Discovering the Haas State of Mind

From a collaborative academic scene to picnics on the beach with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, life doesn't get any better than this

It's incredible to think that less than a year ago I was still hammering out my applications, trying to conjure up essays that stood out from the crowd. I always found the "What do you want to do in the long term?" essay the most perplexing. Seriously, do you know what you want to do 10 years from now? Does anyone? I was always tempted to answer: "Not a clue, you?" but somehow I feel I wouldn't be writing to you today if I had done that. Besides, that would only be a four-word answer, and most of those essays require a thousand.

Indeed, I find the business school essays to be quite the paradox. With the essays, the schools test your ability to take what would normally be a one-sentence answer in the real world and explain it over several pages. Then, when you finally get into school, they test your ability to take a 50-page case and summarize it in two pages, double spaced. Interesting, don't you think?

Thus far, life at Berkeley is great. Last weekend, I took a day off from studies and headed out for a picnic with my girlfriend at Baker Beach in San Francisco. There we watched the sun set over the cliffs and marveled at the perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Life doesn't get any better than this, and that was just a 40-minute drive from campus. While location is something you can think about before you apply, the culture (or "fit," as they like to say) is something you don't fully appreciate until you are actually in school.

Orientation week was the first opportunity to understand what people mean by "fit." The thing that struck me at Haas when I met my classmates for the first time was how genuinely nice everyone was. Brilliant, but nice. There were, of course, some people who still had a case of the network bug, shuffling from person to person, trying to establish their network from day one, but even those speed daters were more relaxed by the end of the week. Berkeley has that effect on you. Of course, my classmates are all ambitious, and our GMAT average (714) will tell you we are bright. But what you won't find here is a lot of cutthroat competition; it's just not our style. Students at Haas are far more collaborative in nature than you would otherwise expect from a top business school, and you will notice this firsthand in your cohorts and study groups.

Support from Your Peers

Cohort is the name given to our four student factions, which are simply a way of dividing up the incoming class for school lectures. The selection is random but that doesn't stop students from claiming they are in the better cohort. It's all taken a little too seriously by some (but everyone knows the Gold Cohort is clearly the best). Students are then segmented into study groups of five, and within these groups you will be expected to work on cases, presentations, and exam preparation. I am fortunate to say I have some great friends in my group. Renita, Champa, and J.S. are three of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Support from your peers is important, particularly if you want to survive the fall term core classes.

My grandfather likes to remind me that on my first day of elementary school, feeling unprepared, I told him I was a little nervous because I couldn't read or write. "That's what you are here for!" he exclaimed. So after reading some accounting books over the summer, I feel I came in a little more prepared for business school. That said, no book can prepare you for the workload required for the core classes.

These classes are designed to get you "up to speed" by giving the foundation of knowledge you need before you tackle your electives. There's no denying the pace is fast, and it will drain you mentally and physically, but I guess that's why they invented energy drinks. I remember on one somber occasion, relieved after just finishing my last exam of fall A, I turned my iPhone back on only to see an e-mail from a Fall B professor that read: "Congratulations on finishing your exams, please find attached the homework and cases to read by Monday." School is definitely demanding and the education you gain from these world-class professors will undoubtedly give you an edge in your future career, but it's not the only thing to gain from your time here.

The experiences in business school are second to none. At no other time in my life will I have the opportunity to sit around a conference table, as I did at the beginning of term, and discuss entrepreneurship with an Egyptian, Russian, Japanese, Indian, and an American. With 35 countries represented among 240 classmates, I am always learning new things from my peers as well as my classes. And there is no better time than now to be learning at school. While the financial crisis is creating thunderstorms in the global market, business school provides an umbrella that will hopefully keep us dry until the skies are clearer.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Haas, and I am fortunate to say, in the game of chance that is school selection, I rolled two sixes. Never before have I met so many kind and hard-working individuals. As I write, I have been in classes for almost three months, but I already have a sense of the friendships that will endure long after I leave campus.

In Dean Lyons' public comments, he stresses that Berkeley's distinguishing characteristic is its culture, embodied by phrases such as "confidence without attitude" and words like "authenticity." In my experience, I couldn't agree more.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.