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Admissions Director Q&A: Morgan Bernstein of UC Berkeley / Haas

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CA: You talked about fit and a mismatch in terms of in terms of fit in some of your earlier roles. I know that fit is really important at Haas. Can you talk a little bit about how your experiences inform the way that you look for fit with applicants? Or the way that you coach applicants on finding fit for themselves?

MB: That’s a great question. I think it is the one thing that most admissions officers will agree with. You can get a great education, you can land great job opportunities at any number of the top 10 or 20 business schools. But what is going to differentiate the experience while you are there, and what’s going to differentiate the type of leader and person you are when you graduate, that’s the culture of the program. That is the reason why we look for fit.

We look for fit in particular with our four defining principles. I think it’s helpful that we have those principles codified because it gives us a very tangible foundation of skills and attributes and experiences that we are looking for in the application process. It comes through in the types of questions that we ask in our essays, the questions that we ask in our interviews, and just the way that we engage with candidates through the process. In that sense, we try to be very transparent about who we are.

Even on the admissions side of things, we try to come across as approachable, friendly, and honest. Again, the whole concept of wanting to be a partner and a coach to the candidates as opposed to being gatekeepers. We know how intimidating this process is to begin with. We see our role is to really help you identify if Haas is the right fit for you. I think that starts just with being open and honest about who we are, and what we bring to the table. So that when you’re going through the admissions process, what you see with admissions directors, and with students and alumni who you interact with, is an accurate reflection of what you will get when you are a student.

CA: In the unique position of now leading admissions for the school that you attended, what do you remember about your own application process? How, if at all, does that impact how you lead admissions now?

MB: When people ask what kind of advice do you have for others as they begin to embark on this journey, I joke around and say, the first thing I would do is sit down with a glass of wine and just take a deep breath and prepare for the long road ahead. Really just start by taking some deep breaths, know that it is a journey, and that it is going to be stressful and emotional, and it’s an incredible process of self-reflection. And at the end of the day it is going to work out and it is all going to be totally worth it.

I would not recommend the approach that I took, which was to leave everything until the last minute. I found myself, over that Thanksgiving break, everybody celebrating and cooking and having fun together, and I was tucked away in the back room writing my application essays that were due, I think, two weeks later. It is not the approach I would recommend.

Now being on the other side of things, I see a little bit more preparation, especially when it comes to the essays, is needed. You need to give yourself sufficient time for the editing process, to edit them and then to step away from them and come back to them days or even weeks later. That is something that I wish I had had the breathing room to do. It’s also important, earlier on, to do a lot of self-reflection about the things that are the most important to you.

Ultimately I ended up only applying to a couple of programs. What I identified as the most important element for me was a regional focus. I had originally looked at several of the top 20 programs. Then once I was able to decide what mattered most to me, in terms of the experience, I knew that being in California, which for me was closer to my family, was something that was super important.

Read on for what’s new and exciting at Berkeley / Haas.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.