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Student Perspective on the Berkeley Haas School of Business

At Menlo Coaching we’re fans of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. Founding Partner David White (a UC Berkeley undergrad alum!) sat down with Alex, a second-year Haas MBA student to discuss the business school’s class profile and the Berkeley student experience.

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Why Haas?

So why choose the Haas School of Business? This is perhaps the most essential question you can ask of any graduate program you are planning to apply to. What makes a Berkeley Haas MBA different from others at top tier schools? We’ll look at some of the key factors and their advantages and drawbacks. 

The Four Principles

While Alex began her MBA thinking that Haas School of Business’ Four Defining Leadership Principles were a marketing gimmick, she has come to understand that they are deeply important to all aspects of student life at Haas. Those four principles are “Question the Status Quo,” “Confidence Without Attitude,” “Student Always,” and “Beyond Yourself.” While you can find out more about those principles through the school’s website, it is important to keep them in mind as we take a deeper look at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and its character. 

Small Class Sizes

With fewer than 300 students, the Haas MBA class profile shows that Berkeley’s  business school is one of the smaller programs in the top tier. What does that mean for your MBA student experience

A Great Location

Another easy answer to the question of “why Haas?” is its excellent location. For Alex, who grew up in the DC area and did her undergraduate work in Boston, California’s Bay Area seemed like an exciting change of pace. An essential talking point in any discussion of location is the climate: Berkeley has mild winters, dry summers, and more sunny days than you might expect. For people who are tired of snow or humid summers, the location of the Haas School of Business provides a great climate where you can swim outdoors in January should you be so inclined.

One important consideration and potential drawback is housing crisis that currently exists in the San Francisco Bay Area (including Berkeley). While Haas offers various solutions to finding affordable housing, it is also the case that rent may be significantly more than other parts of the country. The majority of students live in North or South Berkeley, often in homes that they rent in tandem with other Haas students. Others live in Rockridge or Oakland and a tiny number live in San Francisco. Living outside of Berkeley proper will necesitate having a bike or a car.

The UC Berkeley-San Francisco Relationship

Understanding the advantages of UC Berkeley Haas also means understanding its close connections with the city of San Francisco. The city is an easy drive across the Bay Bridge and the presence of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) makes it very accessible without one. While Berkeley has a small, college-town feeling, you can easily escape to San Francisco if you are craving an urban environment with impressive cultural centers, a lively nightlife, and thousands of ways to spend your day. 

In addition to being a great place to visit, San Francisco affords you the opportunity to schedule coffee chats in the actual office of the company you’re recruiting for. Haas also offers treks to the headquarters of Facebook, Google, Uber, Lyft, and other major tech firms. This can give you a sense of the inner workings of a company as well as connect with current personnel and managers. Combine this with biotech hubs located in nearby Emeryville and South San Francisco and you have a place that seems tailor-made for tech-business hopefuls to get a distinct informational advantage. 

This is especially important in the entrepreneurial space. A large portion of the Haas student body has some sort of background with startups and the proximity of San Francisco helps connect you to VC firms as well as various competitions and conferences in Berkeley, San Francisco, and at nearby Stanford University. You have a chance to see it firsthand and be directly involved, not just from a theoretical business school perspective, but in real time.

Beyond the big tech names that you may be drawn to in attending the Haas school of business, there are opportunities in biotech, and healthcare. Many MBAs are also getting a Master’s degree in Berkeley’s top-tier Public Health program, and UC Berkeley’s Haas class profile indicates a lot of dual degree candidates from the Masters in Public Health program. Clean energy corporations, food, agritech, and even restauranteering all are represented in the Bay Area in a way that will provide useful contacts for Haas students.

Berkeley’s Liberal and Progressive Politics

UC Berkeley is famous for its long history of progressive and liberal politics with its massive free-speech and anti-war student demonstrations in the 60’s being the most famous example.

The UC Berkeley Haas Classroom

Beyond the demographics of the school, location, and temperament of the community, another important question is what to expect from Berkeley Haas courses. UC Berkeley Haas provides an even mix of lecture, case-style, and more experiential learning classes. While it does not offer as many case-style classes when compared with the case-method focused schools like HBS and Darden, there are still opportunities to learn in a variety of ways. In experiential learning classes, MBA students work with real clients on consulting projects, and seek to have MBAs help them with real problems that they’re facing. They also offer a whole class centered on refining good communication skills and better conflict management styles, as well as opportunities to learn about facilitating good meetings and good workshops. 

Academics that Align with Haas’ Principles

In line with Haas’ “Challenge the Status Quo” principle, Berkeley classrooms welcome a plethora of diverse opinions and a wide variety of ideas from across many different sectors. This commitment echoes Berkeley’s legacy in the free-speech movement. Alex reports that “everyone is doing independent studies for professors, starting their own company, or working for a startup on the side,” and that kind of student diversity makes for an engaging classroom. She also notes that she did not have much experience in entrepreneurship and the startup life when she enrolled. But the culture of Haas and its proximity to the tech world in Silicon Valley and San Francisco allowed her to absorb much of it almost by osmosis.

Similarly, in line with Haas’ principle of “Confidence Without Attitude,” Alex reports that Haas MBA students are intelligent and highly competent without being arrogant or needlessly competitive. The second-year MBA believes her classmates to be lifelong learners who value skill sharing. Even in the consulting process, she says her classmates are willing to help one another personally and professionally, a trait that goes very well with Haas’ focus on developing interpersonal business skills in the classroom.

Options for a Tailored Haas MBA

Haas also has the top ranked evening/weekend MBA program in the country. While full-time MBA students don’t have many courses with them, (especially daytime courses), the presence of evening and weekend MBA students makes classrooms that have opinions and contributions from people working full time and bringing in real life examples from their current business experience. 

And finally, while one cannot take an unlimited number of courses outside of the Haas School of Business, the opportunity to take classes at UC Berkeley, one of the nations premiere undergraduate, and research institutions is certainly an advantage. Many MBAs take classes in the School of Information Technology and Engineering, but Alex reveals that others take undergrad classes for fun. Even Physical Education courses might not be useful for your degree but are a great way to get tennis or swimming lessons as a bonus.

Career Opportunities After Haas

While we have already spoken at length about tech industry opportunities, it is important to note that they are far from the only career opportunities that a Haas MBA provides. As a top ten MBA program, people also go into more traditional fields. According to the Haas Employment Report, about 25% of the Haas graduates are placed into consulting, and Haas has the usual formal structures in place: relationships with all the major firms and a deep bench of potential contacts. Another 15% are placed into Finance. The general management and rotational programs have people going to work at Procter & Gamble, Ford, and General Mills. As we mentioned before, the advantages and interest in tech are strong, and it is also worth noting that almost 33% of Haas MBAs are placed in roles in the tech industry.

The Berkeley Haas Career Center

The career management group at Haas is structured so that people coming from real-world experience in different industries become your point of contact. When starting at Haas, you’ll be assigned a career counselor, but moving forward, you connect with the Haas Career Management Group and set up meetings with any of the counselors that interest you. Many MBAs test out different counselors to see who might be a good fit. The breadth of career management coaches makes for an experience of expertise within specializations that can help current MBAs. 

Time is typically blocked out for second years who are engaged in full time recruiting. Similarly, towards the deadline for finance and consulting resume and cover letter due dates, they carve out specific time that is dedicated to people on those tracks. So Alex warns that those who go into the CMG just in time for recruiting or outside of traditional paths sometimes find a lack of resources or attention. That means, as an MBA, it behooves you to start early and go often, being mindful of the schedule.