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

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CA: What is the one area of the Haas MBA program that you wish applicants knew more about.

MB: I think one of the things that people know Berkeley Haas for is our focus on technology. In any given year we will send 30 to 40 percent of our graduates into technology. Sometimes people say, “well I’m not interested in technology because I don’t have a computer science background or I don’t have an engineering background.” That prevents some from applying to the program in the first place. One of the things that I always try to clarify is that going into technology doesn’t necessarily mean having to go into a product management role, where having a CS or engineering background is sometimes required. You could go into a marketing function, you could go into a corporate finance function, or a strategy function. Technology, broadly speaking, captures so much more than just product management. So those 30 to 40 percent of people who are going into that field, many of them are taking on the marketing, finance, and strategy roles without an engineering background. I would ask candidates to be open-minded about what the technology field captures as you’re thinking about career paths, post Haas.

CA: Could you 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 you offer a final decision. How many times is an application read, who is reading it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, and where does the interview fit into this process?

MB:  Basically when candidates hit submit, we have an operations team that then processes all of those applications to make sure that they are complete. Is the transcript uploaded, have the letters of recommendation been submitted, did you pay the application fee, things like that. That can take us as long as a day or two for a candidate. It could take up to a two weeks if it requires some back and forth, if we are still waiting for documents from a recommender for example. Once an application is deemed complete, and all of the materials have been received, then it will go out for review.

We have external readers, many of whom are alums of the program, and have been working with us for several years, who do the first read. After that initial read, the application comes to a member of the admissions committee. We typically do the second reads.

We read by country of education. That allows us to calibrate across different grading systems, for different countries. After the second read happens, a preliminary decision or recommendation is made. At that point, about 30% of our candidates will be invited to interview.

The interviews are done by alumni or by students. They can be done either on campus or anywhere around the globe with one of our alumni. We also introduced Skype interviews, recognizing that we may not have alums in every corner of the globe. We wanted to make sure that people had additional options that fit with their schedules.

Regardless of where or how a candidate interviews, they all go through the same evaluation format, and are reviewed by the admissions committee in the same way. I will say we truly do not have a preference, regarding how someone interviews.

We do have a couple of big on-campus interview days. We will invite people to those who have not yet had an opportunity to visit campus. I think sometimes people wonder if those who are invited to our Berkeley Haas interview days have an advantage, does it mean that they were stronger files. It typically means that it is someone who hasn’t yet had a chance to visit campus and we want to make sure they have that opportunity to do so.

Once somebody goes through their interview, their file is then considered complete, after that evaluation comes in. The admissions committee member who had previously read the application will re-review it to get a complete picture and then will come up with they believe is a recommended outcome.

During the admissions cycle the committee meets regularly, usually a couple times a week. We review all of the applications at that given time that are complete with an interview assessment. We will then discuss as a committee and make a universal decision on whether the outcome is admit, deny or waitlist.

Read on for more about the admissions team and how they make decisions.

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.