to this question, and its reference to the last 10 years, is subtle but important – in citing that ‘the definition of successful leadership has evolved over the last decade and will continue to change,’ Haas signals that traits such as flexibility, growth mindset, and inclusivity are at a premium. Those who are being successful right now are comfortable navigating in a sea of uncertainty and prepared to adapt to the changing times.
It’s a reflective piece, and again, you have only 300 words to convey your point. You’ll want to speak with precision and authenticity about ways you’re hoping to enhance your leadership profile. Approach this with some humility in thinking about leadership. Has there ever been something you’d have pushed more successfully over the finish line if you had X or Y under your belt? Or an instance where you sense your impact could have been much greater with the benefit of Z? Not necessarily something transactional, but something more experiential or that you’d gain in a relational context? If you think of the MBA experience as a huge learning laboratory, what might you want to perfect over the last few years that will set you up for success? In doing so, how can you convey a nuanced understanding of what it means to be a successful leader?
For advice on how to tackle all three Berkeley Haas essays, view my related blog, Berkeley Haas Essays: Strategies & Tips, and register for the live, free MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass, this Wed., Aug. 12, where my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I discuss essay strategy for Berkeley Haas, Duke Fuqua, UCLA Anderson & Yale SOM.
Sharon Joyce is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Berkeley Haas Associate Director of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.