NYU Stern Essay Analysis, 2017-2018

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - NYU Stern Essay Analysis, 2017-2018 by mbaMission

How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough analysis, our friends at mbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.


After making no changes to its application essay questions last year from the year before, New York University’s (NYU’s) Stern School of Business has this season made a rather drastic overhaul to its prompts. Some candidates may be pleased to see the school’s longstanding “personal expression” creative essay go away, but they will still need to rely on their imaginative side to give the admissions committee what it wants for its new “Pick 6”prompt. One big application change has also precipitated the addition of a totally new—though not overly intimidating, we hope—essay: applicants may use a single application to apply to multiple MBA programs at the school (Full-time, Tech, Fashion and Luxury, Part-time), so NYU Stern asks candidates to specify their top choice(s) and explain the reasoning behind their selection.

The school’s “professional aspirations” essay was cut from 750 words to 500 and dialed in to ask specifically about short- and long-term goals, rather than addressing the broader “why an MBA” and “why now” topics, and focuses now on just immediate post-MBA plans. The program also removed its previous request to explain “why Stern.” We theorize that this may be because the new “program preferences” essay will give applicants an opportunity to flesh out their reasons for targeting a specific program at the school, which will naturally include some explanation of their broader goals and motivations. As always, successful candidates will use the suite of essays in a complementary way to convey a well-rounded impression of themselves as individuals, professionals, and potential NYU Stern students. In our NYU Stern essay analysis that follows, we discuss possible ways of accomplishing this.

Essay 1: Professional Aspirations (500-word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)

  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?
  • How will the MBA help you achieve them?

With this slightly condensed and 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 to hear your answers. 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 guide 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: Program Preferences – NYU Stern offers a portfolio of MBA programs designed to meet the needs of our applicants. Your program preferences are very important as you will be admitted to only one program. You cannot switch your program option after receiving your admissions decision.

A. Primary Program Preference (250-word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)

  • Please indicate the primary MBA program for which you would like to be considered, as indicated in the Primary Program Selection section of the application.
  • Explain why the program you have selected is the best program for you.

B. Alternative Program Preference(s) (250-word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)

  • Please indicate any alternative program(s) for which you would also like to be considered, as indicated in the Alternative Program Selection section of the application and why you would also like to be considered for this/these program(s).
  • An alternate program does not need to be selected. If you have no alternate programs, you do not need to complete this essay, just indicate “N/A.”

As we alluded to earlier, the “why our school?” element of the “professional aspirations” essay question NYU Stern posed last year appears to have been shifted to this new question, where it understandably fits well. For this essay, again, the admissions committee is really just requesting some straightforward information, so do not think that it has some “right” answer in mind that you have to provide (or, in this case, a “right” program to choose). If you are targeting NYU Stern for your MBA, you must have some reason for doing so, and the program must have some specific features that you believe are a particularly good fit for you and your long-term aspirations. So your goal here is to convey that to the school in a clear, thorough, and authentic way. We offer detailed advice on how to consider this subject and write an essay that communicates it effectively in our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which is available for free to any interested applicants. Download a copy today for further assistance with this NYU Stern essay prompt.

Essay 3: 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:

  • A brief introduction or overview of your “Pick Six” (no more than 3 sentences).
  • Six images that help illustrate who you are.
  • A one-sentence caption for each of the six images that helps explain why they were selected and are significant to you.

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 application essay that is not a traditional essay is momentary panic (though, to be fair, that is likely many applicants’ reaction to traditional essays as well). This brand-new format and query from one of the country’s most respected business schools is bound to elicit just such a response this season, but let us reassure you a bit before we delve more deeply into how best to approach it. 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 do via Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, 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 he or she sees.

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 new prompt from NYU Stern offers a lot of license, 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 from the admissions committee!

Essay 4: Additional Information (optional) – 250-word maximum, double-spaced, 12 point font

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, IELTS or TOEFL or any other relevant information.

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. 📝


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