New York University (Stern) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

New York University’s (NYU’s) Stern School of Business jumps on the “less is more” bandwagon this application season by reducing its essay count from three to two. However, that is the only change—Stern’s essay questions are actually the same as last year’s, but for Essay 2, candidates can now choose between two prompts that were previously both mandatory.

For Essay 2, it will be interesting to see whether candidates favor Option A, taking the rather straightforward path and exploring their envisioned careers in greater depth, or the challenging creative essay in Option B, hoping to provide a far deeper personal picture for the admissions committee. Our guess is that most applicants will choose the latter—doing so will allow the candidates to differentiate themselves from many “careerists” in the applicant pool. We also suspect that some candidates will worry that if they choose Option A, they will be inadvertently revealing themselves to be “uncreative” and will therefore feel compelled to choose Option B. But do not try to guess what the admissions committee “wants”! If the school wanted everyone to respond to one option in particular, they would not have offered two! Let us reassure you that this is not some sort of test. Take the time to consider how you would respond to both questions, and then select the one that you believe would offer the admissions committee the more compelling picture of you.

NYU Stern 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?


The three points that make up Stern’s Essay 1 question this year basically constitute a Personal Statement, and because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

And for a thorough exploration of NYU Stern’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, important statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

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.

  • Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding?
  • How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern?
  • What factors will most determine which path you will take?


Given that the school is asking about two possible paths for your long-term career, you may be wondering whether you can be vague or uncertain about your goals in this essay. Quite simply, “No.” In fact, you will instead need to present two feasible career options and relate your skills and experiences to both of them very clearly to create an effective, coherent statement and to show not only that you are versatile but also that you know yourself well.

The key here is demonstrating that you have a full understanding of the career paths you propose for yourself and truly grasp how and why each one would be a good fit for you. If you write that you could see yourself as either a marketing manager or a hedge fund manager, for example, you will reveal that you actually do not know much about these positions, because the personalities and skills necessary to succeed in the roles are quite different. Although identifying and showing a connection between these options is not impossible (both can require a very intense focus on data mining, for example), your essay will really only be successful if you can effectively show that you know yourself and the two diverse paths well. A more plausible—and likely convincing—option is to choose two positions that are more relatable to each other, such as entrepreneur and politician. There is no “right” combination for this essay, but whatever you propose has to be credible. Basically, Stern is saying that it wants to know that you are able to make the most of opportunities, even if life (or the economy!) throws you a curveball. By thoughtfully discussing two feasible alternatives, you will prove that you are multitalented and prepared to knock any curveball out of the park.

To best answer the question that relates to Stern’s mission, you should first understand—you guessed it!—the school’s mission. Here it is in Stern’s words:

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.

The school’s mission is clearly quite broad. You need not address every aspect of it in your essay, but make sure that you connect your proposed paths to at least one element of Stern’s statement. Further, you should definitely not trot out clichés about “doing good,” just because Stern has the word “society” in its mission. In short, avoid approaching this part of the essay with a “What do they want to hear?” perspective and truly consider how your stated career trajectories relate to the school’s objectives—think deeply about who you are, where you want to be and how your ambitions and values connect with Stern’s own mission.

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. (See Stern’s essay write-up in more depth via this link.)

In NYU Stern’s famed “personal expression” essay, you have a phenomenal opportunity to differentiate yourself from the rest of the applicant pool in two distinct ways. The first is the vehicle through which you choose to reveal your persona. By using a creative and captivating format, you can grab the admissions committee’s interest and compel your “reader” to pay close attention to your content. However, be sure to consider the possible limitations of certain clever options, not just their uniqueness. For example, although a baseball card may be aesthetically pleasing, this format severely limits the amount of information you can convey because of its size and anticipated style. Instead, if you were to submit a eulogy theoretically written by your best friend (and you CAN submit something that is written, but do not use this idea; it is now public), the format would be sufficiently broad to allow you to touch on all that is unique about you. The second way this essay question allows you to differentiate yourself is through your content. Ideally, you will use this opportunity to showcase a diversity of professional, personal, academic and community accomplishments that you were not able to share in essay one. The personal expression allows you to reveal your true personality and “likeability” beyond your professional/academic competencies.

One important note: NYU Stern is accepting multimedia presentations, but do not feel compelled to use this option if this is not something with which you are comfortable, and if you do choose this method, do not worry about the level of your Web design or video production skills relative to others’. For this essay, content trumps style. In fact, at an mbaMission event, we interviewed various admissions officers, students and alumni from NYU Stern who spoke of some incredibly simple “personal expression” submissions that had captivated the admissions committee—and many of these were straightforward essays!

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