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Berkeley Haas School of Business

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Haas MBA Essay Analysis

(2023-24 Application Cycle)

Haas's reputation in the business school world has been steadily growing, placing it at #4 in the US and #7 in the world for 2023, according to the Financial Times.


Berkeley Haas's MBA application essay set consists of a career goals short answer, a diversity short answer, 2 core essays, and an optional essay. 


The Haas essays are fairly short but pack a punch. As you’ll see, it is important to be clear and precise within these low word limits. Additionally, it is crucial not to deviate from the question or forget the intended recipients of the essays, regardless of the informality of the prompt. 


What Berkeley Haas looks for in their essays


When you write your Berkeley Haas essays, keep the school's four Leadership Principles or, commonly, “the Four Pillars" in mind. 


  1. Question the Status Quo: Don't be afraid to challenge traditions and ask tough questions. Haas students take calculated risks and find innovative solutions to global issues.

  2. Confidence Without Attitude: Demonstrate leadership through quiet confidence, one that comes from research, reasoning, humility, and communication. 

  3. Students Always: Always be open to learning from diverse people and new experiences. Keep an open mind to all perspectives, even if they're different from yours. 

  4. Beyond Yourself: Don't limit your impact to your career; help your community and society grow with you. 


Haas says that they look for leaders who can put new ideas to work and do so responsibly.” In your essays, focus on demonstrating such leadership within your personal life, in the Haas community, and the larger society. Ensure that you align your stories with these four Leadership Principles.

Berkeley Haas Required Essay 1


What makes you feel alive and why?  (300 words)


The key point to remember here is that this is a business school application essay. The thing that “makes you feel alive” must of course be tied back into your reasons for attending Haas and presented in a B-school context that will be clear to the AdCom. 


That is not to say that your topic needs to be directly related to your job, but rather that it should demonstrate qualities that will feed back into your tenure at Haas and subsequent career: leadership, community, mentorship, etc. For example, an example involving free climbing might be interesting and quite an adrenaline rush for you, but unless you can figure out a way to tie this back into something that relates to development of your career, it won’t be more than a feather in your cap. 


Remember that 300 words is pretty short, so choose wisely: one good tip is to make sure that you pick a topic that is consistent with Haas’s Four Leadership Principles.


1. Question the Status Quo: Just because it’s the way things are doesn’t mean it’s the way things have to be. Remember, Haas is a big feeder for Silicon Valley, so a philosophy of “disruption” is encouraged; just make sure that disruption is considered rather than scattershot. As Haas says, it wants “intelligent risks,” which is presumably as opposed to “reckless risks.”

2. Confidence Without Attitude: Everyone loves a bit of confidence, but it’s easy to go overboard. Rare are those who are confident enough to inspire others yet humble enough to admit mistakes. One of the key principles of this is strong analytical and research skills, so that situations can be analyzed and decisions made based on empirical data: with information to back up decisions, confidence and humility can align. Further to this are key communication principles: demonstrating empathy toward others, making others feel part of the group, and allowing others to do their part with minimal interference.


3. Students Always: Whether one is in school is irrelevant to whether one is a student. There are always things to learn and things to improve. Haas notes that the ideal candidate is a lifelong student, always looking for ways to better herself. This humility is a key point to demonstrate in your application.

4. Beyond Yourself: Students at Haas realize that their work and their lives extend beyond themselves; not only is it about direct action, but also everyone’s actions have a ripple effect throughout communities near and sometimes far. Haas feels that it is incumbent upon its students to consider how the actions of the individual and the company affect the group, the community, and the world, and to put the collective good over the individual whenever possible. 


In short, that is your challenge with this essay: pick something that inspires you and choose a story that demonstrates how you engaged with this practice by challenging the current situation, by demonstrating confident, empathetic action, by accepting and processing lessons, and by contributing to a wider community.

Berkeley Haas Required Essay 2

What kind of leader do you aspire to be, and why? (300 words)

Key point: Leaders communicate using stories. Think about a time from your past when you demonstrated excellent leadership (see the above principles again). 


The simplest way to structure a good leadership story is to use the SCAR format: that is, Situation, Challenge, Action, Result.

Situation: Set things up. What context does this story take place in? Who were the characters? Make it clear how you were involved and what your ability to influence the situation was.

Challenge: What was the specific problem or challenge that you faced? Crucially, the stakes need to be clear here. What would have happened if you did not demonstrate leadership, and whom would that have affected?


Action: What specific action did you take? The more measurable this is, the better. Outcomes that can’t be quantified seem wooly and subjective. Make sure there is a good way to demonstrate what you did and how that affected people the situation positively.

Result: The result is somewhat self-explanatory, but describe clearly how your actions led to the measured result. Quantify, because numbers talk. Think about the percent difference your contribution made, the number of clients you brought on board, or the amount of money your initiative saved the company. 

Consider the different types of leadership you can demonstrate, making sure to be consistent with the four Haas Leadership Principles. Some classic leadership styles: 


Empathetic leadership shows emotional intelligence, understanding the fears and concerns of those involved and working toward a solution beneficial to all. Trust-building leadership is effective in situations where trust might be lacking due to new presence in a particular environment or even perhaps a situation where your industry might be associated with negatives (e.g. a chemical company in a farming community). This shows that your leadership skills were able to overcome an already-present hurdle. Leading from the front means providing an example to be followed. This is the complete opposite of the “do as I say, not as I do” parenting approach. A good leader understands that she is always an example and behaves accordingly. Servant leadership means putting your team and its collective objectives over your own personal gain. 

Berkeley Haas Essay 3 (Optional)

We invite you to help us better understand the context of your opportunities and achievements.

1. What is the highest level of education completed by your parent(s) or guardian(s)?

- Did not complete high school

- High school diploma or equivalency (GED)

- Associate’s degree (junior college) or vocational degree/license

- Bachelor’s degree (BA, BS)

- Master’s degree (MA, MS)

- Doctorate or professional degree (MD, JD, DDS)

2. What is the most recent occupation of your parent(s) or guardian(s)?

- Unemployed

- Homemaker

- Laborer

- Skilled worker

- Professional

3. If you were raised in one of the following household types, please indicate.

- Raised by a single parent

- Raised by an extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)

- Raised in a multi-generational home

- Raised in foster care

4. What was the primary language spoken in your childhood home?

5. If you have you ever been responsible for providing significant and continuing financial or supervisory support for someone else, please indicate.

  • Child

  • Spouse

  • Sibling

  • Parent

  • Extended family member (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, cousin)

  • Other


6. Please elaborate on any of the above responses. Alternatively, you may use this opportunity to expand on other hardships or unusual life circumstances that may help us understand the context of your opportunities, achievements, and impact. (300 words maximum) 

This is the place to discuss any sort of hardship or challenge that might be a defining personal experience. This one can be from outside a work or B-school context, such as “unusual life circumstances” as Haas puts it. The key here is to create the context as quickly as possible and then describe how you deal with the situation in a positive way. 


While it is vital to find a legitimate challenge, this is definitely not a competition for who is poorest or the most mistreated. There will always be someone poorer than you or someone who came from more hideous circumstances than you. What this needs to be is a legitimate demonstration of a challenge, your work to resolve that challenge, and your assessment of that work. 


Some things you could potentially discuss might be family, mental health, education, finances, and substance problems, although this list is by no means comprehensive. In any of these cases, it is important that you highlight the problem and how it was successfully resolved or, if a chronic issue, how you learned to manage it. 

Berkeley Haas Short Answer 1


Briefly describe your immediate post-MBA career goal. (150 words)

Again, this is not much space! So it is important to be direct and specific. Include the precise industry and exact title of your target role. If space, consider a backup plan; this is especially true for situations where you have a cut-and-dry role in mind, such as Associate at IB or MBB/Big-4 Consultant.


In the case of entrepreneurship, a little bit more explanation will be required, but keep it short and tactical; it needs structure and plausibility, not data. 


It’s fine that your plans may well change between now and the end of the Haas program. The AdCom knows this as well. These plans are simply to verify that you’re thinking ahead and following a plan, rather than drifting.


For more inspiration about this career goals essay, check out our blog post “Nail your career goals essay”.

Berkeley Haas Short Answer 2


One of our goals at Berkeley Haas is to develop leaders who value diversity and to create an inclusive environment in which people from different ethnicities, genders, lived experiences, and national origins feel welcomed and supported. 


Can you please describe any experience or exposure you have in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, whether through community organizations, personal, or in the workplace? (150 words maximum)


This is a brief 150 words essay, so choose your words carefully. 


To answer this question, brainstorm the different examples of active advocacy, preferably in an off-line, non-social media context. Doing an Ice Bucket Challenge might have been fun at the time, but it’s not 2014 anymore.


If you’re from a minority group yourself, then, you can easily describe what’s unique about your profile in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disabilities, etc., and how this affected you during your formative years. 


But by definition most applicants don’t come from a minority. In that case, you should tackle this by positioning yourself as an ally for diverse colleagues and peers. Write about steps you’ve taken to support minorities in your workplace or extracurricular environment. 


For example, we recently worked with an Indian male applicant (in MBA-land that’s as non-diverse as it gets). He wrote about his work with the Disability Inclusion Office at his company, and how that had made him a better, more empathetic leader. Right now he’s lining up his interviews.


So, pick an area where you’ve actively contributed. Establish the context and describe how you worked toward diversity, equality, or inclusion in that particular instance. Ultimately, this means describe the actions that you took and how solved (or mitigated) a problem situation. 


In the case that you have no concrete actions to describe, you could describe 1) what you proposed to do but did not do, or 2) what you would propose to do in retrospect.



The key takeaways for Haas are: make it clear, concise, directly related to your B-school ambitions. You don’t have to mention them explicitly, but consider using examples that embody Haas’s Four Leadership Principles as much as possible in your essays. The post-MBA goals need to be specific and precise; however, due to the short essay length, these rely more on compelling ideas than numbers.

Among our consultants we have Jon Cheng, former admissions evaluator at Berkeley Haas. Click here to arrange an introduction with Jon to discuss your profile and suitability for Berkeley Haas.

For the full Haas School of Business Business School MBA application course with example essays based on real essays by previous applicants, check out the Haas Business School application program on

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