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Real Humans of MBA Admissions: UC Berkeley Haas’s Peter Johnson

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We are looking forward to connecting soon with Morgan Bernstein, current admissions director at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In the meantime, we’re delighted to have caught up with Peter Johnson, who formerly held Bernstein’s role and has recently returned to Haas as assistant dean, full-time MBA program and admissions. In his current role, he oversees Bernstein and her team in admissions as well as academic and student affairs for the full-time MBA program.

Johnson has spent his entire professional career in admissions—including an eleven-year stretch as executive director of full-time MBA admissions at Haas. He’s just returned after six years away, including four in Hungary leading student services for the Central European University. Members of both the Haas community and the graduate management admissions community are thrilled to welcome him back.

In our conversation with Johnson last week, we asked him what strikes him as being different at Haas since he left—and what’s just the same. The organization has become more complex, he says, with the launch of a new degree program, at least three new faculty research centers and a brand-new building now nearing completion. “All of these have required a slightly more complex administrative and faculty structure,” he says. “I think it’s great, and it means that we are now able to realize some of the initiatives that were just starting when I left.”

One thing that hasn’t changed, Johnson tells us, is the school’s distinctive culture. “At the time I left, Haas was just starting to be very direct about communicating that culture externally—and as a result there is much greater awareness of what it means to be a part of the Haas community and of our four defining principles,” he says. “But internally, the culture hasn’t changed.”

Each of those four defining principles—question the status quo, confidence without attitude, students always and beyond yourself—resonate with Johnson, but question the status quo perhaps more so than any other. “I think it is important in any career to always be thinking about how we can do what we do better—and part of that is never resting on what has been done before,” he says.

If there’s one thing about Haas Johnson wishes more applicants knew about, it’s the extent to which the school partners with the other graduate schools at Berkeley—from the Schools of Engineering and Public Health to Berkeley Law and the Berkeley Energy & Resources Group. “It adds depth and breath for many of our students in the careers they are they are pursuing,” he says. “One of our biggest advantages is that we are part of an institution that has outstanding programs across the disciplines, and there are many ways for students to leverage that strength.”

Our thanks to Johnson for making time to catch up with Clear Admit on topics serious and a little less so. Read on to learn his answers to our quirky Real Humans of MBA Admissions questions as well.

Real Humans of MBA Admissions: UC Berkeley Haas’s Peter Johnson

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Beach or mountains? Ooh…that’s a difficult one…but I have to go with mountains.

Morning person or night owl? Night owl

Pet peeve? Insincerity

Guilty pleasure? Pinot noir—and specifically, Oregon pinot noir. I am from Oregon, after all.

Favorite virtue in others? Integrity

Worst habit? Pinot noir

Happy place? Sonoma

Comfort food? Gnocchi with butter and sage

Go-to cocktail? Sazerac

Proudest moment? My niece’s graduation from high school

Biggest regret? Not attending the Haas School myself

One thing you would change about how you were raised? I would be a better sibling.

Superpower you wish you had? Reading the minds of applicants

Favorite fictional hero/heroine? Atticus Finch

What schools, if any, rejected you? And does it impact how you will interact with those who you must say no to? Oh boy—that is an interesting question. Johns Hopkins. As for the impact, I will just say that I am always reminded to be particularly kind with applicants that we are unable to offer admission.

Which part of the Haas process would you most like to skip if you were applying today? Well, probably the GMAT.

What’s the best thing you read/watched/listened to recently? I would have to say the recent Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga concert.