One of the prompts for the New York University (NYU) Stern School of Business is strictly traditional, but the other two task candidates with tapping into their personalities and attitudes more profoundly and offer opportunities to convey their creative side. First, the school poses a straightforward question about applicants’ short-term professional aspirations and limits the response to a succinct 150 words. The first full essay prompt then requires candidates to develop a personal tagline in the style of NYU Stern’s (“Change: Embrace it.”), discuss its significance, and explain how they would act on it as an NYU Stern student. For the second required essay, applicants must tackle the school’s challenging but very revelatory “Pick Six” submission, which might be less intimidating for today’s applicants than it was when it was first introduced in 2017, given the ubiquitousness of social media. Together, Stern’s essay questions should allow you to present a good balance of your professional and personal sides for the admissions committee, though the optional essay is also on the table if you feel strongly that a vital part of your candidacy has not been covered by one or the other. Read on for our in-depth analysis of all Stern’s prompts for 2023–2024.
NYU Stern 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Short Answer: Professional Aspirations
What are your short-term career goals? (150 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)
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. With just 150 words, you do not have any space to waste here, so focus on presenting your answer as directly and thoroughly as possible. Keep in mind that the rest of your application needs to provide evidence that your stated goals align with your existing skills and interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed objectives are achievable and thereby lend credibility to your statement. 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 particularly important to conveying your main points.
Essay 1: Change: _________ it
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? (350 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)
Change: Dare it.
Change: Dream it.
Change: Drive it.
Change: Empower it.
Change: Manifest it.
Change: [Any word of your choice] it.
If your first instinct when you read this prompt is to immediately start brainstorming catchy, cool-sounding slogans and trying to find something that will “wow” the admissions committee, you need to pump the brakes. To craft the most effective response to this unique essay prompt, you will most likely need to work backward. The slogan is obviously the centerpiece of this essay, but you must be able to persuade the school that it is truly meaningful for you personally and is the basis of something you expect to do at the school and/or how you anticipate engaging with the NYU Stern community. So if you do not choose an authentic idea (word) that will position you to write compellingly and convincingly on these two points, you will have probably wasted your time, not to mention this interesting opportunity to share more about yourself with the admissions committee.
Start by thinking at length about what change really means to you personally and professionally. How has it played a role in your life and career to date? What is your reaction to change? How do you tend to navigate it? Do you enjoy creating change, or do you resist it? Why? Let your mind really roll with these kinds of questions so that you uncover as many options as possible, and rest assured that there is no “right” answer that the admissions committee is expecting you to guess. Choosing a word that is genuinely important to you and reflective of your attitude with respect to change is what will make your essay powerful and memorable—not a word you are hoping no one else will use or that forces the admission reader to reach for the dictionary because it is so obscure. And keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to frame change as something that should always be indiscriminately pursued merely for change’s sake. For example, something like “regulate change” could be an appropriate and even compelling choice if the candidate has strong personal reasons for this mind-set and can clearly express how it could be an additive or useful one at Stern.
Again, in asking how you expect to “embrace your . . . tagline while at Stern,” the admissions committee wants to know how you envision yourself participating in, and perhaps influencing or contributing to, the school’s greater community. For you to offer your strongest possible ideas on this point, you really need to know the school well, because if what you describe or propose is just not possible at Stern or does not align with its values and culture, this will definitely not be a point in your favor. As you do your research, look for specific niches and opportunities that correspond not only with your proposed slogan but also with your personality, strengths, knowledge, and/or experience. Read student blogs, peruse discussion boards, catch up on the past year or more of press releases from the school, spend some time on Stern’s YouTube channel—these are all good places to start (or better, continue!) educating yourself about what life at the school is really like, beyond the course work.
Also, for a thorough exploration of NYU Stern’s academic offerings, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, community/environment, and other key facets of the program, consider downloading your free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University.
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.
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, TikTok, 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, Executive Assessment, IELTS or TOEFL, or any other relevant information. (500 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)
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 reach this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Guides. Claim your complimentary copy of the NYU Stern Interview Guide today!