Berkeley Haas Essay

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, value, or how you would uniquely contribute to the Berkeley-Haas community. View sample six-word stories and video tips from the admissions committee.

If you take a peek at the “six-word stories” prompt from the Haas admissions committee, you’ll notice that it’s pretty loose. The good news? With six words, it’s hard to do something “wrong.” The bad news? No such thing as bad news. We eat challenges like this for breakfast. Bring it on, Haas.

Before we get to the six words, let’s consider the angle carefully: “memorable experience.” This is helpful to keep in mind because they’re not looking for a catchy slogan and then some words to back it up. So, what are they looking for? Well, it doesn’t really matter. This is the part where the ol’ Admissionado approach will help get you out of your own damn way. The temptation is to stew on those six words before anything else, which is a bad idea.

We have a much better idea – go to your “greatest hits.” What story do you absolutely HAVE to tell Haas? Which story will reveal something about you (that won’t naturally be covered elsewhere) that completes a key missing dimension to your app? Peek ahead to the rest of their questions. Let’s say you’ve got a great leadership story teed up for one of them. If that’s the case, maybe you want to use THIS space to reveal how silly and LIKEABLE you are.

(Because your calculation would be that (a) Leadership + (b) Insane Likeability = (c) Dangerous Potential For Future Success.)

But flip it. Let’s say that when you’ve picked the BEST stories for the rest of the prompts, you find that you’re MISSING a great leadership story. Or that there’s a dimension to your leadership repertoire that MUST be told and is missing. Even if you have a colorful story that COULD be told here, you may want to favor that other leadership angle, if that’s the right move. The point is, pick the story, not the catchiest six-word story that comes to mind. No matter what the story, you can always develop a KILLER six-word redux.

So, Step 1 here is pure, unadulterated Gestaltian strategy. The question is: what puzzle piece goes here that completes the rest of your Haas application and gives you the greatest bang for your buck? Once you’ve sewn that up, you’re ready to craft the thing.

At this point, you can start to have fun with the six-word aspect of it, and ping-pong between starting with a six-word “story” (the six words themselves, that is) and then fleshing out an actual 250-word exploration/explanation around it. Or, write the story first and then mess around with how the six-word aspect might look. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck, because you have an out: “start with whatever thing isn’t stuck” (whether it’s the six-word thing, or the story part). No matter how you begin, you can always refine both, together.

What does 250 words look like? It’s probably two normal-sized paragraphs or three shorter ones. However you skin it, it’ll need to be efficient.

What are good angles to pursue here? Generally, self-deprecating, humorous stuff is more likely to work well over heavy, poignant stuff. Why? Limited space. To tell a very deeply meaningful story with concision… is almost to undermine or disrespect it. Imagine giving a moving eulogy about a loved one as EFFICIENTLY as you could, in a three-sentence wrap-up. Woops? It may be the one occasion where economy of words is NOT preferable to… verbosity. When you emote, efficiency can sometimes feel unfeeling. Don’t get us wrong, it’s doable. It just needs to work really, really well.

Safer plays?

The “Lesson-Learned” Story

Dear world, I’m going to tell you about a time when I learned a lesson the hard way. Or, a time when I was humbled in a huge way. Or, a time when I was so sure about my beliefs and was then proven wrong.

The key theme for something like this is the “turning point” moment when we are able to see a Before and After picture and your recognition of it. That kind of introspection can say a lot about a person’s future as a businessman/woman.

The “And-That’s-When-I-Discovered-this-Ridiculous-Quirk-About-Myself” Story

This one’s more style than substance. It’s all about revealing something about yourself – and possibly even the way you go about it – that makes the reader smirk when reading it and want to meet you. It could be admitting to a cool hobby that’s unusual, or a strange belief you have that’s wildly contrary to more popularly held ones, or something strange you do that people have pointed out makes you so “you.”

To just say it outright can be weird, but Haas has given you an opportunity to encase it in a “story” so it may go down smoother. The idea here is to make the other person smile when you admit this, not much more than that. If you’re trying to even slightly impress them, you’re going to belly flop. Keep this one light.

The “Light-Bulb-Moment” Story

“And that’s when I discovered the world of X, and my passion for it.” Or “Sitting there, desperately willing my bladder to cooperate on the ‘It’s a Small World After All’ ride at Disneyland, my game-changing idea for an app was hatched.”

If you have a really sincere passion for something (perhaps best if non-work-related since you’ll be delving into that stuff in upcoming essays), and its “origin story” is traceable to a single experience, this could be a cool place to dip into it.

The work-related version CAN work, however, if the story is unbelievably funny, or insane. The key here is to channel your emotions when the light bulb actually went off in your mind. What was going through your head? Watching people’s gears churning can be a great way to imagine them as future leaders. It’s hard to do, so, when done well, it can really have an impact. The key is not to get ahead of yourself and write about the light-bulb moment with all your future knowledge. Write it before-during-and-after you experienced it.

So, from the perspective of (A) “before you had those game-changing insights” to (B) the things that were happening in real-time that were causing the light-bulb to go off, finally to (C) the updated perspective, now that everything had changed in your mind. Those are three DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT headspaces. The best versions of light-bulb stories deliver all three.

The “I-Guarantee-You’ve-Never-Met-Anyone-Who-Could-Tell-You-THIS-Story” Story

“Ever marry someone, only to find out later on that they were once married and you had no idea? Not totally uncommon. It happens. Ever then find out that that previous spouse was a (benevolent) dictator of a small nation? Less common. Here’s how that story goes.”

If you have a story that you’re sure no one else on planet Earth could ever tell, do it here. The more ridiculous, insane, un-fortuitous, improbable, unbelievable, etc… the better. The ultimate litmus test must be that you’re sure no one has a similar story. Not even the same story, but even a similar one. It has to be THAT ridiculous. Why? Because that’s how it’ll stick. The kind of story you couldn’t even write in Hollywood because the audience would reject its absurdity! That’s the story to tell here.

The “And-That’s-When-Everything-Changed” Story

Sometimes there are inflection points in life that are so profound that the “life before that inflection point” can be almost unrecognizable. Chances are, there’s an incredible story to tell. The key (a pattern you’ll see over and over again in our essay analyses) is to devote time to the Before, such that the inflection point and whatever comes After actually means something. There needs to be a stark contrast between the two. There needs to a lot of change for an “everything changed” story, heh. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Tell it in real-time as though it were happening now, rather than writing it through a reflective “looking back on it now” lens. Writing in present tense is a neat trick to help accomplish that.

View the prompts on the Haas School of Business website.

Before you begin your Haas application, take a moment to review the school’s key principles as these tenets define it and the student body: Haas Defining Principles

Do these values hit home? Do you see yourself as part of such a student body? If so, let’s look at the essay questions that you need to address in your Haas application.

Essay #1: 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)

You could think of your six-word story as the “sizzle” and the elaboration as the “steak.” Be creative and grab the AdCom’s attention with your six-word memorable experience, but also back up your story with some substance and style in the explanation. Be genuine and bring out the personal importance of your short story; why is this such an important experience for you? At the same time, be careful not to go too over the top or melodramatic, because that’s not going to make your case any stronger!

The admissions committee has helpfully provided sample six-word stories and video tips.

Essay #2: Respond to one of the following prompts: (250 words maximum)
  • Describe a significant obstacle you have encountered and how it has impacted you: Come up with a difficult situation and not something ordinary, it’ll bring out your resilience and the lessons you learned even further
  • Describe how you have cultivated a diverse and inclusive culture: Haas is a very diverse and tight-knit community. The AdCom wants to see that you’ll be able to fit into such a group and not struggle to integrate into the student body
  • Describe a leadership experience and how you made a positive and lasting impact: A standard essay question in most business school essays. An important component of this question is the positive impact, demonstrate that you’ve had impact on others in line with one of the key Haas principles

AdCom 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.

The goal here is to highlight your past experiences in terms of your leadership potential, ability to overcome challenges, and engagement with others. These are all important qualities that will get you through the Haas MBA experience and serve you well in your future career. Remember that, in general, business schools want to see their graduates become leaders of companies and organizations, which ultimately reflects well on the institutions.

Keep Berkeley Haas’ defining principles in mind as you address the question you choose. Demonstrating that your experiences reflect one or more of these principles will strengthen your application! Once you’ve laid out the circumstance or situation, try to bring out any possible result or outcome if you can, as this will highlight the impact of the experience you have written about, and give the AdCom a clearer understanding of you as an applicant.

Essay #3: 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)

This last essay is one you might find in any typical MBA application. That doesn’t mean you can cut and paste from one of your other applications. Much like a corporate recruiter, the AdCom wants to understand how your prior work experience aligns with your post-MBA career goals. There are a multitude of applicants with different experiences and career plans that apply to Haas each year, so you’ll also want to make a strong case for your fit with the school in this essay. Avoid a generic “Why MBA?” answer as it is a clear indication that you haven’t done your research about Haas. Show off your knowledge about how a Haas MBA will help you to achieve your specific career goals.

It’s very common for MBA students to switch career tracks or change their minds once in school and presented with a plethora of career choices. However, while the AdCom is aware that you may change your mind, they still want to ensure that you’ve thought through your post-MBA career goals clearly and thoughtfully, so describe a clear post-MBA plan. If you have a very specific career goal after Haas, which doesn’t necessarily align with the traditional tracks and paths that most graduates take, devote extra attention to explaining how Haas in particular will help your achieve your aims.

Haas has a small MBA student body when compared with other top business schools. Be prepared to work hard on these essays to give yourself the best chance to earn your place within this very selective group of MBA students. Good luck!


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