SAMPLE - 'BACKGROUND' ESSAY

PROFILE OF THE APPLICANT

  • Bachelor of Engineering from a top rated university in India
  • Advisory System Analyst and later Program Developer at a renowned IT and Consultancy firm, India, 2001-07
  • Implementation Engineer at a renowned insurance software firm, CA- 2007 – Present

ESSAY QUESTION

Please tell us about yourself and your background. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. You may include information about your family, where you grew up, your interests, or any other people or experiences that have influenced you. (1000 word maximum)
Berkeley Haas-2012-13

BAD EXAMPLE OF APPROACHING THIS QUESTION

I was born to a refugee couple from Bangladesh, who settled in India, after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. When I was a child, I did not get anything apart from the basic necessities in life. We used to live in one of the several refugee camps set up in Kolkata, and I endured a lot of hardships as a child. But, I fought the odds, graduated with a top degree and scripted a fine career so far.

The writer makes two key errors by beginning the essay like this. First, he is giving away his entire life story in a gist to the Ad com, and they have nothing new to look forward to later in the essay. Second, he seems too intent to gaining sympathy from the Adcom by divulging the hardships he encountered in life.



Please look at the example below.

GOOD EXAMPLE OF APPROACHING THIS QUESTION

Raised in a middle class family, I, along with my sister, grew up on the principle---“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” – a popular poem of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. My parents worked hard to make us confident, empathetic, hard-working individuals who not only stand at their own feet but also stand for others. I was born and raised in Kolkata, India, though my parents hail from Bangladesh (then Pakistan). Leaving everything behind, my father came to India during the Indo-Pak war before my birth, and joined a small financial company in Kolkata. From a secured job as one of the top Chemical Scientists in the Government to an uncertain job in a new country, my father never complained about his fate; he rather considered this as an opportunity to prove himself in the new job. I learned from my father that a positive attitude, coupled with hard work, determines the success in the long run.

The author starts off brilliantly with a famous quote from an Indian poet, elucidating the key attributes in his character. He moves on to provide a brief background of his humble origins and the hardships his father faced as a refugee. Next, he gives us an insight of what he has learned from his father’s travails.

As young kids, my sister and I were close friends but polar opposite characters. While I was analytical, academic, empathetic, experimental, she was outspoken, rebellious, confident and straight forward. Despite our differences, we always admired and influenced each other positively. I owe her for making me overcome my inhibitions and preparing me to face the life with a confident face.

Next, the author speaks about his close personal relationship with his sister and his own character in detail. He shares with the readers the shortcomings in his character and how his sister helped him overcome these shortcomings. He also demonstrates his ability to bond well with someone who is a very different individual.

I was sent to the regular elementary school. Apart from regular studies at school, my father also inculcated in me an interest to love numbers and play around with them. Simple real life examples, like number of steps taken from home to school, multiplied by the length of each step, could give the distance of my school to home and started attracting me to numbers. The love for numbers significantly improved my test scores in Math and Science and secured me admission to the most prestigious High School in Kolkata with gifted students. It was almost a dream come true to sit beside the best minds of the City and compete with them. The teachers at this school were well- respected and well known authors. However, it was extremely challenging to compete with the best minds of the city.Coming from a low ranked school, I initially felt like a misfit in that environment and focused all my time and attention on excelling in academics My hard work and perseverance paid off , and I graduated at the top of my class. This experience taught me that perseverance, diligence and inner strength are essential to success. Thus, my high school education built up the most needed confidence in me.

Further, the author gives us more details about his early education, providing an interesting anecdote about how his father inculcated in him love for numbers in his growing up years. He also shows that he was diligent as a child, when he secured admission at a prestigious school. He tells us about his inhibitions in the new surroundings and the attributes he used to overcome his fears. Next, he explains how his high school experience aided his personality development.

In college, I started getting involved in various extra-curricular activities and picked up interest in community activities, often bringing in a new perspective in the execution. Some of the notable involvement included - setting up a volunteer team, assisting local police in safeguarding the community from theft and vandalism, organizing a technological fair in the university, and organizing a blood donation camp in the community with more than 100 donors, including myself.

He gives the reader a brief insight into his university life. He uses this opportunity to describe his interests outside academics. This adds a new dimension to his profile since his extra-curricular activities have both quality and diversity ranging from community development to organizing blood camps to organizing a technological fair.

After moving to the US, I found a way to get involved to uphold the rich Bengali Culture in this part of the world. I got involved in organizing NABC (North American Bengali Conference) involving Bengali speaking people residing in North America. The event was attended by 7000+ people, being spread over 4 days and had a budget exceeding 5 Million USD. I was heading the hospitality committee and was responsible for the arrangement of accommodation/ transportation of the guests. The festival created a unique opportunity to interact with all these people and identify why they come to participate in this program and how they wanted to uphold their native culture in this foreign land. I wanted to create a more vibrant platform for this cultural interchange, beyond once a year festival and shared my experience with my college friends back home in India .We decided to create a portal, a website which showcases Bengali products, and bring them to the Bengali diaspora of North America. The idea was greatly accepted by the community and through the website, we have been able to sell unique Bengali themed t-shirts to the community members. I learned that ideas do flourish when people interact.

In this paragraph, he seamlessly shifts focus from his life in India to his life in the US. He finds a way to keep in touch with his roots halfway across the globe. He actively participates in the organization of this massive event, demonstrating his ability to work effortlessly in a team. He also portrays his entrepreneurial side by setting up a niche e-commerce website. In the end, he does not forget to mention the key learning from this experience.

I had been taught that while work and formal education is important, it’s more important to grow as a person by learning from various events and activities that are happening around us. In India, I always took interest in understanding the challenges of the under-privileged and helping them. After moving to the USA, I pursued my interests through the social organization “South Kolkata Manasi”, I volunteered as a Climate Champion, with scientists in the forests of Maryland in 2010, to identify the impact of Green House gases on the Climate Change. It was fun collecting data in the forest along the fear of ticks/insects and assessing the real impact of increased greenhouse gases on Earths Flora and Fauna. During the same time, I got a chance to fulfill my wish of teaching the young kids in school, through volunteer participation in Junior Achievement wherein I have been teaching elementary students basics of business for the last five years.

Next, he discusses his interest in volunteering events and activities and his continued contribution to community development. He is thrilled to find a plethora of new found interests, from working with NGO’s on societal reforms in India, to fighting for climate change in the US.

I look forward to bring in my values of positive attitude, hard work, enthusiasm, differential thinking and willingness to learn in the class and make the class a forum of active ideas exchange. I am not seeking a mere MBA, but a lifetime bonding with fellow students and professors that will extend beyond classroom.

He winds up with a flourish, explaining that he will not only contribute to the HAAS community as a student, but also as an alumnus period


SUMMARY

In summary, the key to answering this question well is to ensure the following:

First, start off with something unique and interesting, which will pique the Adcom’s interest in your background. In this case the author uses a quote from Rabindra Nath Tagore to impress upon his ideals to the Ad com. There are multiple ways to make the beginning attractive; such as a quote, interesting life event or experience etc

Second, you will need to describe various life events/experiences that have shaped your personal development as well as your social contributions. The most important aspect will be to highlight your learnings from this experience.

Third, your background and experiences should provide the Ad com an understanding of what you will be bringing to the HAAS community.