Category Archives: MBA Essay Questions

12 minutes of solid gold MBA admissions podcast advice from Haas – Berkeley

There’s a little gem of a podcast from the Haas-Berkeley admissions committee, “Admissions and Application Information for Prospective Full-time MBA Students,” answering the question: “What are we looking for as we evaluate candidates?” It’s only 12 minutes long and really worth listening to. It’s up on this link at iTunes (item 10) or click here.

Haas adcom aims to dispel a few mysteries and shibboleths from MBA admissions. The podcast is from 2007, but that’s no matter. Everything they say is still current, and valid for other top b-schools too. The highlights:

Haas looks at three key areas. (1) academic readiness; (2) professional accomplishments and leadership experience; (3) personal attributes

(1) They consider college GPA + GMAT (+ post-grad scores, if applicable.) They also put value on the caliber of undergraduate institution, difficulty of major, trend in your grades, and level of quantitative preparation. There is no preference for any type of major.

(2) Work experience is about quantity (most have 3- 7 years) and, more importantly, quality. They focus on your career progression, why you have made the transitions you have made, how your role has progressed and responsibility increased. Quick advancement and significant progress reflects well. Leadership can be demonstrated on many ways, and closely correlates with how much of an impact you have made in your organization(s).

(3) The Haas admissions committee, like all adcoms, wants to enroll a class with diverse attributes and backgrounds (there is no right or wrong personal or professional past.) The question is “What can you uniquely contribute? They glean this by what you reflect as important to you — what you are passionate about. High extracurricular activity suggests you will be active on campus too, but they do understand and forgive where work and travel issues prevent meaningful extra-mural or community involvement.

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Generally, it’s worth keeping up with b-school podcasts, which are coming online all the time. Some are admissions-related. Others give worthwhile insight and information about the school and its culture, which can feed into essays about fit (“Why this school particularly?”) See for example:

Haas: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/uc-berkeley-haas-school-business/id84968687
Darden: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/podcasts-darden-the-darden/id201480998
Tuck: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-tuck/id154782876
Kelley: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/kelley-school-business-mba/id206525433

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The “goals” question remains the core of any MBA admissions application. Continuing on past posts I’ve put up here on how to manage it — beyond the usual blah of clearly enunciating your short-term and long-term goals and connecting that to why you need an MBA — here’s something worth considering on the HBS site: the Harvard Business School Portrait Project.

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hbs portrait project
http://www.hbs.edu/mba/profiles/PortraitProject/2009portrait/

Harvard Business School (not HBS Adcom) says: “Each year we ask our classmates [this year class of 2009] a straightforward, simple question taken from the last lines of a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Mary Oliver. It seems such an easy question on the surface, but sometimes the easy questions are the hardest to answer. Indeed, although we ask for only 200 words or less, most people grapple with the question a long time. We share with you intimate and candid responses from the Class of 2009 to this question,”What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” See what the students plan to do.

Now, consider the HBS goals essay: “What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?”

What is “career vision?” In their terms, what does “vision” mean? What does “meaningful” really mean? What do they expect of you? What will, as they say, ‘cut the mustard’ in this essay?

In fact, “What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?” is effectively asking the same thing, that is: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” You may say you want to be a hospitality logistics manager or an aviation entrepreneur … or anything. There’s no right or wrong answer. The point is why is it worth spending your one wild and precious life on? You have to justify it in those terms. That’s how you make it into a right answer.

This is true of the goals essay to any top school, not just Harvard.

For the Portrait Project HBS students get 200 words. For the HBS admissions essay you get 400 because you need to spend time nailing down how ‘what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’ makes sense in terms of your past, the Harvard MBA specifically, and recruitment.

Using ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ to develop the why-an-MBA / goals essay

Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a 5-level theory of human motivation (Psychology Review, 1943) in which he proposed that peoples’ needs and satisfaction move ‘upwards’ through a common structure which he called a ‘hierarchy of needs.’ Once lower needs of sustenance and safety are met, we aspire to fulfill social, self-esteem, and self-actualization needs. The summary chart looks like this:

credit: Wikipedia
credit: Wikipedia

(The model made Maslow world famous. The structure of the pyramid itself has been tinkered with over time, for example by Manfred Max-Neef, who sees levels of: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, freedom.) But the core insight remains: once more basic levels of fulfillment are achieved, and as long as they remain achieved, humans moves up the hierarchy in search of fulfillment.

What does this have to do with MBA admissions essays, and how does this help those struggling with the ‘why an MBA?’ question in particular?

It helps because it provides a quick, reliable guide to the necessary reach of the essay. Too often applicants dwell in and around levels 2 and 3, talking of security and quality of employment, taking care of their family (including elderly or immigrant parents) and developing friendship and contact networks (incl. alumni networks), career progress, and so on.

This is all important. But there is more to say, and Maslow shows the way to developing it. Where is the rest of your motivation going to come from in your life: how will you achieve further self esteem, self-respect, and the respect of others? What will you create? What will put you, personally, to higher plain of self-actualization?

As I tell my clients: A good career and family security are great things to want. But what else is there? What comes after that? You don’t need to aspire to be Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa, but you do need to reach into yourself and ask: ‘My levels 4 and 5 – what are they, for me? What would actualizing myself at these levels look like? And how will an MBA be part of what takes me there?’