When the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley launched its first-ever deferred admission path for the MBA program in January 2020, Morgan Bernstein, director of strategic initiatives, said expansion of the program beyond the university was inevitable.
Almost exactly one year later, that expansion has come to fruition. The Haas School announced this week that after the success of the inter-university Accelerated Access program, which allows undergraduates in their final year and some graduate students in other disciplines to apply early for a spot in the full-time MBA program while they gain professional experience, the program has now been expanded to qualifying aspirants from any school.
In its first year, Accelerated Access drew around 150 applicants from inside the university, says Eric Askins, Haas admissions director. About 20 will matriculate to the full-time MBA program.
Now it’s time to open the doors wider.
“Our first year was always intended to be a pilot year,” Askins tells Poets&Quants. “Everything is going according to plan.”
THE GOAL: DIVERSITY OF BACKGROUND & INTEREST
Accelerated Access allows undergraduate seniors or graduate students in their final year of study to complete the MBA application process in that final year, gain conditional admission, and then start their studies at Berkeley Haas after two to five years of deferment. The application process is very similar to that of the full-time MBA; deadlines this spring are April 5 and June 10.
In its original, UC-Berkeley-only form, the program hit all its targets, Askins says.
“We had some interest locally on campus and we ended up getting right around the target that we were looking for — we wanted to see about 150 students apply,” he says. “We got into that ballpark range. And we’ve deferred a small portion of that, a little less than 20. There was certainly no trouble finding applicants who wanted two degrees from the same university.
“What we were surprised about, though, is the number of folks that were coming to us from a lot of our other programs. We knew we were going to get interest from people in business programs, as well as people in some of the adjacent spaces, economics and the sciences. But the number of folks who were interested coming from a humanities background, the number of folks who were interested in coming from some of the broader different disciplines on campus, was interesting for us.”
Askins says expansion of the program won’t change the school’s goal: to appeal to applicants from diverse backgrounds and interests.
“We’re looking for broad perspectives in the program,” he says. “I think that the idea that you need business fundamentals in order to consider the program narrows the field a little too much for us. We’re looking for change-makers.
“You look at us. We are a program that is strong in sustainability and entrepreneurship, in innovation. Well, innovation doesn’t come from one segment of the market. It actually comes from these broad disciplines and having people coming in, and that interaction of ideas. And we want to continue to see that. And we need to see that in all of our verticals. Not just in our direct admissions, but also in our different admissions, which is part of the push to bring this more broadly.”
‘WE’RE GOING TO TAKE OUR TIME’
Haas Dean Ann Harrison in late January 2020 called Accelerated Access a way for the B-school to reach across campus to offer new opportunities to students who previously might not have considered an MBA. But the program was always pegged for expansion outside the university, as Morgan Bernstein, Askins’ predecessor as the head of admissions, told P&Q.
Askins says outreach to promote the program is, of course, complicated by coronavirus. Between 10 and 15 virtual events are currently planned, but outreach will take other forms as well, including communications with HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions.
“We’ve been reaching out to not just career services offices,” Askins says. “We’re not just going to try and show up at undergraduate career events or undergraduate-graduate school events. We’re reaching out to local business student associations. We’re reaching out to underrepresented population business associations, looking to see if we can’t provide an alternative way of meeting us and getting to know us in a virtual environment.
“We think that we’re still newer to the market than other people. We know we’re a really strong program, but we’re going to take our time. We’re not going to do 100 events. We’re going to do select events, 10 to 15 events. We are going to outreach to some of the traditional places where you would think to do outreach, the schools that we would normally draw candidates from in our regular program. But we plan to be targeted as well. We want to open up new markets, so we are going to try and post up at events. In a virtual universe, it’s very difficult to target a particular market. But we’re going to try and post up in time zones that are outside of our normal time zones, in spaces where maybe they don’t know about Haas.
“Because this is a great place to test market, as well. It’s a very crowded field. And we have a unique proposition. We are a values-first organization, and we want to see how that tests in different spaces. So, we’re going to continue to be intentional and we’re going to continue to move slowly.
A SUCCESSFUL APPLICANT IS SOMEONE ‘WHO HAS GOT A MAP’
The decision to follow the timeline and grow the Accelerated Access program comes as Haas — like most top business schools in the United States — is seeing a reversal of the downward trend in full-time MBA applications. That’s certainly been the case in Berkeley this fall and winter, Askins says, describing the volume of apps through the early rounds this cycle as “very healthy.”
“I think in certain spaces, we’re seeing that same increase that a lot of schools are seeing,” Askins says. “In other spaces we’re seeing increases that we don’t think are pandemic-driven. We just got our consortium numbers, which are particularly high. And that’s a closed universe, right? That’s not a huge expansion. So, I think our message is landing. And I’m excited for that.
“We know that that means that it’s a little bit tougher to get in. The more applicants, a small program, that’s the concern. But we are receiving applicants who are truly resilient, people who have navigated this incredibly challenging last year and have really been able to tell us the story of how they’ve navigated it, how they’ve overcome those challenges.
“I know you’re probably hearing the word ‘resilience’ a lot. That’s the new word. You hear it everywhere. But it’s true.”
“We’re a really small program, right around 300 students, and so we have to make sure that we are testing everything that we do,” Askins says. “We can’t Balkanize the program. We can’t break it into pieces. So we always want to make sure: Is this sustainable? Will this work for us? Will this pull up our numbers? Will we end up with 30 students trying to matriculate at the same time with all of our classes capped? We’ve been very thoughtful about this program and growing it.”
How would he describe a strong applicant for deferred admission at Haas? Somebody “who has got a map.”
“And they’re going to tell us about that map. They’re going to say, ‘This is where I’m going, and this is what I want to accomplish.’ And the beauty of this program is, they can then curate what those two to three to four to five years’ experience is going to be in, between the offer and the matriculation. Instead of saying, ‘I want to get into EY, and at my two-year mark, I want to get that promotion so I am well-positioned to go to business school, then become a consultant,’ you’re getting people to say, ‘Well, I need to acquire the following skills. And I can do that by exploring this space that’s not a fast-track to promotion, but it’s going to give me the tools to get to this goal.’ It’s about following your passion and having the freedom to do that.”