PART V: Applying (And Getting In) To Haas
With Part V, we will delve into Essay Prompts B and C of the Haas application process. Like I previously wrote in previous posts, the essays are the most important element to your Haas admissions success. You can choose either Prompt B or C, and your goal is to highlight how you embody Haas' 4 Principles and showcase your potential and fit with the program.
Tell us about a time when you had to admit to others you made a major mistake. Describe the situation, how you handled it, and what you learned about yourself.
I personally did not pick Prompt B (I opted for Prompt C) in my Haas app, and for good reason: most people would agree this is the tougher of the two prompts to tackle.
One of the hardest behavioral questions in the interview you could be asked is “What is your greatest weakness,” and this prompt is essentially one of its many sub-variants.
You want to be specific: being a “perfectionist,” for instance, is highly vague and offers little to no detail or insight on your character and growth.
You also want to be genuine: nobody wants to hear empty platitudes and lessons you have zero intention of actually acting upon.
But you don’t want to sound like a lost cause: add a little too much information, context, and detail, and you may come off as desperate.
Most importantly, you want to demonstrate that you’ve grown from this mistake, and have become a better leader, problem-solver, and person for it. Therefore, when thinking about this prompt, structure your thoughts using the framework below.
Here are some of my best practices for doing so.
FIRST, pick a story that is specific: using the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method, brainstorm ideas and don’t be picky. At the very start of your ideation process, think about all the experiences and achievements you’ve scored under your belt - from the start of freshman year to now. I suggest you use this (admittedly narrow) time-frame, because again: high school you is NOT applying to Haas. College you is. Your application should be a reflection of who you are NOW, not who you were THEN. On that note, when brainstorming these stories focus on these three core elements: what was the mistake you made <situation>, how did you handle it <task and action>, and what did you learn about yourself as a <result>.
SECOND, once you’ve conceptualized a number of stories, hone in on which one you want to tell. A good story is one that is relevant, impactful, and insightful. A relevant story is timely, but not necessarily business-related. For instance, many strong essays focus on stories like taking care of families and households, working as a cashier in Taco Bell, or volunteering in a community service project. Your story, to be relevant, does not have to - by any means - be related to business, consulting, finance, tech, etc. However, pay close attention to the prompt; you need to tell a story about how you made a major mistake and admit it to others. Haas is deliberately vague on what this actually means, so use your best judgement (re: stealing the cutlery at Crossroads and being caught by staff is a major mistake, but is it really relevant for Haas admissions?).
THIRD, make your relevant story impactful. Since you’re writing about a major mistake, the stakes must be relatively high. Perhaps you were presenting a deliverable to key marketing executives as part of your internship or consulting club project. Maybe you were presenting or examining major findings as an undergraduate research assistant, or you were in charge of organizing a major on-campus event for your cultural club. Either way, it is your job to set the stage for your reader and communicate the stakes/situation. This will make the mistake you made - and how you rectified it and learned from it - much more impactful and valuable.
FOURTH, once you’ve found a strong story that is relevant and impactful, you need to make sure it’s equally insightful. What did you learn from all this? And - bonus points - were you able to solve similar, future problems using what you learned from this past mistake and experience? This part is absolutely KEY to helping make you stand out from the pack. It shows growth. It shows humility. This is the very definition of Confidence Without Attitude, and it’s a great way to showcase how you would help make Haas a stronger and collaborative community. At the end of the day, the essays are a window into your personality, and highlighting your ability to learn from your mistakes is something most adults - let alone students - struggle with.
FIFTH and finally, align your story with Haas’ 4 Principles. Confidence Without Attitude is a dead ringer, but depending on your story the other three values may come into the picture. That being said, don’t shoe-horn them in for the sake of shoe-horning them in. They have to organically and naturally tie in with your story and insights; for instance, if the mistake you made had something to do with conforming to the “traditional” (but ultimately perhaps flawed) way of doing things, then “Challenging the Status Quo” would fit like a glove. It is also more than fine for one essay to only hit one core principle. Just make sure your other essay picks up the slack, because combined your two essays 100% MUST EMBODY ALL 4 principles.
So start brainstorming and, using the criteria outlined above, begin drilling into each story and ultimately pick your champion.
Provide us with a specific example of how you helped to foster an environment where differences are valued, encouraged, and supported. Describe the situation and the role you played. If appropriate, describe any outcomes.
Having written Prompt C for my Haas Application, I have a number of key personal takeaways for crushing this part of the Essays section.
FIRST, like with Prompt B, begin brainstorming ideas. Don’t be picky; vomit them all out. And again, stick to stories taking place from the start of freshman year to now. Further, be sure to follow the general criteria of having your stories be as relevant, impactful, and insightful as possible. For this particular prompt, being “impactful” is key as you will want to “describe any outcomes.” Just as your resume should be achievement-oriented, in this prompt Haas wants to see how your experiences - preferably in a leadership capacity - have resulted in tangible, material differences in the environments and communities you are part of.
SECOND, when storyboarding and ultimately selecting ideas, the prompt is broad enough for you to offer creative responses, but specific enough for you to know there are certain limits. For instance, corporations obviously struggle with diversity and inclusion in both a racial and gendered (as well as a racially gendered) lens. It is therefore more than fair game to focus on diversity and inclusivity in this particular sense in your essay (re: fostering a more diverse club recruiting strategy, leading D&I workshops and initiatives, etc.). You can also, however, focus on diversity in terms of values and ideas. The key, however, is to focus on how you personally helped build an environment where said differences are valued, encouraged, even championed.
Think about all the marginalized groups on-campus. Think about your work serving these communities. Then, if applicable, think about your own personal leadership, and how you have personally affected positive change.
You don’t need to have single-handedly solved the diversity problem in your consulting club, or ended homelessness in Berkeley; all you need is a story that conveys your unique impact. One of my friends talked about leading an initiative at the Oakland Ice Center teaching disabled kids how to skate. Another wrote about how she helped lead her club’s first internal biases training workshops.
These are only a couple of examples, but you might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, great, how am I supposed to do that?”
First off, you 100% can put yourself in a position where you can tell these kinds of stories.
You’re at Cal — make your own opportunities. If you’re in a club, take on more responsibility and propose initiatives that will improve the quality of life for your members and prospective ones. If you’re interning or conducting research - either over the summer or during the academic semester - go above and beyond your call of duty.
So many people skate by doing the bare minimum, so do yourself a favor: snap out of that mindset. If not for Haas, and if not for recruiting, do it for future you. Push yourself, and you will be amazed how much momentum your earlier efforts will yield as you graduate college and head off into the real workforce.
THIRD, make your story relevant. Again, a relevant story is not just one that’s business-focused. If you helped foster a diverse and/or inclusive space in a community service-oriented club, dance club (peep AFX), greek life, or any other student space on-campus (or even beyond): it’s more than fair game for this essay. A lot of students tend to think the situation makes the story. I disagree; YOU are given a situation, and how you react to said situation is what makes the story. A relevant story therefore is one that focuses more on the role you played - ideally in a leadership capacity - and the outcomes that followed. This then leads us to the next section.
FOURTH, make your story impactful. The bulk of your essay for Prompt C should focus on the Action and Result, rather than the Situation and Task (re: STAR method). Spend no more than 200 words setting the stage; most of your essay should detail your impact on the team/environment, and the specific steps you took to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment. Haas Admissions is also especially looking for results; be creative in how you communicate these. Think about results in quantitative and qualitative dimensions.
Perhaps you made a quantifiable impact on people, like boosting average GPAs as a tutor in the SLC by 20%. Perhaps, more qualitatively speaking, you can describe the impact you’ve on a few people you’ve lead, worked with, or helped.
I personally talked about helping URM students apply to college pro-bono and get them into schools like Cal and UCLA, combining the quantitative and quantitative. I think this strategy is optimal, as it demonstrates two things: your ability to personally impact peoples’ lives, and your ability to measure objective achievement.
FIFTH and finally, as you write your story, be sure to align it with Haas’ 4 Principles. Prompt C obviously hints at values like “Beyond Yourself” and “Challenge the Status Quo,” but there are even ways to organically sneak in “Confidence Without Attitude” and “Student Always.”
No matter what, as you write your story, find ways to organically feature these values in your essay. It’s important to demonstrate how you align with Haas’ 4 principles, but it’s also key to show, rather than tell. Don’t mention these principles aloud. Haas Admissions is actively scouring essays for precisely how applicants embody its values, so don’t worry about them not picking up your cues.
As you write your essays, I also recommend sharing them with mentors and upper class-mates who have gone through the application process and are in the program. But don’t write to impress them, or Admissions. The best stories are the ones we want to tell, but they still, of course, have to follow the general dimensions of being relevant and impactful, as well as being aligned with Haas’ 4 Principles.
Haas also holds essay workshops in the fall, where current students volunteer to read and look over applications, so be sure to leverage these resources as well!
Meanwhile, if you're dying to learn about how you should tackle the final essay, your 'COVID-19 Story' supplemental essay, as well as the dreaded Haas interview (for select candidates), then head over to our sixth and final post in our Haas Application series!