What can you contribute to an MBA class?

By Eileen Jacob

For your application to be accepted to an MBA program, it should illustrate how you will contribute to your MBA class. Read on to learn:

  • Examples of elements to focus on in your application
  • Personal stories of applicants who were accepted and how they positioned their contributions in their application

The data, and the personal accounts, show that applications that focus on your potential contribution are much more likely to be accepted. If you are serious about earning your MBA, read on...

Shivam's contributions: share the past

Shivam Goyal, senior product manager at Adobe Systems and a second year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley Haas MBA Program, evaluated his potential contributions by examining his past, and he recommends that other applicants do the same.

"It is important not to discount the uniqueness of your own journey," says Shivam.

"Admissions committees care less about big achievements or awards and more about personal anecdotes that will help them assess you as human being. When you dig deep and think about what triggered the events in your life to get you where you are today, it helps you understand and demonstrate who you are.”

How to find your differentiators in your past experience

1. Reflect on your personal history

“Self-reflection helped me think about what I am bringing to the program, why that makes me unique, and what past events shaped my work and education experiences. For example, I started off as a design thinker. When I saw problems in the area where I was growing up—such as people not having universal access to information because of the digital divide between rural and urban populations and the lack of technology penetration in all strata of the society—it instilled a sense of humility and keenness to solve difficult social problems and made me think about the benefits of a design education."

What lessons from your childhood have made you who you are and led you to an MBA program?

2. Assess your employment history

"I started off as a user experience designer and was really close to the customer in terms of building the product. I started thinking about how I could contribute more by influencing product strategy at its inception and moved into a product management role. In that role, I realized the need for gaining business acumen to complement my design and technology background. That's what led me to an MBA program.”

What have you learned at your previous jobs that can help your colleagues in an MBA program? 

3. Explore lessons from your past education

“The design experience I acquired in undergraduate school and at work was unique to me, and I thought it was something valuable that I could bring to the program. I knew I could talk about customer empathy and solving real-world cases for a particular user problem to get the right outcome when introducing a product into the market. When I started writing my essays, I pushed myself to think and write about those experiences so that I could really tell a story about me as a person."

How can you turn your education into a compelling story?

Get our test prep tips in the free ebook: Avoiding the GMAT Blues

Why focus on contributions?  

Business schools look for candidates who not only have something to gain from an MBA program, but also something to contribute. Think about that. What can you contribute to an MBA class? We invite you to explore the different types of contributions you can demonstrate through your application by reading about two students who have already answered this question. You might also want to take a look at our guide to crafting your best MBA application.

We also know that if you aren't yet sure you see yourself as an MBA candidate, you may not feel ready to even approach the "What can you contribute?" question, and that's okay—you’ll soon discover that self-reflection is a big part of the MBA application process.

What to demonstrate

The application review process for the Evening & Weekend Berkeley Haas MBA, Full-time MBA, and Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives programs is quite holistic, meaning that your whole application is examined to determine the value of your experience and expertise. There are three elements your application should communicate to an MBA program:

  • Work experience
  • Academic potential
  • Passion

Advice from the Admissions Director 

"We look at every aspect of someone's candidacy to evaluate program contributions and make that final decision," says Eileen Jacob, senior assistant director of admissions of MBA Programs for Working Professionals. 

This includes looking at:

  • Applicants' job responsibilities
  • Investments they’ve made in their team and department
  • Impacts they've made at their companies
  • Formal and informal leadership experience
  • Opportunities they've taken advantage of with professional organizations or events and clubs at work.
  • Contributions outside of work, including community involvement, active membership or leadership in organizations, and interest in various hobbies or causes.

What they look for

When considering academic potential, we examine undergraduate and any graduate transcripts and overall academic progress in chosen areas of study. We also notice when applicants take an active role in making themselves as competitive as possible. For example, some Berkeley Haas MBA applicants show initiative by bolstering their quantitative abilities with math courses like the UC Berkeley Extension Math for Management course.

Aside from professional and academic experience, we want to see students who have drive and who are getting their MBA because they have passion for their career plans and for creating new opportunities for the future. If you're showing those areas of excitement early on, you will get us more interested in learning how you can contribute to the Berkeley Haas MBA community.

Sera's contributions: be the voice

Sera Lee, bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco and a first year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley Haas MBA Program, did a lot of research prior to applying to the program and realized that her work experience was one of her most valuable assets.

"Looking at the statistics, I knew that fewer Evening & Weekend MBA students were on the banking side," says Sera. "When considering what I could contribute to the program, I thought about how I could provide the value of my work experience in classes like ethics, finance, or macroeconomics. I figured I could be the voice of the banking industry and share some of the experiences that I have gone through in my work. And by being around people in different industries, I have been able to learn what's going on in their worlds.”

Don't stop exploring at work expertise

“I also have a passion for community volunteering. In my admissions essay, I wrote about the possibility of creating a program or student club committed to volunteering as an example of how I could contribute to the program outside of class."

Sera recommends that applicants do a lot of research in order to figure out which MBA program is the best fit for their contributions, but she also encourages them to be open to exploring.

"I sometimes tell my friends that they should get an MBA, and they tell me they don't see themselves as a 'business person' or a 'leader type.' I'm sure all of us have thought that at one time during the pre-application or application process. It's important to be open to exploration and change. Don't let the voice inside your head prevent you from taking that step forward. If you're open to learning, being adventurous, and meeting new people, you're ready to contribute to an MBA class."

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Topics: Evening & Weekend  |   Admissions Tips  |   Consider
Eileen Jacob
Eileen was Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2017-2019. She enjoyed meeting prospective students and helping them explore the benefits of an MBA, and hopes these blog posts provide valuable insight into the Berkeley MBA experience.