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Admissions Director Q&A: Stephanie Fujii of the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley

The central courtyard of the Haas School of Bu...

Our 2014 interview with Stephanie Fujii, the director of admissions at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, is now available. 

Stephanie Fujii has been director of admissions at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley since August 2010, ably filling the shoes of outgoing director Peter Johnson, who had been with Haas for more than a decade.

That she had no trouble taking on the new role comes as no surprise. Fujii is not new to admissions, nor is she new to Haas. She has been a part of the Haas admissions team for the past seven years, serving previously as senior associate director. Before that she worked in the nonprofit sector in eldercare, after receiving an MBA of her own from Haas.

“It is exciting to be part of the process and to meet people on the road and help them understand what makes our program unique,” she says. Prior to business school she was in HR consulting and while a student at Berkeley she was a Haas Student Ambassador, which involved working closely with admissions to plan student events.

“This isn’t the career that I envisioned for myself when I went to business school, but I knew I was very interested in the nonprofit sector and I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” she says. “And I can tell you that I am very passionate about Haas.”

Our thanks to Fujii for taking time out of a very busy schedule to share what she’s most excited about in the year ahead, more on the Haas’ commitment to diversity and focus on entrepreneurship and what her team is looking for as they meet with prospective MBA applicants.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at Haas in the year ahead?

Stephanie Fujii: We continue to strengthen the diversity of our program. The current incoming class is about 40 percent international representing 38 countries, including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We also hired our first director of diversity, Eric Abrams, in January. The diversity director position was created as part of the Haas School’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Plan, developed last year. Eric will oversee execution of the school’s diversity strategy, focusing on the entire student lifecycle, from recruiting to alumni, as well as increasing diversity among faculty and staff. Most recently, Eric served as assistant dean for diversity outreach in Stanford’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. Previously, Eric worked in graduate admissions at Stanford GSB and Berkeley Law. We’re very excited to have Eric as part of our team!

We also rejoined the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (an organization devoted to promoting diversity and inclusion in American business) last year and are excited to continue building on the momentum and energy of our tremendous students. As one of their first initiatives our Consortium students organized our first annual Bay Area MBA Diversity Mixer to connect students with local professionals, MBA alumni and prospective students throughout the Bay Area. They wanted to build community, share information about the Berkeley MBA program and the Consortium and provide an opportunity for attendees to strengthen their networks. Our students had a vision to rally the community around the topic of diversity and they made it happen! We had a great turnout and many of the attendees were looking forward to making this a regular event. Our incoming Consortium students are ready to further strengthen diversity and community at Berkeley-Haas!

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

SF: We want incoming students to understand just how real and palpable the focus on innovation is throughout the Berkeley MBA curriculum and experience. Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD) is a connecting theme that runs through the entire program. The process starts with the careful selection of our students, who have demonstrated leadership and exemplify the school’s defining principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself. Built on a specific set of competencies (for example, experimentation, influencing without authority) that are infused and emphasized throughout core and elective courses, BILD leverages these capabilities and our distinctive culture to develop leaders who are ready to meet the challenges we face today and identify the challenges we’ll face tomorrow, to define what’s next. Regardless of the industry or function our students choose, they will have the foundation and skills to bring new ways of thinking and framing problems to all levels of the organizations they join and lead.

Central to BILD is a required experiential course that enables students to hone their leadership skills in a real-life setting. Berkeley MBA students choose one or more options from ten diverse programs, many of which are unique to Berkeley-Haas or first of their kind. These hands-on experiences allow our students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply these frameworks and capabilities in the real world. We also have a unique required course, “Problem Finding, Problem Solving,” which teaches our students different modes of thinking/approaches (critical thinking, design thinking, systems thinking and creative problem solving) to tackle big problems. In this course, students synthesize data and develop tangible solutions through a process of framing and re-framing the challenge and testing their various ideas. We’ve heard from students that they have immediately used what they learned in this course in their internships, case competitions, jobs.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

SF: After applicants submit their applications, we first check to make sure the application is complete (application, resume, letters of recommendation and copies of all official transcripts; official documents are required when the applicant is invited to interview). Once the application is complete, it goes out for a first read. Every applicant is read by at least two members of our team, with applications assigned to readers based on country of education. The second reader decides whether to invite to interview, deny or waitlist. If the second reader has any doubts, the application will go on to a third or even fourth read. Applications are reviewed by members of the admissions team; we don’t have students or faculty read applications.

Applicants who are invited to interview will interview with either one of our current students on campus or an alum outside of the Bay Area. We then review all applicants who have completed interviews, discuss them in committee and make a final decision of whether to admit, deny or waitlist. Everyone on the admissions committee has a different perspective so it makes for some heated discussions! In the end, though, we are all trying to bring in a diverse, accomplished class of students who are a strong cultural fit with Berkeley-Haas and who will challenge themselves and each other.

Based on the interview, a candidate will receive an admit, waitlist or deny decision. Many applicants think that the interview is the deciding factor – this is pretty rare. The interview is one piece of the application that is considered alongside academic performance, professional accomplishments and personal qualities.

Applicants who are sent to the waitlist, either directly or after the interview, will have a chance to submit more materials if necessary. We review the waitlist at certain points throughout the cycle and look at how applicants have strengthened their candidacy, and how they compare to the pool, the rest of the class. Applicants should review our Waitlist FAQs and participate in one our admissions chats with waitlisted candidates to learn more about our process – we try to be as transparent about our process as possible since we know that it can cause a lot of anxiety.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?

SF: We’ve posted our essay questions for this year – I encourage applicants to read about our new question.

The essays are an applicant’s chance to bring his/her story to life – to tell us who they are beyond their resume and transcript. We are looking for a clear and consistent story. We want people who understand and can tell us, “This is what I have accomplished so far, this is what I hope to accomplish after business school and this is why business school will help me accomplish these goals.” Be thoughtful. We read thousands of essays and it is always clear when someone hasn’t taken the time to reflect.

We are also looking for authenticity. Every school talks about fit, and applicants should also be thinking about fit very seriously – what type of culture will you thrive in? We have a distinctive culture and community at Berkeley-Haas. As I mentioned before, we are looking for students who value our Defining Principles and who embody them; we are looking for students who will thrive in the culture and community at Haas. Be honest and share what you really care about, not what you think we want you to care about. When you write something that you think the admissions committee wants to read it’s not necessarily coming from the heart so it really falls flat. Ask somebody who knows you well and who you trust to be brutally honest with you to read through your essays and tell you if it captures who you are, your personality, what you’re passionate about, what you want to achieve. This is what we’re hoping to learn about you from your essays.

Our mission is to develop leaders who redefine how we do business. If this excites you, connect with our community and learn what this means. Is this the right program, environment, culture for you? I encourage people to dream big and to share their dreams with us. I continue to read applications because I personally love reading about these dreams….and then seeing our students accomplish them!

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