Forster-Thomas Essay Coach Rafe Tennenbaum provides his advice on how to answer the NYU Stern MBA essays. 

Essay 1. Professional Aspirations

Think about the decisions you have made in your life. Answer the following:

  • a) What choices have you made that led you to your current position?
  • b) Why pursue an MBA at this point in your life?
  • c) What is your career goal upon graduation from NYU Stern? What is your long-term career goal?

Unlike most goals essays, Stern provides an outline for you to follow. The rule of thumb for any essay is: when a school just lists the components of a question they want answered in a sentence or two, your essay can provide the answer in the order you want, within reason. But if the essay question sets forth a lettered or a numbered outline, you must follow that outline. In this case, Stern's outline scrambles the ordinary goals essay strategy (long-term goal, short-term goal, your professional background, "why now?", what you’ll contribute).The interesting thing about Stern's goals essay is that the resulting profile they get tends to be quite different. By making you start with who you are right now, rather than what you want to be doing in two or three years, they're encouraging you to sell yourself out of the gate. If you've done fabulous things in your career, show' em off right here -- but don't just brag; make sure they have a narrative thread -- a sense of purpose, a through-line that shows you're the one pulling the levers. Most goals essays encourage you to dream -- the Stern goals essay is encouraging you to be creative about how you got to where you are. 

Notice that Stern asks you to tell them about your short-term goal before the long-term goal.  Say what you will about New York City -- it's real.  And NYU is asking you to be realistic.  Which is why they want to hear about the short-term goal before the long-term goal -- as we say in Brooklyn, whaddayagonna, move into your parents’ basement when you graduate business school? Geddouddahere! 

Essay 2. Your Stern Experience

We take great care to shape the Stern community with individuals who possess both intellectual and interpersonal strengths.  We seek individuals who are highly intelligent, collaborative and committed to flourishing as Stern leaders. Please answer the following questions:

  • a) What is your personal experience with the Stern community? Tell us what actions you have taken to learn about us.
  • b) Describe what most excites you about Stern from both an academic and extracurricular perspective.
  • c) How do you anticipate making your mark on the Stern community? Be specific about the roles you will take on and the impact you hope to achieve.

Getting into a business school is like courting a woman: you've got to show her you want her.  No wealthy, beautiful matinée idol worth her Louboutins is going to accept your proposal if you preface it by saying, "Well, the last one dumped me, so how's about you and me hooking up?"  You've got to hand it to Stern -- they are upfront about making you take the trouble to praise them. 

It makes sense, really.  To begin with, Stern doesn't want to be bothered with your application if you aren't serious about wanting to attend.  And Stern wants to hear not only that you want to go there, but that you know what you're getting into.  That makes Stern like nearly every business school in the world -- except Harvard, naturally, who has heard it all before, dahling.  But since Stern gives you a whole 500-word essay for this, they’re explicitly asking you to spend a few days immersing yourself, talking to students and alumni, and sitting in on classes.  Grab this question as an opportunity to pay a visit to New York City and take a bite out of the Big Apple.

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.

A note about New York City geography: there's uptown and downtown.  Stern is downtown.  So is Essay 3.  If you're fashionable and creative, if you're fun and wear your heart on your sleeve, or even if you just have a slightly quirky point of view, this is a question to have fun with. 

Certainly if you've got a real talent, consider putting it to work.  But be honest -- performing a song about yourself could be a great idea -- if you can actually sing and play guitar.  And keep in mind, "describe yourself" gives you a lot of leeway.  Don't think “the story of your life”; think “a story from your life.” It's not going to be an autobiography, it's going to be a narrative about you – about something you love, maybe, or some setback or accomplishment (probably personal) that shows you being characteristically yourself.  Or, it could be a pivotal episode from your youth that had a profound impact on your development, or a slice of life that shows you dealing with something characteristically, and hopefully at your best.  Remember that your execution of the idea, if it's skillful enough, will describe you just as well as the facts of the story you're telling -- just the fact, for example, that you had the idea to use this essay to confess something your best friend doesn't know about you says that you are smart enough to understand the importance of taking risks.  Don't do anything dumb -- but remember that the dumbest thing you can do is to play it safe. 

A few things to keep in mind: as they note lower down in the guidelines and restrictions, it's "not a test of creativity": in other words, don't strain -- if you can whip up a PowerPoint or a Flash animation without too much trouble, AND you've got an idea that actually describes yourself, go for it.  On the other hand, if what you had in mind was a 135-minute biopic with a cast of hundreds and a CGI episode and you have to learn Final Cut Pro in an hour -- you're probably on the wrong track.  As the question goes on to elaborate, this isn't a creativity test -- you're not trying to prove anything, you're communicating something about yourself. 

Finally: there's nothing wrong with answering this question with an essay.  Just make sure you write something honest that says you understand who you are. 

For more information, see our 2011-2012 NYU Stern Essay Guide.