It’s easy to study business in college. Hundreds of schools offer it, many with relatively relaxed admission requirements. (Here are three things to look for in a good business program.)
But if you want to earn a bachelor’s in business from the program that produces the nation’s biggest paychecks—the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley—you’ll first have to get into one of the nation’s most exclusive universities, then spend the next two years thriving in tough pre-requisites and demonstrating leadership and entrepreneurial passion, then write a persuasive application essay, and possibly pass an interview.
For those who make it, there’s a big payoff to all that work. Haas students join a small, elite program. The school has only about 700 undergraduates, which represents less than 3% of Berkeley’s undergraduate population of 27,000. And the Haas name appears to carry weight with employers. PayScale.com reports that on average, Berkeley produces the highest-earning business majors in the country. The average recent Haas alumnus reports earning more than $70,000 a year—and that’s not counting anyone who went on to earn an MBA. (Here’s MONEY’s list of the nation’s 10 best-value undergraduate business programs.)
Interviews with alumni and officials of the Haas School revealed these five secrets for getting in, most of which would also stand you in good stead with other competitive business programs.
1. Apply as a rising junior. All Berkeley students can sign up for business courses. But Haas only accepts as majors students who have completed two years of college. Last year, Haas accepted about 43% of the Berkeley sophomores who applied. The school also accepts some transfers but gives preference to Californians attending in-state community colleges.
2. Take the tough prerequisites. Applicants have to complete—and get good grades in—a lot of tough prerequisites, including calculus and statistics, as well as demonstrate ability in a foreign language. Haas doesn’t want people who slack off once they get into Berkeley, says Haas Dean Richard Lyons “You’ve got to keep working. It doesn’t get any easier.”
3. Take some liberal arts too. “We want people who are flexible thinkers. If people have one-track minds, they aren’t as valuable,” Lyons says.
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4. Don’t be greedy. Despite its high-earning alums, Lyons says Haas isn’t interested in applicants who appear to be motivated solely by money. Instead, he says, the admissions team wants to know if students “have a sense of stewardship to an issue that is larger than you and your career.”
5. Know your passions. Grades and courses only account for half of the Haas admission decision. The rest is based on students’ application essays and résumés. Jessica Tiao, who graduated from Haas in 2011, says the successful applicants she knew “all had high GPAs and were very well rounded, but also had a really cool project side business or something they were super passionate about.”