Over the past years, many anxious pre-business students at UC Berkeley have wondered how to best approach the Haas School of Business’ undergraduate application essay. As with many undergraduate institutions like NYU and University of Michigan, UC Berkeley restricts admissions to its business school to maintain selectivity, and has students undergo a rigorous application in order to carefully craft its class size. The following essay is a successful one that one of our mentors submitted to Haas. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to painting your personal story, but we hope this sample essay helps prospective students and sheds insight on what an admissions officer may be looking for!
Question: For Berkeley-Haas, there are four principles that, taken together, sharply define us relative to other business schools. As you reflect on these principles (Confidence without Attitude, Question the Status Quo, Students Always, Beyond Yourself) which one would you say you need to work on or see as a potential area for personal growth and improvement? Why?
Embodying the four Haas principles is a lifelong praxis – a cyclical process in which every experience reshapes my actions with the goal of maximizing positive personal growth. I try my best to be humble in achievement, respectful in challenging dominant cultural hegemony, and find fun in learning. However, for too long my life has been a struggle between the traditional self-absorbed Chinese business mindset and my Christian faith. While I have taken the initial steps to reconcile the two, I believe that my greatest area of improvement is still “beyond yourself,” as I have too often prioritized personal over social gains.
I grew up embracing the traditional values of personal achievement and business-mindedness as well as social responsibility, but I viewed business and service as mutually exclusive spheres. My hunger for intellectual glory manifested itself in relentless pursuit of top grades. I discussed the most difficult concepts with teachers and solved challenge-problems in advance. Yet, my innately programmed obsession with academic perfection meant that I was reluctant to share insights with classmates if I thought they could offer nothing in return. I was known as the “banker” because I routinely carried excess cash, ready to exploit forgetful students by distributing fixed interest-bearing loans. Despite these misguided actions, I also organized community charity fundraisers and formed personal bonds with orphaned children through team-building activity, reading stories, and playing sports.
Coming to Berkeley reshaped my perception of the relationship between business and community service. Immersion in this cultural and socio-economic melting pot allowed me to witness the embedding of social consciousness into business. Here, individual goals are community directed and ethically aligned: my friends learn economics to reduce inequality, GSIs research to solve climate change, and professors teach for empowerment. Collectively our community stands for the socially beneficial provision of public education. Berkeley crafts socially responsible leaders in an era driven by profit-maximizing firms that capitalize on speculation, union busting, and sweatshop outsourcing. Slowly, my engagement with students and faculty at Cal is reforming my view on business and social responsibility as intrinsically interlinked.
While my paternal grandparents assert that business and social responsibility are diametrically opposed goals, I consider them complementary, for social causes can be implanted in corporate culture. Affecting the most change requires macrocosmic operations. Going “beyond yourself” is the nucleus to which other core principles coalesce. Social service embodies “students always” as it represents a real world venture of learning and applying class theories, which simultaneously “questions the status quo” of business operations and provides an outlet to exercise “confidence without attitude.” I believe the Haas core, coupled with an integration of the four principles throughout the business school courses and culture, will further transform me into a selfless leader and innovative contributor in our family businesses and in business society in general.