Hemingway, by Lloyd Arnold, late 1939. Public Domain.
“The worst thing that you can do is be afraid and try to give the safe answer… Be courageous and tell us who you really are and what you want out of business school, and I think that you will find that strategy will take you all the way.” –Pete Johnson, Associate Dean of MBA Admissions, Berkeley Haas
Berkeley Haas showed some literary panache in posing a Hemingway-esque challenge to MBA candidates with this new essay for its 2017/18 cycle: “Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date.”
Never someone to be intimidated by a challenge (literary or otherwise), it’s said that novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote the following when provoked by fellow writers to tell a full story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” According to legend, Hemingway penned the story in a few minutes on a bar napkin and won $10 from each challenger in the wager.
It’s unclear whether you can submit your answer to Haas on a bar napkin. Though you do get 250 words to elaborate on why your six-word story is meaningful to you. The heart of the challenge, which replaces Berkeley’s “choose one song that expresses who you are,” is to distill an emblematic experience into something autobiographical and memorable.
So where to start? Berkeley Haas Associate Dean for the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions, Pete Johnson, offers this advice:
“Be courageous,” says Johnson, who spoke on the Admissions Director Panel at the CentreCourt MBA Festival in New York. “I think a lot of applicants say ‘well, you know, I’m an engineer but what I really want to do is work in digital music,’ and they write it out and they show it to their partner or whoever who says, ‘no don’t write that, they’ll think you’re crazy!’ When people do that, it goes flat. When somebody really tells us what they’re enthusiastic about it literally leaps off the screen.”
Haas’s six-word story is a pointed example of shorter not being simpler. Knowing that a good story conveys a beginning, middle and end, it’s a mighty feat in six words. To paraphrase a literary maxim oft attributed to Mark Twain, ‘If I had more time I’d have written a shorter letter.’ Morgan Bernstein, Executive Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at Haas, supplies some great insight for the essays on the Haas website.
“There is no right story other than your own,” says my Fortuna Admissions colleague Sharon Joyce, former Associate Director of Admissions at Haas. “And this is not an exercise in grammar. So think first about what you want Haas to take away from the essay before you try to capture that experience in six words.”
In terms of strategy, Sharon advises to first think about a memorable experience and why it brought you great happiness, or proved to be a distinctly rewarding challenge. Then, allow yourself to play with possibilities. Allowing yourself to have a little fun and stay curious can go a long way toward replacing any feelings of dread (or, for the more quant-minded among you, terror). For some inspiration and amusement, view these clever submissions from a six-word memoir contestfeatured on NPR, which includes, “Met wife at her bachelorette party.”
“The six-word essay prompt allows the admissions team to understand ‘what makes you tick’ above and beyond what they’ve already gleaned from your academic record and work history,” says Joyce. “This might be an opportunity to share an experience where you went beyond yourself to succeed, or grew in confidence from a lesson in failure. Write not what you think sounds so very b-school, but rather share your sense of purpose and authentic self.”
If you’re ready to write like Hemingway, remember that he’s also credited with proclaiming, “The first draft of anything is sh@*.” It’s almost always true, even for the writer who knocked out one of his most memorable stories on a napkin.
Matt Symonds is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, a dream team of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools. He is the author of “Getting the MBA Admissions Edge,” and co-organizer of the CentreCourt MBA Festival with Poets & Quants.
Berkeley / Haas MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018
Now that the Haas MBA essay topics have been announced for the 2017-2018 season, we wanted to offer our thoughts on how to approach each of these prompts for business school applicants targeting the UC Berkeley MBA Class of 2020.
The Haas admissions website notes that the adcom seeks “candidates from a broad range of industries, backgrounds, and cultures. Our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles – Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. We encourage you to reflect on your experiences, values, and passions so that you may craft thoughtful and authentic responses that demonstrate your fit with our program – culturally, academically, and professionally.”
Berkeley / Haas MBA Essay Question Analysis 2017-2018
Let’s take a closer look at each prompt.
Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date. Elaborate on why it is meaningful to you. (250 words maximum)
Tip: A successful six-word story will pique the reader’s interest in the forthcoming explanation. Together, the story and explanation will share a specific and personal experience that helps the reader get to know you better, giving insight into your character, values, or how you would uniquely contribute to the Berkeley-Haas community. View sample six-word stories and video tips from the admissions committee.
Dispensing with their longstanding request for a representative song, Haas instead asks applicants for essentially a “snapshot” of a memorable experience. Given the structure of the response—six words followed by a short explanation—we suggest taking the following approach.
- Choose the story. This ideally needs to be something interesting that will be memorable to the admissions team. In an ideal world, the story will fit with your overall positioning as an MBA applicant seeking to attend Haas, too. You may start by making a list of your top 10 most memorable experiences, then reflecting on what each reflects about your character or values. Consider what you want the adcom to know about you the most.
- Draft the 250 words to explain why this was an important experience. This will also need to provide context for the six words you come up with. This is the place to establish the who, what, when and where for the six-word statement. Then, you should dig into why the experience mattered to you.
- Craft the six-word story, which could be considered a “headline.” The words have to offer enough of a sketch to really pique the interest of the reader, but some ambiguity can be a good thing (after all, you want to push the adcom to read the 250 words). It would be worth reviewing the adcom’s personal samples, as some convey an overall lesson or attitude drawn from the memorable experience, while others draw on more concrete imagery. You may even wish to send just the six words to a friend or colleague and ask them for their reaction—do the six words capture the mood of your experience? Is the person intrigued or confused? This may help you gauge how to tweak the headline.
Respond to one of the following prompts: (250 words maximum)
- Describe a significant obstacle you have encountered and how it has impacted you.
- Describe how you have cultivated a diverse and inclusive culture.
- Describe a leadership experience and how you made a positive and lasting impact.
Tip: Responses can draw from professional or personal experiences. Through your response, the admissions committee hopes to gain insight into your achievements, involvement, and leadership footprint.
This prompt presents applicants with a range of experiences they might discuss: a challenge that yielded a significant paradigm shift, a team building situation based on diversity, or action that led to long-term positive results. We recommend that applicants begin by reflecting on their honest answer to each of the three options. While you may naturally gravitate toward one of them, generating at least two potential topics for each and then evaluating strategically will help you hone in on your best option in light of our next piece of advice.
Once you’ve got your list of examples, we recommend that you cross-reference each with (you guessed it) the four Haas principles. The adcom has signaled that fit with the program’s values is very important to them, so this should take priority in your topic selection. That is, facing an obstacle that required Questioning the Status Quo or entailed Confidence without Attitude will be a better choice than touting an experience that isn’t a fit with any of the four Haas values. Select the experience that feels truest to you while also allowing you to demonstrate that you’re the kind of student Haas wants to admit.
After you’ve identified your topic, you’re in for another challenge: distilling all of the relevant context for your story and an account of your actions in just 250 words. Effective responses will provide the essential who, what, when, and where of the situation in just 1-2 sentences, establishing all of the relevant players and what was at stake for you (and other important stakeholders). You’ll then want to comment on your actions and the outcome with comparable brevity before moving into the why or how of your chosen prompt. Applicants should aim to spend at least one-third of the essay commenting on what the experience meant to them and/or how they have grown as a result. And, space permitting, it would be a nice touch to end with a remark about how this experience has positioned them to make an impact on the Haas community and/or their chosen post-MBA industry or sector.
- Briefly describe your immediate post-MBA career goals. (50 words maximum)
- How have prior experiences motivated and prepared you to pursue these goals? (250 words maximum)
Tip: You are encouraged to reflect on both what you want to do professionally after business school and why this path interests you.
This is a fairly standard career goals essay, requesting one’s post-MBA plans and how they are a culmination of one’s experiences and interests. Given the order of the prompts, applicants should open this essay by describing their plans upon graduating from Haas. Due to the short length, the response should be concise in covering the particular role and responsibilities you are interested in.
Regarding prior experiences, rather than offering a chronological account of each of one’s previous jobs here, it’s likely a better strategy to capture one’s “path to business school” by commenting more broadly on industry and functional experiences, and zeroing in on projects or interactions that sparked one’s interest in one’s post-MBA plans. Candidates should use their best judgment (with an eye to the word limit) here.
Either way, the discussion of one’s path up to this point should lead logically to your future plans. If space permits, applicants should give the adcom a sense of what they want to do and what they hope to accomplish with their careers in the long term. The adcom will be interested in hearing applicants explain the reason they’ve chosen this path, with a particular emphasis on the impact they hope to make on an organization, sector, or region.
Because Haas ends its essay section with the career goals essay, this response will be the culmination of one’s message to the adcom. Applicants may therefore wish to close their response by tying together the themes and Haas principles that they’ve introduced in their other responses, and end on a note of enthusiasm about the program.
Use this essay to share information that is not presented elsewhere in the application, for example:
- Explanation of employment gaps or academic aberrations
- Quantitative abilities
- For re-applicants, improvements to your candidacy
New applicants should exercise discretion when responding to this prompt, as providing an optional essay creates extra work for the admissions reader. This will be a good place to address extenuating circumstances that have influenced one’s academic or professional history, to address weaknesses in one’s application, or to explain an unusual choice of recommender. The wording of this question is open enough that applicants may also choose to discuss an element of their background that is not reflected in their other materials (including data forms and résumé), though they will need to demonstrate sound judgment in doing so – i.e. the nature of the content should be such that it makes a material difference to one’s application – and should summarize the information as concisely as possible.
Meanwhile, re-applicants should seize this opportunity to cover developments in their candidacy that have not been covered in the previous essays. This response should be fairly action-oriented, with a focus on describing the steps that one has taken to become a stronger applicant to Haas since being denied, as well as the results of these efforts in terms of new knowledge and strengthened skills. This also poses an opportunity to demonstrate an enhanced familiarity with and commitment to Haas’s MBA program.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Haas MBA essay topics. As you work on your Haas MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Haas School of Business offerings:
Posted in: Admissions Tips, Essay Tips & Advice, Essay Topic Analysis, Essays
Schools: Berkeley / Haas