Potential To Contribute Essay
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 and then to meet 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.
Demonstrating your work experience, academic potential, and passion to an MBA program
The application review process for the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA, Full-time MBA, and Berkeley MBA for Executives programs is quite holistic, meaning that your whole application is examined to determine the value of your experience and expertise.
"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, and opportunities they've taken advantage of with professional organizations or events and clubs at work. We also look at contributions outside of work, including community involvement, active membership or leadership in organizations, and interest in various hobbies or causes.”
Tip: Look at other areas of your life in which you're already making a contribution, and think about how what you bring could translate to business school.
“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 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 MBA community."
One applicant's approach: underscoring design thinking experience
Shivam Goyal, senior product manager at Adobe Systems and a second year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley 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.”
Tip: Focus less on big achievements and awards and more on personal anecdotes that let admissions committees get to know you as a human being.
“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."
"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 compliment my design and technology background. That's what led me to an MBA program.”
“The design experience I acquired in undergraduate school and at work was unique to me and I thought it might be 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."
Sharing thoughts on how you'd add value both inside and outside the classroom
Sera Lee, bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco and a first year student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley 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.”
Tip: Check out the class profile to see if you bring experience that is under-represented
“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."
Are you asking yourself the big question: Am I ready for an MBA? Download our free ebook, Five Signs You're Ready for an MBA, to get the answer.
In recent years, there has been debate about how the commitment to diversity on university campuses intersects with the issues of free speech, safe spaces, and trigger warnings. One way to answer this prompt is to tackle those issues head-on. Some useful context and a few perspectives on these issues can be found here.
If you take this approach to the prompt, you should avoid making generalized statements about whether or not you think “safe spaces” are good or bad. A better approach would be to write a response to a specific quote from someone else. For example, in the series of radio interviews I’ve linked to above, Cameron Okeke discusses the role that safe spaces played in his education. In a piece that he wrote for Vox, he says:
If you want the perspective of someone with PTSD, then you better be prepared to do the work to make them comfortable enough to speak up in class, and that means giving them a heads up when discussing potentially triggering topics.
Do you agree or disagree? What kinds of institutional support beyond trigger warnings might be needed to make people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) comfortable enough to speak up? When you pick out a specific claim and respond to it, you are not only giving your essay a clear focus but also demonstrating that you can participate in a thoughtful discussion of texts — something that you will be doing no matter what university you end up at or what you decide to major in.
Another way to respond to this prompt is to begin with a story from your own personal experience and then discuss how that experience shaped your ideas about what an “inclusive environment” looks like. For example, maybe you went to the county courthouse with your mother and saw a statue of a Confederate soldier outside the courthouse door. How did seeing that statue make you feel? Can an inclusive environment “include” such monuments? Creating a welcoming space might be more than just a matter of welcoming people from a variety of different backgrounds into that space; it might also have something to do with the plaques, memorials, and architecture of the space itself.
A third way of approaching this topic might be to talk about an environment that you felt did a particularly good job of welcoming diverse perspectives and ideas. Maybe you had a high school English teacher who always seemed like she was able to get a good, respectful discussion going. How did she accomplish that? Maybe instead of just tossing out an “open-ended” question and letting the loudest students in the classroom talk, the teacher asked everyone to write down a response first and then had you form smaller discussion groups — giving those who might be more shy an avenue to start speaking.
On its face, this teaching technique might not seem directly related to welcoming people from diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives. But on closer examination, the link might be clear.
If a classroom only has one student from India, and the text for discussion on that particular day happens to be Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, it is very easy for that student to feel the pressure of somehow serving as the “example” of all of Indian culture to the class as a whole. Some students might welcome that role, but for many that can be an uncomfortable position.
Perhaps the small group discussion technique lets students address each other as individuals and sustain a more dynamic conversation that does not put one particular student “on the spot.” If you are interested, USC’s Rossier School of Education has assembled an online library of resources for building an inclusive classroom that you can investigate.
Whatever approach you take, I would encourage you to focus in on something specific: a specific quote from someone, a specific personal experience, or a specific form of institutional support that you encountered. This prompt runs the risk of inviting vague pontificating, but a thoughtful discussion usually begins with an analysis of a specific text or situation from which more general conclusions are later developed.
For information on the application essays for other schools, check out CollegeVine’s database of essay guides.
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