NYU Stern MBA Essay Analysis, Your 2015 Application

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Are you ready to dig into your essays? Application essays are specifically and cleverly designed to get into your head. We like to turn the tables on the admissions committees and get inside their heads. Why are they asking these questions? What are they looking for? Read on as our experts break down application essay questions to help YOU plan the attack.

NYU Stern MBA Essay Analysis: 1

Essay 1: Professional Aspirations
(750 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)

Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life?
What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience?
What do you see yourself doing professionally upon graduation?

We love it when b-schools splinter questions into bite-sized chunks, helps you from going off the rails. Before we rip into it, let’s take a close look at the two words in the NYU Stern MBA Essay prompt above: “Professional Aspirations.” Let’s see through this to figure what they really mean here. As we’ve said countless times before, don’t get trapped by the idea that the “best” aspirations are gonna win this game. An aspiration is only as compelling as the likelihood that it will COME TO FRUITION. Here’s an exaggeration to illustrate a point:

Here’s my aspiration: solve world hunger, establish world peace, implement a perfect corruption-free form of government, make literate those who are illiterate, and lose ten pounds and get ripped, all in one day. Beat that for a goal. The problem here is obvious. While the goal may be lovely, what are anyone’s chances of actually pulling it off? Nil. Are there points for idealism? Maybe. But not in a b-school essay. We need pragmatism over idealism. Accomplishable goals. Goals that are measured, intelligent, and thought-through. This doesn’t mean safe necessarily, but the author of these goals must seem level-headed, and likely to achieve what he sets out to achieve. THAT is what we need to glean from your “personal aspirations.”

Just to hammer it home… it isn’t the aspiration, it’s the argument you make that convinces us that you’re gonna be successful—possibly at this stated goal, but more like, at ANYTHING you set your mind to. You’re gonna “be successful.” You’re gonna get the job ahead of your competitor. That’s attractive to a b-school. Bankability. With that in mind, let’s dig in.

(a) Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life?

Let’s simplify the hell out of this. Why aren’t you attacking your short-term goal… RIGHT now? Why are you wasting your time with a business school application? Shouldn’t you be pursuing the thing you’re about to write about a billion times over as you lay out your grand vision for your short-term and long-term goals? Seriously, stop for a moment and consider it. There’s no rule that says in order to be successful in the world of business you MUST obtain an MBA. Plenty of people have been wildly successful without one—you know the list. Scrap the MBA for a second; why aren’t you applying for the job you’re eventually gonna talk about for your ST goal? There MUST be a reason you can’t just do it now. Or, that it doesn’t make SENSE to do it now. Articulate that sentence… and let your pen fly. The result will be a perfect starting point to the answer here.

The MBA is weaker when it’s something you think you’ll need to better your lot in life. It should instead feel like a critical means to an end. As soon as I get to the other side, I can make it to Oz. The problem is, there’s a gap between these two cliffs on the order of hundreds of feet. I can’t just run and jump and make it over there. And I can’t fly. I need a bridge to carry me from here to there. The bridge is the MBA. “The other side” is the path that takes you to the endgame. This is how we need to understand your current position: the MBA should feel like a need, not an insurance policy.

(b) What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience?

Before we get to the “actions” piece, we’re gonna talk first about “fit.”

Not to sound harsh, but this is consistently the part that most people shank (especially international students who have been fed wildly misleading information that name-dropping and formulaic statements can demonstrate sincere interest in a program). Let’s dispense with that notion right away—the mention of a class, or a professor, or the listing of New York City’s well-known virtues will weigh a grand total of “zero” ounces… without context; specifically, how any of those and other things will affect YOUR ability to achieve your goals.

Think of business school as though it were… bamboo. Consider three students who claim to need/want bamboo to help them somehow. Here’s the BAD way they can explain “fit”:

“I want bamboo because it’s an incredibly cheap, fast-growing, and highly versatile resource.”

Wonderful. This statement applies to every single student on Earth, and is as hollow as the substance itself (“Boom!” as Jon Stewart might say). Let’s do it the right way:

Student 1 – I need to feed a family of four and have very little money to spend on imported foods. Bamboo is easy for me to obtain, and I can cook it and feed my family and never have to worry about what happens the next day because it grows so quickly.

Student 2 – I need to figure out a more cost effective way to provide clothing for my village. Traditional textiles have become prohibitively expensive. Bamboo provides an extremely sustainable and cost-effective solution.

Student 3 – I need to outfit an office building with new flooring, but due to massive budget cuts, are no longer able to afford traditional hard wood material. Cheaper alternatives, while affordable, are not durable. Bamboo floors are a perfect solution: durable, inexpensive, and attractive.

What’s the pattern here? The same substance (bamboo) has been served a COMPLETELY different purpose for each of these three students. The way that NYU affects you should likewise be similarly distinctly different from how it affects the NEXT applicant over. That should be your smell test—read your response here. If what you’ve stated can EASILY apply to another candidate, you can dig deeper and get more specific. Keep doing this over and over again, until it sounds like bamboo (i.e., NYU Stern) was put on this earth by ‘god’ specifically for you and you alone.

But, let’s go back to NYU’s question about “steps you’ve taken.” As you’re explaining the way Stern fits you like a glove, indicate the things you’ve done to discover these attributes and opportunities. Read through their website, sure, but hasn’t everyone? What else? Reached out to an alum, okay, but what else? How about visited the campus? How about attended an info-session? How about met someone who went there? How about studied the work of a former or current professor? What else? Are you really serious about Stern? Or do you consider it a “safety” school? We need to be convinced that you have found NYU to be something of a kindred spirit that has led to deep, earnest research into the program.

NYU Stern MBA Essay Analysis: Essay 2

Essay 2: Choose Option A or Option B

Option A: Your Two Paths
(500 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)
The mission of the Stern School of Business is to develop people and ideas that transform the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities to create value for business and society. Given today’s ever-changing global landscape, Stern seeks and develops leaders who thrive in ambiguity, embrace a broad perspective and think creatively about the range of ways they can have impact.
(a) Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding?
(b) What factors will most determine which path you will take?
(c)How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern?

Key words here: “thrive in ambiguity.” Why. It’s like we always say: b-schools don’t necessarily care that you succeed at the goals you’ve indicated in your application essays; they care that you succeed… at all. Life is liable to throw you some curves, will you be able to handle it?

(a) Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding?

What we need here is simply a quick glimpse of your long-term vision…and quick. Followed by an explanation of WHY this destination may have ultimate pathways. Important distinction here. Let’s use “driving directions” to illustrate a point. Say you’re headed to the Radiohead concert at the Hollywood Bowl. You may say that this is your long-term vision. And that there are two routes that will get you there from your starting point. This isn’t gonna cut it. Let’s look at the same situation in a smarter way…

Long term vision: get to the Radiohead concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The pathway starts at Location X and travels along the smartest and BEST pathway under the circumstances, which is Path Y. We need to get the sense that you’re a decision-maker, always. And that you’ve considered your options and have thought through which is the best place to start. Now, here’s what happens. Two miles ahead of where you happen to be en route… an accident occurs, backing the traffic up in such a way, you realize you’re never gonna make it if you commit resolutely to this particular route. This is where Plan B comes in…

Now, you can imagine an alternative route. “Another route you could see your career taking.” Describe this alternative route, and how you’re able to successfully transition from Course A over to Course B, and manage to stay on track to your ultimate goal. Pretend you’ve started the journey in other words. We wanna get the sense that you’re not waiting for the paths to present themselves to you along the way, but that whatever path you’re on, you’re fully prepared to take a DETOUR because you know the map SO WELL. You have “the knowledge” as they say in England, for those of you know taxi cab culture out there. In other words, you know the map so well, ANY curveball that life throws your way may delay you a bit, but will never fully derail you. THIS is an incredibly attractive quality. If you can demonstrate this here, it can be very powerful.

(b) What factors will most determine which path you will take?

Straightforward. The key here to bring us into an internal dialogue. We wanna see you weighing pros and cons. Show us how you reason. Show us why you think X Y and Z are more powerful drivers than A B and C as it pertains to which path you’re most likely to take.

But be careful here. If your answer feels too restrictive (in favor of why a certain path is preferable), it may undermine your nimbleness. Your reasoning here should demonstrate why certain factors make the most sense for YOU given your background, your strengths, your leverage, your likelihood of success, etc. But, it will still be important if you’re able to hint at the idea that regardless of which path you’re on, your momentum is a constant. The path may change, but your progress toward your goals won’t.

(c) How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern?

Need to be smart here, folks. Their mission is broad as hell. “Creating value for business and society?” Broader than Broadway (Barrington Levy anyone?). Showing your commitment to this won’t say a whole lot about your connection to Stern. Just won’t cut it—congratulations, you’ve proven that you have aspirations to “create value for business and society” … as compared to… the other guys applying who want to loot poor people and eat cheese on their 80-foot yachts? Let’s not be naïve. Everyone is going to “have this mission.” Every last applicant. Gotta dig deeper.

Here’s how. You need to find evidence of some THING in the Stern MBA that demonstrates this ethos. Maybe it’s a club, maybe it’s a class or a professor’s work, or some Stern opportunity that speaks directly to this idea. Talk about it, show how it supports their own mission statement, and then DRAW A LINK to your own pathway. The link has to be direct, otherwise it’ll seem like you’ve just completed a homework assignment, a paint-by-the-numbers job. Whatever your reason for why your path connects to NYU’s mission, it has to go beyond their stated mission, and be tied to something tangible. That’s where you’ll start to earn credibility.

Option B: Personal Expression
Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative. If you submit a non-written piece for Option B (i.e., artwork or multimedia) or if you submit Option B via mail, please upload a brief description of your submission with your online application

Doesn’t get much more open-ended than this, folks. Two things:

1. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. But be careful… this can easily be misconstrued (and we’ll dig into that in a second)
2. Don’t get so caught up with the format and creativity of your delivery, that it ends up overtaking what we’re supposed to conclude about YOU as a candidate/person

That’s a tricky balance to strike. And if you’re not careful, you can easily get twisted up into a knot of doom. So let’s simplify it with a few rules.

Step #1 – Think about WHAT you wanna convey before you pick your medium. “Function over form.” What about you needs to be passed along? What’s cool about you? What’s surprising? What’s different? Whatever it is, the one thing it can’t be… is “down the middle.”

Step #2 – Message is set. Awesome, now what. How to convey? Write a song? Tee up a Powerpoint? Poem? Drawing? Flowchart? Comic strip? Infomercial? It can be anything. Make sure whatever medium you choose, it makes sense over a more straightforward one. In other words, imagine looking into a camera and just talking… is that much better than writing a thoughtful essay response? Maybe, cuz they can see you… but, it’s not really exploiting the medium. And the good responses here almost always do.

Not that you should AIM for this reaction, but if whatever you end up doing promotes likeability, you’re doing something right. Likeability is hard to ignore. Likeability will make someone find reasons why your sub-700 GMAT score may be good enough. And why your comparatively lack of experience isn’t such a liability. If you’re not particularly likeable, it can have the OPPOSITE effect. It can make a smoking hot GMAT score all of a sudden feel like a number. “Who’s gonna wanna work with that guy?”

One last thing. Take a risk here, folks. Do not attempt something creative only to end up with something that is fundamentally plain. This is a high-risk, high-reward play. Go for it. Be bold. And if you’re over-reaching, tap someone smart and unafraid to tell you so, and ask for an opinion. You will want someone who is not bashful here, cuz creative work tends to be precious—and is very hard for even folks with your best interest at heart to LAY into you with honest feedback.

NYU Stern MBA Essay Analysis: Essay 3

Essay 3. Additional Information (optional)

Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include current or past gaps in employment, further explanation of your undergraduate record or self-reported academic transcript(s), plans to retake the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL or any other relevant information.

If you are unable to submit a recommendation from your current supervisor, you must explain your reason in Essay 3.
If you are a re-applicant from last year, please explain how your candidacy has improved since your last application.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Optional Essay.

*Check out five more things you need to know before you apply to NYU Stern.

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