Pearls of Wisdom from Former Haas Admissions Evaluator
Updated: Feb 1
Jon Cheng did his MBA at Berkeley Haas, where he worked as an Admissions Evaluator, assessing applications to the Haas MBA program. During this time, he saw how many strong applicants got turned down, and that’s when he identified his passion: To help applicants present their best and truest selves to the admissions committee. His unique storytelling ability, refined in his marketing and journalism career, has helped his clients get into top schools including MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Tuck, Columbia and Stern.
In our most recent video, “Q&A with Former Haas Admissions Reader”, Jon demystifies Berkeley Haas, gives off-the-cuff advice on Harvard, Kellogg, Booth, Tuck and Fuqua MBA applications, and shares his thoughts about current trends in the business school world.
Jon’s 5 Pearls of Wisdom
1. Articulate your mission
Business schools want candidates who have clarity on what they want to achieve in life, and view an MBA as a stepping stone in that journey. So, when Jon works with clients he spends substantial amounts of time helping them to figure out their “North Star”. Once that is clear, it is easier to demonstrate their strengths, weaknesses, and to explain their immediate and long-term post MBA goals.
2. “Lone wolves” don’t thrive on MBA programs
Business schools such as Kellogg, Wharton, Haas, Fuqua and Emory are looking to build a community of collaborators. They bring together inclusive classes where peer-to-peer learning thrives. So, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the network to make the most of these MBA programs. Lone wolves, who compete rather than collaborate, will not thrive.
3. Stand out from the crowd
When working as an admissions evaluator, Jon saw candidates with strong GMAT scores, above-average GPAs and punchy recommendations every day. So he became adept at looking deeper for other signs of an applicant’s performance.
One technique he used was looking at how quickly candidates were promoted during their career. So, our advice is to make this very clear on your resume!
Another technique was looking at your most recent extracurriculars, particularly if you’re a consultant or investment banker who tend to have less free time. These are competitive industries for MBA applications, so impactful extracurriculars are real differentiators.
4. In-depth research is unbeatable
While learning more about the program, you should go deeper than the surface-level information available on the schools’ websites or MBA rankings.
Reach out to the Admissions team, alumni and current students to get to know more about the school. Then, you’ll start to better understand the school’s ethos, and you can use this to position yourself for the school. That’s what Jon did when he was applying, and he shares some of his insights during our interview.
5. Comparing the top US programs
Jon applied and interviewed with 6 top US business schools: Harvard, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Tuck and Fuqua. He gained insight into the subtle differences between their cultures that go beyond what you’ll find on their websites. He also has an intimate feel for the subtle differences between what the schools are looking for in candidates.
Kellogg, he says, look for “social types”. HBS wants strong leaders who can defend their opinion. Meanwhile over at Tuck, the location is key. Being a small and remote school, they want to check you’ll fit in and be part of the team. Fuqua double-down on the team part too, wanting to know how you’ll contribute to “Team Fuqua”. Finally, there’s Booth, who look for action-orientated types that are experts in their field. Watch the interview for more detail!
If you’d like a chat with Jon about your MBA applications, go to samweeks.com and schedule a free chat.