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NYU Stern Essays: Strategy & Tips for Success

NYU Stern stands out from the crowd with unique essay prompts that require reflection and creativity.

As a Fortuna MBA Admissions Coach, tech consultant and NYU Stern MBA alum, I’ve worked with countless candidates to deliver a narrative that’s persuasive, coherent, concise and authentic to you. The MBA essays are primary vehicle for distinguishing your uniqueness in a sea of excellence (especially if you’re from an overrepresented pool like finance, engineering or consulting.)

Stern now asks candidates to define themselves in the context of the school’s brand tagline —a clever way of asking about alignment with the Stern culture and values. Then they ask you to define yourself in meaningful pictures. Together, these pose a formidable exercise in self-awareness. So let’s talk strategy.

Tips for Tackling the NYU Stern MBA Essays

Who are you, what do you want do, and who do you want to be? Taken together, the sum of Stern relies less on extended essays probing your career goals, but together, your required essays should convey a clear and inspiring direction for your professional life, guided by your motivations, ambitions, ideals, and values. Your responses, both written and visual, help the admissions team understand what it is that drives you forward — not only in your career, but in your life.

Short Answer: Professional Aspirations (150 words max)
What are your short-term career goals?

This essay, which debuted in 2022, is now a short answer question. This is a change from previous years, in which candidates had 500 words to address both short- and long-term career goals in the context of seeking a Stern MBA.)

The admissions committee at Stern is looking for a clear plan that coherently aligns with your past experiences. This kind of clarity (and concision) is also evidence you possess the abilities to develop a savvy job search strategy and understand the MBA recruiting process that starts on day one — even if your ambitions evolve.

There’s not a lot of room for storytelling here. Your short-term goal should be as specific as possible, reflecting considerable research and thought down to the function, industry, geography — even possible companies you hope to be working for. Your short-term goal is a stepping stone on your way to your greater career ambitions, meaning they are your immediate plans (for your internship) to two to three years post-MBA. It should be achievable and realistic, as well as focused on building capacities, expertise, and experience.

Spend time in advance of applying to do your research and speak to current business school students and alumni to learn more about what kind of career opportunities are available to Stern business school graduates. Stern has great success rates for placing graduates at reputable companies, so take a look at Stern’s MBA career section online to be knowledgeable about the most common industries and companies for recent graduates. For a deeper dive and some great examples of short term goals, view this article by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis on How To Create MBA Goals: Long Term Vs. Short Term Career Vision.

Essay 1: Change: _________ it. (350 word max)

In today’s global business environment, the only constant is change. Using NYU Stern’s brand call to action, we want to know how you view change. Change: _____ it. Fill in the blank with a word of your choice. Why does this word resonate with you? How will you embrace your own personal tagline while at Stern? Examples:

Change: Dare it.

Change: Dream it.

Change: Drive it.

Change: Empower it.

Change: Manifest it.

Change: [Any word of your choice.]

This is where your savvy understanding of context counts: In,2019, Stern released a ‘new call to action,’ rebranding with its new slogan, Change. Dare it. Dream it. Drive it. It showcased Stern’s new curriculum and its ethos around adaptability. “The School debuted an anthemic brand animation and new tagline — or rather, an unconventional customizable tagline — that empowers individuals to express how they view change at the moment, with the flexibility and freedom to swap it whenever they like,” then goes on to showcase expressions from some of Stern’s administrators, including Dean Raghu Sundaram:

“Stern is all about transformation and improving the world.”

For inspiration, you can view the personal slogans and supporting insights of six top Stern administrators. No matter your background, Stern wants to see that you are agile, flexible and progressively thinking beyond your industry’s traditional definitions.

But when you sit down to write, take the opportunity to reflect on your life and values and what is really important for you. Allow yourself to play with possibilities and to get creative. What words, values, or themes feel symbolic of your relationship to change, your thought process, and what makes you tick?

IESE is another top business school that asks you to script your life motto (without the benefit of Stern’s useful framing!) and back up why. As my colleague Lisa Bevill advises in her article on IESE Essay Strategy, “This is an invitation to showcase your authenticity and what you believe in. This essay challenges you to consider what you value and how that is represented in a slogan for your life, supported by an emblematic example to back it up.”

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:

  • 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.

If essay 1 delivers an understanding of your professional goals — what you do — essays 2 and 3 speak to who you are. In additional to considering a candidate’s academic and professional background in the admissions process, Stern places a strong emphasis on personal characteristics and is looking for students who will be involved in the school and community. The Pick Six is a classic Stern prompt and a place to let your personality shine. You can utilize a diverse set of images, as long as they have significance in your life and, if possible, tie into the characteristics that Stern is looking for.

What is the story you wish to tell? Are you a climber, toastmaster or volunteer firefighter? Do you have strong ties with your family, a cause, or friends from different walks of life? These are all great themes to communicate visually in your pick six.

For example, one accepted student who is passionate about cooking used a picture of a dish she was particularly proud of, highlighting that she is constantly searching for new recipes and feels great satisfaction when bringing joy to others. Another candidate shared an image of scuba diving with sharks, explaining how she overcame a great fear, with the encouragement of her friends, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While these examples showcase the students’ explorative and community-oriented natures, they likewise pique an interest for the reader to meet the applicants in person.

The pick six also helps the Admissions Committee gauge your ‘fit’ with the program and community, and ensures that you have the qualities of a “Sternie.” This is a prime opportunity to showcase your EQ by representing the key inspirations that drive you to have a positive impact on those around you. Know that Stern values individuality, so think about presenting a range of images that can offer more insight into the various aspects of who you are.

Finally, while the openness of the instructions may suggest the committee is looking for an artistic presentation, there is no need to overthink it. The Pick Six can include photographs, posters, symbolic images, artwork, or most any other visual format. What’s most important are the images you select and the captions, so long as the final PDF is organized and refined.

Essay 3: Additional Information (optional, 250 word max)

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 e 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.

If you feel that there may be a weakness or gap in your application, such as those in the description, then it may be helpful to utilize the optional third essay. This is also an opportunity to provide more context if you did not provide a recommendation from your direct supervisor. It is a personal decision whether or not to make use of this essay, but it can be useful to express to the admissions committee that you recognize that there may be a gap, but you have taken steps to address it.

Finally, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to get all of the pieces of your application ready. If possible, start early and take the time to do your research before writing your essays. This can help you with the content of what you write about. Don’t worry if you can’t get your application ready in time for the first application deadline. It’s more important that you do what it takes to make your application as strong as possible.

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including NYU Stern. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to Wharton and other top programs, request a free consultation.

Want More Advice?

Check out our team’s latest articles, videos, and analysis related to how to get into NYU Stern:

View our MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass on NYU Stern, Duke Fuqua, and Johnson Cornell.

All sessions from our MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass series are available on Fortuna’s YouTube channel. You can also view our team’s MBA Essay Tips for every school on your target list.

Updated October 3, 2o23

Fortuna’s Trisha Nussbaum is an MBA Admissions coach and an NYU Stern alumna with experience working at top tech giants Google and IBM. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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