P&Q: Why do you think business remains the most popular major when STEM majors continue to trend and produce higher salaries after graduation?
Walker: I would venture to guess it’s largely because of the Millennial generation. There are certain characteristics about this generation that business really lends itself to as kind of a foundation for many of the different things they want to do. Students are thinking about multiple options and business really affords them that baseline foundation that they can springboard into different directions. I see students who are interested in STEM fields also double majoring or pursuing a simultaneous degree in business. It may be because they want to start their own practice or want to start a nonprofit or what not. So they want some of those business essentials to allow them to do that.
And what they don’t realize they might also get studying here at Berkeley Haas is that we’re also going to shape that in a different way than one might perceive a business education to look like. Because we’re trying to blend the liberal arts into that learning, the connections again are drawn more clearly. I think students really appreciate being able to have some sense of a general understanding, but then opportunities to specialize and really go deeper into a particular area. For that reason, I think we still continue to see business students and the demand certainly hasn’t gone away. In the past three years, we’ve seen an increase in our total application pool by 10%. I think that students recognize there’s value in a solid business education and really understanding the business fundamentals and applying that to anything they’re interested in doing. Whether that’s going into education, going into the government sector, or social impact, which is huge among our students. It really allows them to understand multiple perspectives and then again, apply that in a really meaningful and thoughtful way.
P&Q: How has the demand for Berkeley Haas trended over the past few years and how competitive is it to get in now?
Walker: Well, the demand is high. As I mentioned, every year we’ve seen an increase in applications. Just to give you some context for our application, we have two different applicant pools. We have students who start here at Berkeley, as freshmen, who then apply in their sophomore year and we call those our continuing Berkeley students. And then we have a separate pool who are our transfer students. And these are students who are primarily applying from community colleges. Some are from out-of-state schools as well. For the Berkeley students, we have 260 slots. For transfer students, we have 90 slots. And that’s determined by campus. In total, we’re admitting 350 students every year. And that’s pretty much our capacity, which is how we end up with 700 students in the program.
Of the Berkeley applications, when I first started here, we were probably under 500 applications a year. We’re now, let’s see, three years ago we were about 600. This year we saw 689. It’s just steadily increasing. Students are steadily [more] interested. Even over the economic crisis or whatever it might be, students are still drawn to business for a variety of reasons. Our transfer applicant pool has also increased tremendously from 1,200 over 10 years ago to now over 1,800. You can imagine, it’s intensely competitive.
Students are just brilliant and not only are they coming in with higher scores—they’re doing more. They have greater impact in the community by the time they get to college. The things they are doing in high school are amazing. Many of them have started their own companies. Many of them have experienced failures already. Many of them have new ideas that they want to test and begin their own startup. So students are just, I would say, more advanced in their thinking about their futures and about what impact they want to have in society. And this is happening at a very accelerated pace. Naturally, it becomes more competitive because you have students with stronger qualities in the pool. Selection becomes more intense.
It’s amazing what students are willing to do and what they are willing to learn to accelerate them in their careers. I think back to when I was an undergraduate student, there was a handful of students we’d look to and say, ‘Wow, they are doing amazing things that are above and beyond what everyone else is doing.’ And I attended Berkeley as an undergrad. There weren’t too many of us who were pushing ourselves and here at Berkeley Haas, I see the majority of our students doing that. It’s amazing to watch.
P&Q: What can high school students do to prepare themselves to get into Berkeley Haas?
Walker: First and foremost, they have to be UC eligible. All those qualifications, we value just as much as the university does. So we’re expecting that as a baseline. If you can get into Berkeley, then we already know you are extremely talented. Then, let’s see what you are doing once you’re at Berkeley. Once you’re in a college environment, how are you performing? And it’s the same thing at community colleges. Once you’re in a community college, how are you performing within the context of your own experiences?
So I would encourage parents and high school students to really think more about what it is they are passionate about. What I often see is students trying to do what they think they need to do to check the box. And to do what they think the university or the business school wants to hear. And we’re Berkeley. We don’t have a standard type of what we want to see. This is a very multicultural environment. And with that, we expect students to have a variety of experiences, a diversity of interests. And so we want students to be passionate about their particular interests. When they do so, they put their best selves forward and it comes across in their application.