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November 14, 2010

NYU Stern MBA Essays for Fall 2011 Admission

In this post I analyze NYU Stern MBA program's essay questions for Fall 2011 Admission. This post is updated from last year, but the changes are all pretty minor because the questions did not change this year.

New York University Stern School of Business MBA essay questions' web page also includes great tips which you can find here. 

Every year, I have seen some potential applicants to Stern look at the above questions and simply decide it is better to apply elsewhere. Actually, I have found myself frequently advocating application to Stern as part of a school selection strategy as a result. While Stern's questions are unique, especially Essay 3, they maybe significantly less daunting than what you initially think.

Stern admissions does a very good job of explaining their application. As is written above, listen to their podcasts. If you can attend a presentation at Stern or at least attend an admissions event, that is most helpful because getting into Stern is all about fit.  For my colleague Steve Green's report on one such event, please see here.

Consider that in the three required questions above, the one constant feature is Stern. 
If you look at other top schools essay sets you will not find another one where a 100% of the questions require you to discuss the school. While Essay 1 only refers to Stern in the context of what you will do after it, clearly the assumption here is not that you just need any MBA, but one from Stern. Essay 2 actually consists of three questions about your relationship to Stern. Finally Essay 3 is about how you would introduce yourself to your classmates at Stern.

Attending Stern's Admission Event in Tokyo last year only further convinced me of this focus on fit. Steve's report this year is an excellent discussion of why fit matters at Stern. 

What I really like about this essay is that Stern is doing all the organizational work for you. 

(a) What choices have you made that led you to your current position?
The core issue is to focus on the choices.  What were those moments in your life when you had to make a choice that determined your current professional position?  Focus on 1-3 critical choices that led to this position. You need to provide an explanation for your career to the present with an emphasis on your current position, which is based on those choices. Given the space limitations, I don't suggest using more than 1/3 of your word count for this part of the essay. Focus on providing an explanation that would not be clear from simply reviewing your resume. Your motivations should be made clear. Don't write a career summary here! Instead help admissions understand you, not just what you have done.

(b) Why pursue an MBA at this point in your life?
Clearly you need to show why given your present position and future goals, now is the right time to get an MBA.  And since you need an MBA, you had better state that you want one from Stern.  You could certainly avoid including Stern here, but frankly I think that would be rather foolish.  Considering that you have align what you say about wanting an MBA with exactly what Stern can offer you, there is absolutely no value to treating this as a generic answer, make it Stern specific!

(c) What is your career goal upon graduation from NYU Stern? What is your long-term career goal?
Use at least 1/3 of your essay to explain both your post-MBA career goal and your long-term career goals. The goals you outline should connect very directly with what you intend to gain from Stern as discussed in (b) above as well as in Essay 2. For more about goals, see my analysis of other schools goals statements, such as Stanford's.

Given that this total Stern Love Festival Question requires you to (a) explain how you learned about Stern, (b) what excites about you about Stern, and (c) how specifically you are going to contribute to it, only a total moron would fail to realize that they want a VERY DIRECT ANSWER TO EACH PART OF THEIR QUESTION.  You might ask why Stern asks this question.  My assumption is that they want to find applicants who really want to go to their program.  Consider their numbers for Fall 2009 admission (taken from US News and World Report):
Acceptance Rate: 14.5%
Number Accepted: 670
Total first-year enrollment: 333
Yield (Calculated by me): 49.7%

Stern is very hard to get into, but over half of those who are admitted go elsewhere.  Stern like Berkeley Haas is school that is very picky about who they accept, but they don't have very much relative control about who they actually get in their class.  Questions like Essay 2 and Essay 3 allow Stern to really see who potentially loves them.  They know they will be rejected much of the time by those the offer admission to, so at least they have to try and find students who seem to really want to go there.  Finding applicants that fit is always a core consideration for admissions officers, but so much more when you know that you are often a Top MBA bound applicant's secondary or possibly safety choice.

To be honest, I have had so few clients attend this school because the ones that get in almost always have gone elsewhere.You can find a testimonial from one of them here.

If you were a Stern admissions officer, you probably would ask the same questions they do unless you wanted to read even more applications and have an even lower yield.

(a) What is your personal experience with the Stern community? What actions have you taken to learn more about us?
Here you need to clearly indicate how you have become informed about the program. Visiting is obviously best, attending their admissions event is also good, and so is making an effort to communicate with students and alumni. Obviously reading their website is important, but that is not enough. Make sure you listened to their podcasts. Making a connection to alumni is always a good idea. Be specific about the steps you have taken. Feel free to use names of admissions officers, alumni, and students that you met. I would try to limit this section to 50-100 words to save room for the more substantial components of the questions.
(b) Describe what most excites you about Stern from both an academic and extracurricular perspective.
It is here that you should devote most of your energy.  You need to establish fit between yourself and Stern by highlighting those aspects of the program that you truly love.  Don't just state them and don't discuss too many things. Instead focus on 2-4 aspects of the program that you can relate to your goals, learning style, personality, or life style. My suggestion is to highlight a specific aspect of the program and explain your connection to it so that admissions really learns about you through your discussion of Stern.
This question is asking you about what you will specifically contribute to the Stern community on an organizational basis, not an abstract one.  Think about organizations that you will lead and your role in specific aspects of the academic program.  In order to answer this question effectively you need to know in great detail about Stern.  For each role, explain why you think you would be effective at it and how you would add value.  This is another way for you to help Stern learn about you while you show them how much you love them.

Question 3
Essay 3. 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.
This is the NYU question. It is the one that seems to stop many applicants from applying to Stern. In my experience, I have found that strong applicants who are willing to put the time into this question are often well rewarded (invited for interviews, admitted), but those who slap something together are often rejected.

To be honest, I have found a creative essay to be as effective as an "arts and crafts project." If you think you can answer the question most effectively by writing an essay, just do that. I have had clients admitted to NYU who have done both and all can say is that the key factor to their success was providing a response that really answered the question.

In past years, I have had clients who have done slide presentations for NYU, but given that Chicago Booth now requires one, if you are applying to Chicago and Stern and state that on your NYU application, don't do a PowerPoint for Stern because the NYU admissions people will assume you are trying to cut corners. After all, one reason NYU asks this question is because they want you to show your commitment to NYU by putting time into it.

In general, anytime a school has a non-standard question, you should really keep in mind that they are looking for answers that demonstrate an applicant's willingness to put time into it.

Regarding time, try to give yourself at least three weeks before the deadline to write/create this essay. In my experience, most successful versions of this essay take more time and drafts than most other essays. Of course, some applicants can do it right quickly, but since you are trying to be creative and also to effectively introduce yourself to your classmates, you may need more time.

One very common initial error with this essay is to focus on being creative at the exclusion of thinking about the purpose: to introduce yourself to your classmates. Keep in mind that your objective is to create a positive image of yourself that would make an excellent first impression on your classmates. It may be creative, but make sure that it also leaves admissions with a clear understanding of what positive impression of yourself you are communicating. It is your job to provide a sufficiently clear message regardless of the way you creatively present yourself.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want Stern Admissions to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were meeting people that would you be working closely with for two years and that you might want as a part of your lifetime professional network, what would you tell them about yourself to create a strong first impression?
4. Why do people like you?
5. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you, what is it?
6. Do you have a personal interest (painting and poetry for example) that would work effectively?

Finally, keep in mind that what you write here should not duplicate the content of Essay 2 or anything else in the application, instead it should really provide admissions with a new perspective on why you belong at Stern.

Essay 4. 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, your undergraduate record, plans to retake the GMAT and/or TOEFL or any other relevant information.
If you are unable to submit a recommendation from a current supervisor, you must explain your reason in this essay.

If you are a re-applicant from last year, please explain how your candidacy has improved since your last application.
If you are applying to a dual degree program, please explain your decision to pursue a dual degree.
Steve Green's report on the Tokyo NYU Event specifically addresses this question:
Optional Essay #4 is not really optional (Just as I tell my clients every year!)  This was actually highly useful advice that will save applicants time otherwise spent fretting about whether or not to write this essay. Chris urged everyone to write something here that could not be included in the rest of the set, including explanations of any weak spots (e.g. bad grades in university) or why a supervisor would not write a recommendation letter.  He pointed out the this essay does not have to be as long as the other ones and said, in fact, that something as curt as 3 sentences or bullet points would be acceptable.

If you are a re-applicant, this is where your reapplication essay goes and clearly this should be a very positive and wonderful essay that states clearly how you are much stronger candidate.

Under no circumstances include an essay clearly written for another school. NYU did not ask you write a whole essay about an important leadership experience you had, and since they did not ask for it, we can assume that is not what they need.

Unless you are perfect there is a reasonable likelihood that you will have something to write about here.  If you don't think you have anything, just ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is the weakest thing about my application content?  Do I have anything that I should say about that? Would it be obvious to a reader or something only I could know? If you can identify something that you think would likely be obvious to a reader, write about it.
2. What is the weakest thing about me as an applicant? Do I have anything that I should say about that? Would it be obvious to a reader or something only I could know? If you can identify something that you think would likely be obvious to a reader, write about it.
3. Is there anything at all that I did not have space in my essays to clarify?  If so, write about it.
4. What else do I really want to highlight about myself? There has to be something.  Actually even if you write about something negative, you might also want to answer this question.  Anyone should be able to answer this question. 

Best of luck with your application to join the Class of 2013!

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
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