PART I: Applying [And Getting In] To Haas
In today’s post, I will go over best practices, tips and tricks, and other well-known (and not so well-known) strategies for getting into Haas.
Haas is UC Berkeley's undergraduate and graduate (MBA) business program, so this post (and subsequent ones) is largely geared towards UC Berkeley students. This guide is written for current UC Berkeley freshman and sophomores (prior to applying in the Fall) who are looking to apply (and get in) to Berkeley Haas, as well as community college and other university students aiming to successfully transfer.
What is Haas (and what’s the big deal?)
How Haas applications work
How COVID-19 will impact admissions (general)
Academics / GPA: Course Selection Strategy
How COVID-19 will impact admissions (academics)
Professional Experience: Resume Strategy
How COVID-19 will impact admissions (resume)
Prompt A Essay: Story-Telling and Writing Strategy
Best practices, tips, and tricks
Prompt B / C Essay: Story-Telling and Writing Strategy
Best practices, tips, and tricks
Supplemental Essay (re: Your COVID Story)
The Dreaded Haas Interview
So, with that said, let’s dive right into it!
What is Haas?
Haas is UC Berkeley’s business school, named after Walter A. Haas (who, fun fact, is loosely related to Levi Strauss, the founder of Levi Strauss and jeans).
While most business programs are graduate-focused (re: MBA), Haas boasts one of the most prestigious undergraduate business programs. Moreover, while most undergraduate business degrees are hosted within 4-year programs (re: Penn Wharton, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, etc.) Berkeley Haas is quite different.
Few students can directly apply to Berkeley Haas and get in as a freshman — the exception, of course, being MET (Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology) and GMP (Global Management Program) where high school seniors can directly be admitted into Haas. In fact, there now is even a ‘Biology+Business’ undergraduate program catered to, well, students who want to combine their passion for biology in a business setting and context (re: Big Pharma, Biotech, Healthcare, etc.).
That being said, most applicants will belong to two groups: first, Berkeley students will spend their first two years undeclared and then be admitted into Berkeley Haas, where they will spend the final two years of their time at Cal earning a B.S. in Business Administration. Second, transfer students will spend their first two years in community college or another university, take the core pre-requisite courses and build up their professional experiences, and then apply and be admitted into Berkeley Haas, again earning a B.S. in Business.
And yes folks, you heard that right. Majoring in Business leads to a Bachelor’s of Science.
Like… how on Earth do Biology, Computer Science, and Physics major’s get B.A.’s in STEM subjects (re: in UC Berkeley, all majors under the College of Letters and Sciences earn B.A.’s), but business students get to brandish a B.S. on their diplomas? Now that’s b.s.
But I digress. What makes Haas special is that most students essentially have to double apply to get in. First, you have to get into Cal (re: admission rate ~17%) Then, you have to get into Haas (re: admission rate ~30%).
Haas' selectivity has become a pop culture topic in the Berkeley meme community, with students are often type-casted as 'snakes' and 'pre-snakes' in hatching (re: Pre-Haas frosh).
As someone who has gone through the process and graduated with a B.S. under Berkeley Haas, I feel eminently qualified to confirm - to some extent - that we do have an excessively competitive culture, and the stress and pressure of applying - and getting in - to Haas is no joke.
This has all created a memeified, but also largely true, identity of hyper-competitiveness, some may even call toxicity, within the Berkeley Haas subculture, especially in regards to admissions and applications.
Before we get to applications, however, you might be wondering: Bryan, what’s the big deal about Haas? Why do so many students care?
What’s the Big Deal?
Honestly, there is no big deal. Take it from a guy who’s been there, and done that. I honestly don’t think the program is particularly helpful, but I will admit: there are a couple of key benefits that might mean a whole difference of a world for you.
For starters, Haas is much smaller than most other departments and programs at Cal. The Haas undergrad population stands at a teeny-tiny student enrollment count of 535. For context, a single intro Computer Science class (re: CS61A) at Cal can fill up to ~2000 seats.
Indeed, because Haas is smaller, the class sizes are more manageable and intimate. You can, hypothetically speaking, actually get to know your class and faculty.
Professional development resources at Haas are also more plentiful because a) there are less people and b) the school itself is entirely professional-driven, and therefore the opportunities for networking, mentorship, and professional development are naturally much greater for its students compared to Economics and other departments (which tend to be more academic and theory-driven, especially here at Cal).
Haas is also one of the best ranked business programs in the world for social impact and entrepreneurship. Further, Haas is one of the most startup-friendly communities in the global university/academic ecosystem, and its proximity to the Valley makes it a top destination for firms to come on-campus and recruit.
Haas students also get priority in enrolling in high-demand courses like Marketing and Finance. While non-Haas students are forced to the back of the waitlist like the second-class citizens they are (NOTE: for obvious reasons this is a joke), Haas students rarely worry about not getting into their first-choice classes.
But for you, the ambitious, driven student that you are (how else should I describe someone who's serendipitously found their way to my blog and to this post), perhaps the most important reason to enroll in Haas is for the postgraduate opportunities it affords. Haas is a top-ranked business school, both for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and its alumni work in the hottest companies across Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
INdeed, Haas alumni work in a myriad of roles, from consulting and investment banking to product management and venture capital. With a shiny Haas degree under one’s belt (re: LinkedIn profile), your fragile ego - oop, I mean clout - knows no bounds.
More seriously, yes, the Haas brand does mean something. Many employers look upon the name very favorably, and your ability to connect with alumni - as you will share a key commonality - will be much stronger compared to your other peers at Cal.
Yet this is not to say that these same opportunities and benefits cease to exist if you don’t get into Haas.
A common joke on campus is that ‘Haas rejects major in Econ’, and - among other jokes at Cal - this is a legitimately trash take.
As someone who’s gone through Haas, I can comfortably say that my professional accomplishments and achievements, both on and off campus, would not have been substantially impacted whatsoever had I been rejected by Haas instead of being accepted. Looking back, it honestly didn’t make a difference.
I know a lot of friends who got into Haas, and kicked ass.
I also know a lot of friends who didn’t get into Haas, and also kicked ass.
The point is, if Haas sounds like a great opportunity to you and you want to check it out — by all means, go for it! The program means something different to everybody. And it's not everybody's cup of tea.
If you do decide to apply, hopefully this guide helps you tell your story in your application to the richest and fullest extent possible.
At that point, either two things will happen.
You get in. Great!
Or you don’t. Great! You’re going to kick ass anyway. You’re just not going to do it with a B.S. degree. Punny, eh?
How Haas Applications Work
Great, you’ve decided to apply to Haas. Now here comes the Rat Race.
So what happens when you have ~ 2,000 smart, talented, driven, ambitious students who aren't used to rejection and failure apply to a program that's literally limited to having a maximum of 450 open spots?
On that note, let’s just cut to the chase and get to the part you actually care about.
How do I get in?
You will spend your first two semesters on campus (re: freshmen year) working on your pre-requisite classes (more on this in the Academics Section) and breadths (yes you still need to complete all 7 even if you end up being accepted to Haas, it’s a graduation requirement).
Then, in your third semester on-campus (re: Sophomore Fall), on November 1st applications will open. You will have until November 30th to submit your application, and decisions will come out around mid-February next year. You may also be extended an invitation to interview over Winter Break. An interview basically means you are a border-line candidate, and this interview will help determine if you get a spot or not in the class. This will be covered in Part Six.
So, how does the Haas Admissions team determine who becomes a Haashole and who doesn’t? What is their selection process? And is there a method to their madness?
Well, on top of “holistically” evaluating candidates, Haas ultimately seeks applicants who embody Berkeley Haas’s Four “Defining Leadership Qualities”:
Question the Status Quo
Confidence Without Attitude
Besides being general corporate mumbo jumbo feel-good sloganism, these qualities actually provide a very simple framework in which you can tell your story and write your essays — but more on that in Part Four and Part Five in the the Essays Section.
Haas also provides the following bullet-points on the common characteristics of a “Successful Candidate":
Academic achievement including grades, course load, consistent academic excellence, and high academic performance in all required prerequisite courses
Consistency and impact in extracurricular activities
Personal attributes and life experience suggesting leadership, maturity, ethical character, teamwork and goal orientation
Communication and analytical skills as demonstrated by responses to essay questions
More importantly, Haas actually provides a quantitative framework for strategically and objectively assessing student applicant fit. In case you’re interested, the following factors are evaluated and weighted as listed below for Haas applicant pools:
50% – Grades & Coursework
35% – Essays
15% – Resume
Clearly, Academics comes first. Meanwhile the resume, to most students’ surprise, is the least important. But see, this makes sense. When you apply to Haas, you are but a wee baby, an itty bitty first semester sophomore. What real work experience could you possibly be expected to have? That being said, some freshmen go hard and intern their pre-soph summers and boast fantastic resumes. Props to them. But it’s not necessary.
Because you see, the most under-looked, underestimated, and under-developed element in the Haas application profile is actually the essay.
I’ve had friends with +3.85 GPAs, consulting clubs and business frat memberships under their resume belts, and a pre-soph summer internship at a bank or venture capital fund get REJECTED by Haas, while many of my other friends - coming in hot with ~3.2 GPAs and having only AFX on their resume - get ACCEPTED.
And, more often than not, the greatest reason for this is the essay. This is the only section you can really control by the time you’re applying to Haas. Your GPA is already set. You’re developing your resume, but you’re still only a sophomore.
tl;dr academics are number one, resumes are important but not as important as you think they are, and essays are the biggest reason great-on-paper candidates lose out while untraditional applicants can surprisingly win big.
A COVID-19 Note
Because Spring 2020 implemented a P/NP opt-in - which was in fact recommended by the university - many students’ GPAs may be more reflective of the pandemic’s unexpected influence than their actual hard work and studies. On top of the general catastrophe that is COVID-19 on students’ academics - where many were thrust into poor wifi/connectivity, lack of stable living accommodations, and generally unfavorable studying conditions - many internships, study abroad programs, and more were straight up cancelled. Club activities came to a standstill. And all this no doubt has impacted your resume and potential to tell compelling stories in your essays.
Berkeley Haas has released admission guidelines and updated standards in regards to admissions this 2020 Fall. If you are a student looking at this guide in future years, you can disregard this section. But if you are the Class of 2023, then this section is for you.
Berkeley Haas' updated admission guidelines are as follows:
Haas will neither penalize candidates for P/NP'ing classes nor reward those who took their classes for a letter grade. The admissions committee will only review whether or not all required pre-requisite courses were successfully completed. Meanwhile, any pre-req courses taken before or after Spring 2020 must be taken for a letter grade.
The admission committee will add an additional essay prompt that will allow students to explain how they have been impacted by the pandemic. We will cover this prompt in Part Six, but I highly suggest you write an essay on this topic.
The admission committee remains committed to conducting a comprehensive, holistic review when evaluating applications. In their official statement, they state they are aware how COVID-19 has disrupted academic, professional, and extracurricular plans and thus will be making decisions based on the context of each students' individual circumstances. That's why - as candidates - you must provide as much context as possible, especially in your essays, so they can properly review your fit and potential for the program. Make use of the optional essay, and provide relevant details that can help admissions make more informed decisions.
The key takeaway here should be abundantly clear -- you need to show Haas how, despite COVID-19, you remain resilient, energized, and passionate. COVID-19 may have disrupted your initial plans, but not your innate intellectual curiosity, drive, and initiative.
Pandemic or not, these are the core qualities Haas looks for in star students. It's not enough to be in a consulting club or business fraternity, nor having interned your freshman summer. These can help you stand out - to a limited extent - but they aren't game-changers.
But your attitude is. Your hunger is. I can't control these things. Only you can.
That's why, in Parts Two to Six, what I can do for you is give you the tools and knowledge you need to adeptly navigate Haas Admissions and put your best foot forward.