New York University (Stern) Essay Analysis, 2019–2020
After slightly modifying its MBA application essay prompts last year, the New York University (NYU) Stern School of Business has opted to make no changes this season. Candidates must obtain and submit two EQ (emotional intelligence) endorsements as part of their application, which provide the school’s admissions committee with valuable complementary insight into applicants’ personalities—”things that people don’t necessarily talk about themselves,” as Associate Dean of MBA Admissions and Program Innovation Isser Gallogly told Poets&Quants when the EQ element was added last year. As for what candidates must write themselves, the program requests a rather classic personal statement and the challenging but very revelatory “Pick Six” submission, which seems appropriate in these days of rampant social media. As a result, you should be able to present a good balance of your professional and personal sides for the admissions committee. Our more thorough application essay analysis follows…
Essay 1: Professional Aspirations
With this rather no-nonsense query about your motivation to earn an MBA and expectations as to where you will go with it after graduation, NYU Stern simply wants you to spell out what you have in mind as you approach this phase of your life and career. The school does not ask specifically about past experiences or what about its program in particular makes it the best one for you, though brief mentions of either would be acceptable if they are central to your main points. The three core components of this essay prompt are typical elements of a traditional personal statement, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary publication explains ways of approaching these topics effectively and offers several sample essays as examples.
And for a thorough exploration of NYU Stern’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, which is also available for free.
Essay 2: Personal Expression (a.k.a. “Pick Six”)
Describe yourself to the Admissions Committee and to your future classmates using six images and corresponding captions. Your uploaded PDF should contain all of the following elements:
Note: Your visuals may include photos, infographics, drawings, or any other images that best describe you. Your document must be uploaded as a single PDF. The essay cannot be sent in physical form or be linked to a website.
We imagine that the initial reaction most candidates have to pretty much any prompt that does not request a traditional essay is momentary panic (though, to be fair, that is likely many applicants’ reaction to traditional essays as well), but let us reassure you a bit before we delve more deeply into how best to approach this one. One could argue that in many ways, this essay prompt is merely asking you to do something we assume you are already doing every day and have possibly been doing for years—curate an impression of yourself for others by sharing certain images and other media that resonate with you. Is that not what people regularly do via Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and any number of other social media venues by posting photos, memes, infographics, cartoons, and the like, typically along with a related comment? When you think of the task NYU Stern has presented you with this framework in mind, do you feel a little more confident about mastering it? We hope so.
In this case, rather than passing along just anything you think is funny or interesting or documenting your latest adventure or meal, you are communicating directly with a very singular audience, within a certain context, and with a very specific goal in mind. So start by carefully considering what you want the admissions committee to know about you—with the goal of sharing as many different aspects of your life and personality as possible—and what it will already be able to learn through your other essays and the rest of your application (resume, recommendations/EQ endorsement, transcript, etc.). You want the admissions “reader” to take away something new from each image they see.
Your images do not need to be sequential, nor do they need to always include you. Consider photos of meaningful locations and people (or animals, even) in your life as well as inanimate objects, such as a musical instrument, a pair of running shoes, a home-cooked meal, or a blooming flower. As long as the subject of the image is reflective of who you are as an individual—and remember that you will have the accompanying sentence for each image to clarify this connection, as needed—then you will be on the right track. Keep in mind also that not all of your images need to be actual photos, either. They can include drawings, paintings, charts, tables, emojis, and so on. And finally, although getting accepted to your target business school and earning an MBA are serious goals and undertakings, this does not mean that all your images for this essay submission need to be serious in nature, especially if your personality is naturally more lighthearted and humorous. Costumes and comical arrangements, if used judiciously, can be valid options if, again, the resulting final image is truly reflective of your character and/or life.
Your one-sentence captions are clearly an opportunity to enhance the meaning of each image you are submitting. In some cases, you might use the caption to provide a direct explanation of who or what is depicted in the image, chart, artistic expression, etc. You could also use the sentences to create a narrative link between multiple images, perhaps as a way of profoundly illustrating a particularly meaningful aspect of your life or personality. Another option would be to use the caption sentence to explain your state of mind in relation to the image or to express an associated viewpoint, value, or philosophy. As you write your short explanations, keep in mind that these statements must adhere to the school’s one-sentence rule, and be sure to not simply reiterate whatever is already obvious in/from the photo but to use the additional content to enhance the admissions reader’s understanding of you.
This prompt from NYU Stern offers a lot of leeway, but take care not to get carried away with overly elaborate or complicated images. This is not an art contest or a battle of wits but an opportunity to express and portray yourself to the admissions committee. Each time you consider an image to include, come back to the central question of Does this truly capture who I am? If so, then proceed, but if not, stop and reconsider your options. An increasingly complex series of images that lacks the proper heart and meaning will not elicit the response you want!
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, EA, IELTS or TOEFL, or any other relevant information.
If you are planning to attend the Langone Part-time MBA program and do not currently live in the NYC Metro Area or the Westchester area, please indicate your plans to pursue the program. If you are planning to relocate to the NYC area, please indicate your plans for employment.
NYU Stern’s optional essay prompt is broader than most in that it does not demand that you discuss only problem areas in your candidacy, though the examples it offers within the prompt seem to imply a preference for these topics. Ultimately, this is your opportunity to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your profile—if you feel you need to. We caution you against simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. And of course, however tempted you might be, this is not the place to reuse a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to use in your other submissions. But if you are inclined to use this essay to emphasize or explain something that if omitted would render your application incomplete, write a very brief piece on this key aspect of your profile. For more guidance, download our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your application.
The Next Step—Mastering Your NYU Stern Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. To help you on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers. Download your free copy of the NYU Stern Interview Primer today!