Berkeley Haas MBA application secrets

What does it take to get accepted into one of the world’s top business schools? We spoke with Eric Askins, Executive Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, to learn all about their admissions process and the leadership qualities they look for in candidates.

In short

The leadership principles of the Berkeley Haas MBA

What do you get out of an MBA? For many people, the answer lies in the measurable results: salary increase, return on investment, and so on. For others, the answer isn’t as easy to define. But they might point to the so-called “soft skills” you gain from an MBA such as communication, teamwork and leadership.

Identifying and developing leadership qualities in candidates is the cornerstone of the MBA program at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. To find out more about their admissions process we spoke to Eric Askins, the Executive Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at Berkeley Haas. Regardless of a candidate’s career or industry interests, Eric outlined four defining leadership principles that Haas is looking for: always going beyond yourself, questioning the status quo, being a student always, and having confidence without attitude.

“These four defining leadership principles – they’re not separate,” he explains. “That’s one of the biggest things. We see them as intertwined in our student communities. They’re a touchstone for us in our communication about the culture and values of this institution.” (04:12)

Although Haas clearly values the soft skills that candidates gain from their MBA, that’s not to say they can’t also point to measurable results for their graduates. They’re ranked in the top 10 business schools in the world in every major ranking, and Eric also highlights their track record when it comes to providing career opportunities for their students.

“We place in the top three consulting firms at the same rate as many of our peers. We have the strongest investment banking internship placement of any business school here on the West Coast. These are pieces [of information] that are so incredibly important to many people who are applying,” he tells us. (22:48)

How leadership forms part of the Berkeley Haas MBA essays

Having such a strong track record makes Berkeley Haas a competitive school to get into. They receive around 4,000 applications per cycle, and the Berkeley Haas MBA acceptance rate is between 17 and 20%. So finding the right people from such a large pool of applicants can be a challenge. Eric says that the essay section of the application is an important way of doing that. Naturally, leadership lies at the heart of the essay.

“Our second essay is our leadership essay. That essay actually asks for an opinion from the candidate: what does a good leader look like? By doing that, what we’re asking you is to bring your values forward; tell us what a good leader looks like. We don’t expect the same answer from everyone: that’s the beauty of this,” says Eric. (04:45)

“The second part of that essay is then: tell us how you get there,” he continues. “Set a goal – set a values-oriented goal – and tell us how you can achieve those goals. That’s a way that an individual can establish their values in our application process, using the model that we’ve laid forward.” (05:11)

Berkeley Haas MBA interviews

MBA interviews are sometimes considered to be make-or-break for your MBA application process. But Eric says that the interview is much more likely to be “make” rather than “break” for candidates.

“It’s seldom that someone will lose an opportunity because they have a poor interview…oftentimes it’s a ‘value-add’ for candidates who might be on the cusp for us,” he reveals. (09:26)

Berkeley Haas offers both in-person and video interviews for applicants, though Eric accepts the limitations of video interviews. For this reason, he doesn’t see interviews as a game-changer for your MBA application. They’re more of a chance for applicants to build on what they’ve already communicated in their application so far: their professional journey, their personal qualities, their business skills.

“Not everyone’s comfortable in front of a video camera, not everyone’s going to have this quiet space with decent lighting and no outside distractions…so we do grant that these interviews may not be the best representation of the individual,” he says.

“Where someone can shine in an interview has to do with: Are they reinforcing what they’ve shared with us already in the application? Are they giving us a better understanding of their journey? Are they introducing new information that reflects well on what they’ve already provided?” (09:59)

Why MBA application rejection isn’t the end of the road

Given that more than 80% of applicants don’t get accepted into the Berkeley Haas MBA, you won’t be alone if you’re unsuccessful with your application. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of your journey. Eric reveals that you’ve actually got more chances of being accepted the second time around.

“Reapplicants to our program have a higher rate of admission than the general applicant pool. That’s often true because a reapplicant has shown a resilience to recommit to the program, and they’ve shown a deep interest in our program by taking the time to reapply,” he says. (16:49)

“Oftentimes they’ve done that self-assessment and have a sense of what they missed: a refinement of their career role, a strengthening of their professional journey, sometimes it’s just adding another year of professional experience to support their application.” (17:09)

If your MBA application is rejected, you shouldn’t see it as a failure. Instead, you should see it as a chance to learn and come back stronger. And if you’re accepted into an MBA program in the future, you will look back on it as another step in your own personal journey. 

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