How to Write the NYU Essay 2019-2020

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New York University is located at the heart of one of the most sought-after cities in the world. Taking the idea of an urban campus to the utmost, NYU is so thoroughly integrated into the city around it that it’s hard to tell where NYU stops and NYC starts.


NYU offers over 230 areas of study and three degree-granting campuses, including Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. The school also has access to many centers and institutesincluding an Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Institute for Policy Integritythat are accessible to undergraduates for both academics and research. 


The school’s prized location along with its many resources has made NYU’s admissions a force to be reckoned with. In the 2018-2019 admissions cycle, NYU received over 84,000 applications and accepted 12,307, an acceptance rate of 16%, the most selective NYU has ever been. For this cycle, the median SAT score was a 1480. 


NYU requires only one essay, so it’s especially important to write the best essay possible. While this may seem daunting, CollegeVine can provide some insight on how to tackle the essay. Want to know your chances at NYU? Calculate your chances for free right now.


New York University Supplemental Essay Prompts

We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. We are particularly interested in knowing what motivated you to apply to NYU and more specifically, why you have applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please tell us why you are interested in each of the campuses, schools, colleges, or programs to which you have applied. We want to understand – Why NYU? (400 words)

First and foremost, this prompt is asking why NYU is a good match for you. Now, instead of writing 400 words about location and prestige (which is what everyone else is doing), pay attention to how the prompt practically begs for specificity. You need to respond in a manner that is specific to you and specific to NYU. Hint: if you can substitute ‘Columbia’ for every time you write ‘NYU,’ you haven’t made it specific enough.


The good news is that the prompt offers several ideas for how you can achieve this specificity: campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study. Let’s break it down.



You have three options: New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai.


Here’s an example of a weak answer:


I want to study at NYU Abu Dhabi because I visited the area once and really liked it.


This is an extreme example, but the idea holds. A generic answer says nothing about you and shows no genuine interest in the school. The admissions officer reading your essay knows exactly what makes their school unique and amazing, but they want to see, after reading your essay, that you know, too.


Now, here’s an example of a strong answer:


I want to major in Global China Studies because it aligns with my interest in working in international marketing. There’s no better place to pursue this major than on a campus located at the heart of a major Chinese city. NYU Shanghai’s location would grant me the opportunity to see topics discussed in the classroom first-hand—from mercantile currents to the political atmosphere—all while supported by the reputation and resources of NYU’s network.


Do you see why this one is more effective? By discussing career aspirations, it becomes specific to the applicant. By mentioning that the city would enhance your intended major, you let the reader see why the school is a good match for you. This answer is specific to both you and NYU Shanghai, and it shows that you’ve done your research.


Some other things to keep in mind when responding to this part of the prompt are:


  • Why this campus specifically? How did you choose it, and why is the aforementioned campus your first choice?
  • If your campus of choice is NYC, mentioning the location is not as beneficial as it is for the other campuses. Unless you have a very specific reason why going to school in NYC would benefit you (ex. You want to work in the entertainment industry, and NYC’s prominence as an industry hub would provide a vital networking opportunity.), you may just choose to skip this and jump into the next section.


School or College:

NYU is divided up into several schools and colleges, the biggest of which is the College of Arts and Science. Why did you choose the one that you did? If you’re choosing any school other than the College of Arts and Science, this should make up the bulk of your essay answer. If, however, you are choosing CAS, you can skip to talking about your area of interest.


Let’s say your school of choice is Stern.


Here’s a weaker answer for why Stern:


Stern is an extremely prestigious business school, and I want to pursue an undergraduate business degree.


What does this tell you about Stern? Not much. What does this tell the admissions officer about what you’d do if accepted to Stern? Not much.


Let’s take a look at a strong answer:


Located in the dynamic city of New York, Stern is immersed in the same culture of commerce that is taught within its classroom walls. Its location provides the school with resources and opportunities that other schools can’t compete with, from SternTalks to the Alumni Career Engagement program. This, along with the vast number of recruiters the school attracts, means I can learn about marketing strategies within the classroom and then go out into the city and apply my knowledge to an internship opportunity. The unique freshman Leadership Through Innovation program will prepare me for my goal of interning at Estee Lauder after my freshman year by providing one-of-a-kind exposure to networking, leadership development, and innovation.


In this instance, it’s beneficial to mention Stern’s location because you’re connecting it to specific opportunities. You’d also be mentioning multiple specific programs, showing that you’ve done your research and that you know exactly what you’d do with the opportunity if accepted to the program. An added bonus is the mention of a specific internship you want, which shows drive and ambition.


Other things to keep in mind when responding to this part of the prompt:

  • Mentioning specific programs is great, but don’t just name drop. If you like a program, explain why you like it or what you would want to do within that program.
  • Avoid generic statements such as:
    • The school is prestigious
    • The staff is renowned
    • There are endless resources


Program or area of study:

Within each school or college of NYU, there are multiple choices for programs and majors. Which one appeals to you the most and why?


If you’ve seen a ‘why this major’ prompt, this section is more or less the same thing. However, due to the word limit, you might not want to include too much background on how you became interested in your major. Rather, you’ll probably want to jump right into why this major at this particular school.


Let’s say you’ve known you wanted to pursue a journalism major ever since your dad, a journalist, took you to an interview and let you ask a question at the age of seven years old. After that, you religiously read the news every day and began writing your own stories at the age of thirteen. The NYU journalism major is perfect for you because it pairs journalism with a study abroad, which would allow you to pursue your dream of writing about the culture and politics in other countries.


There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this type of approach. However, because NYU’s prompt asks about topics other than your area of study (i.e. campus and school/college), you likely won’t have enough words to explore this level of detail without exceeding the limit.


Instead, you want to spend more time focusing on what NYU has to offer for that specific major, with a tidbit thrown in on why you want to pursue that major if you have enough space. More like this:


The NYU journalism major is perfect for me because it pairs journalism with a study abroad, which would allow me to pursue my dream of writing about the culture and politics in other countries.


Why is this better? It mentions something specific to NYU’s journalism major while also sharing some of your motivation for pursuing a journalism major in the first place. However, it saves a lot of space by removing the backstory of how you originally chose that major. In short, this part of the prompt is similar to a ‘why this major’ prompt, but the difference is that instead of focusing on how you chose the major, it’s why you want to pursue that major at this school.


If you’re undecided, you should definitely still answer this part of the prompt. Talk about how NYU will allow you to experiment with your interests while narrowing in on a potential major. Be specific!


At this point, you will have addressed all the main components of the prompt. If you’ve applied to more than one campus, college, or program, you’re going to need to follow the same format for each area of interest. You’re going to need to be a lot more concise, and I suggest focusing more on whichever one is your top choice.


One last thing to be careful of is that you don’t break the essay up into three obvious sections (campus, college, area of study). A much more effective way to write the essay is to talk about all three subjects within one coherent essay. It shouldn’t read like three different essays pasted together.


Let’s return to the previous example so you can see what I mean.


Located in the dynamic city of New York, Stern is immersed in the same culture of commerce that is taught within its classroom walls. Its location provides the school with resources and opportunities that other schools can’t compete with, from SternTalks to the Alumni Career Engagement program. This, along with the vast number of recruiters the school attracts, means I can learn about marketing strategies within the classroom and then go out into the city and apply my knowledge to an internship opportunity. The unique freshman Leadership Through Innovation program will prepare me for my goal of interning at Estee Lauder after my freshman year by providing one-of-a-kind exposure to networking, leadership development, and innovation.


Notice how this example mentions why New York, why Stern, and why marketing (although this last component is fairly brief and does need to be expanded upon) without explicitly breaking it up into those sections. Instead, it reads as one coherent ‘why NYU’ essay, while still answering all aspects of the prompt.


So there you have it! The one and only NYU supplemental essay… unless you’re applying to the Tisch School of the Arts. Read on if you are! Note that your responses to these prompts are usually to be submitted with your portfolio, via SlideRoom.

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Tisch School of the Arts: Cinema Studies Major Prompt 1:

An essay on a film, director, or any other film-related topic that you choose. (Page limit: 5-10 pages)

What’s nice about this prompt is that it gives you a ton of freedom. What’s not so nice about this prompt is that the freedom can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that the purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how an applicant thinks. Show them that you’re passionate and capable of thinking in-depth about your topic of choice. Prove that you deserve a spot in their school.


Here’s how to go about this:


Choose your topic.

It should be something you’re passionate about, so you don’t run out of things to say. Five pages is a lot, but it goes quickly if you’re genuinely interested in the topic.


Choosing a specific film or director is the safer route, but ensure that you have unique things to say on the topic. Don’t let your essay turn into a film review or a biography. They need to be your unique thoughts and perspectives.


Choosing a film-related topic of your choice provides more freedom, and you may find yourself more passionate about the subject. However, be careful not to ramble or lose focus.


Choose your thesis.

This will be the focus of your essay. A strong thesis has multiple subsections that all relate nicely. Each paragraph of your essay needs to return to this thesis in some way. Here’s an example:


Christopher Nolan’s recurring themes of time and sleep give his films an unparalleled glance into the human psyche, especially in a modern age where it seems time and sleep are in a constant battle for predominance.


This thesis has multiple directions in which it can be taken. You can write multiple paragraphs about the recurrence of time and sleep in his films, which can lead to how this makes his films unique. You can also include commentary on how these themes are relevant to society today.


You might decide to include research or opinions from other sources. If you do so, be sure to include proper in-text citations and a works cited page. However, it’s important to note that tackling this essay like you would a research paper might not be the most effective method. The admissions officer doesn’t want to know what this critic or that professional thinks of the topic. They want to know your thoughts. They want to see how you think.


In short, the more unique you can make the essay—the truer to how you think—the better the insight the admissions officer will get into you as an applicant. Don’t be afraid to add in your own opinions and ideas. At the end of the day, the admissions officer isn’t trying to admit Christopher Nolan or that critic you cited; they’re trying to admit you.


One other thing to note: if you have worked on a film project of your own, and you feel you can write five or more pages on the topic, this would be an excellent opportunity to do so.

Tisch School of the Arts: Cinema Studies Major Prompt 2:

A statement that answers the following questions: Have you taken any cinema-related classes? What areas of cinema studies most interest you (film genres, directors, theory, etc.)? What are your career aspirations (film journalism/criticism, film curating, filmmaking, etc.)? (Page limit: 1 page)

This prompt is fairly straightforward, but let’s break it down a little bit.


1. Have you taken any cinema-related classes?

They want to see that you have experience. Prove this isn’t a whim but rather a life-long passion. Are you self-taught? Tell them! Have you been taking classes since you could walk? Talk about that!


2. What areas of cinema studies most interest you?

Again, here is your opportunity to show passion. Don’t just mention these areas; say why. Why do they interest you? How have you pursued these interests (making sure to phrase this in a way that shows your drive and experience without straying too far from the prompt)? If you feel like being sneaky, you can throw in a line or two about how you intend to pursue these interests at college.


3. What are your career aspirations?

Show that you have ambition and that you’ve put thought into your future. Be as specific as possible. If you have a dream company where you’d like to work, that’s something you want to mention.


Overall, be as detailed as possible, answer their questions, and stay within one page.

Tisch School of the Arts: Film and Television Major Prompt 1

Leadership and Collaboration Anecdote: Describe an experience in which you exercised leadership and/or took part in a productive collaboration. (300 words)

For this prompt, they’re just interested to see how you work with other people. If you’re more of a leader, tell a story about a time you delegated and got things done. Note that a story about how you did all the work yourself is not the same as leadership and would be frowned upon.


If you’re opting to go with the second option, discuss a time where you worked well with other people. Prove that you understand the value of collaboration.


In either case, a potential format could be to discuss an obstacle that was remedied either by your leadership or by productive collaboration.

Tisch School of the Arts: Film and Television Major Prompt 2

Personal Story: Describe an event in your life and how it changed you or someone close to you. (Page limit: up to 4 double-spaced pages)

There are really two routes you can choose between.


1. Discuss an obstacle or form of hardship you’ve faced.

How did you respond? How did it change you? While the event itself will involve adversity, make sure you pull some kind of good from it. End with themes of hope or perseverance. Show that when faced with hard times or setbacks, you don’t give up.


If you decide to describe hardship someone close to you faced, tread carefully. Remember that you, not the person you are close to, is trying to gain admission. What this means is that even if the other person’s hardship is the focal point, the meat of the essay has to be about your reaction to it, how it changed you, and what you learned from witnessing this event.


2. Discuss something good or meaningful that happened to you.

What brought about this event? How did it change you? Talk about the appreciation you’ve gained from undergoing this experience. How has it changed your outlook on life?


Avoid cliches! If you went on a community service trip to Kenya, don’t talk about how you suddenly understand poverty and have an appreciation for human life. They’ve heard this before, and it’s likely not true. Instead, just be true to yourself. Talk about what you really gained from the event. Has it impacted your life in tangible ways? Talk about that.


Be sure to make this essay as anecdotal as possible, while staying true to the facts. You want it to read like a story. A true story.

Tisch School of the Arts: Film and Television Major Prompt 3

Artistic Influences: How has a film, play, book, television series, painting, music, or other significant work of art inspired or influenced your own work or the way you look at the world? (300 words)

This prompt is pretty straightforward. If you have a work of art that changed the way you think, impacted you in some way, or was even just so profound that it stuck with you, talk about it. How did it change the way you think? How did it impact you? Why did it stick with you?


The other aspect of this prompt is to talk about how it has inspired or influenced your own work. Why did it inspire you? In what sense has it inspired you? Do you see stylistic influences in your own work? This is also an opportunity to discuss your own creations, as long as it relates back to the prompt.

Tisch School of the Arts: Performance Studies Major 

Write a statement that addresses your interest in performance studies, why you think you are a good fit for this department, and what you hope to gain from the experience of studying with us. What do you hope to study and write about in the field of Performance Studies? Why are you applying to this program and not a more traditional program such as anthropology, dance, or theatre? (Word limit: 750-1000 words)

This entire prompt seeks to ensure that a student’s interest is serious. The first sentence is a ‘why do you deserve to get in’ prompt. It’s your chance to show off. Make sure to answer each aspect of that first sentence, including:


Why you’re interested in performance studies

  • You can mention how you first became interested or talk about why you’re passionate about it
  • This is definitely the place where you want to ooze passion and commitment
  • There’s no room here to be undecided or on the fence; you need to prove, beyond a shade of doubt, that performance studies is your passion


Why you’re interested in studying performance studies in this particular department

  • Why here? Why performance studies at NYU?


Why you, in particular, are a good fit for this department

  • What qualities do you possess that will make you a good match for this department?
  • Why should they let you in? Why are you unique?
  • Don’t shy away from showing off. This is your chance to show what makes you special.


What you hope to do if you get in

  • Be very, very specific here. They want to know that if they let you in, you wouldn’t waste it. How would you take advantage of their resources?
  • What particular programs and opportunities are you interested in?
  • What do you want to learn? What experiences are you looking forward to?
  • How would this degree help you achieve your goals, particularly those career-related?
  • Show drive and ambition, and prove you’ve thought about this question in depth


Moving on to the second sentence: what do you hope to study and write about? This is similar to the last part of the previous sentence, and it just shows you how important the answer is to them. Something vague or generic is not going to get you in. You need to be very specific to both yourself and the program. Prove to them that applying to this program is not a whim, but rather a consequence of genuine interest and long-standing consideration.


Finally, the last sentence: why are you applying to this specialized program? Translation: are you absolutely sure, beyond any doubt, that you want this? Is there any part of you that would regret not going a more traditional route? How do you know this program is right for you?


Prove it to them. Prove there is no other program in which you would be happy. Show there is no other program that would help you attain your dreams. If you can do that, they’ll know you’re serious about their program.


Based on this prompt, it is evident that they don’t want your application to be “something you thought you’d try because you never know.” They want this program to be your dream. If you want to get in, show them it’s your dream.

Tisch School of the Arts: Studio Art

Submit a “Statement of Purpose” describing your reasons for applying to an interdisciplinary studio art program; your personal and/or academic background in art; and the influences, experiences, common themes and interests that have impacted your art practice. (Page limit: 1 page)

The first clause is a typical ‘why this program’ prompt. When responding to this, make sure you emphasize why the interdisciplinary aspect of the program is right for you. That being said, you can also touch on one or two other specifics of this program that appeal to you, as long as you connect it back to being interdisciplinary. As always, make sure it is unique to their program. You shouldn’t be able to substitute the name of another school with a studio art program.


The next clause is almost like a resume, but you want to avoid just listing off accomplishments and experiences if you can. Instead, see if you can make it anecdotal. For example:


I’ve known I was going to pursue art ever since I was five years old. I remember watching my mom paint an image of the sunset. I was mesmerized by the colors and the even strokes. Noticing me watching, my mom turned to me and offered me the paintbrush. That was the first time I painted, and after that it was over—I was in love. Although, I think I probably ruined her painting at the time. Since then, I’ve gone on to work with a local artist to hone my skill and branch into new disciplines of art. If not for that opportunity, I might never have received my first commission work, which remains my proudest accomplishment to date.


See how that’s more compelling than just listing off a resume? It allows you to give a backstory—to get the reader interested in your personal story—yet you still get to talk about your accomplishments.


The final part of the prompt is to discuss the aspects that have influenced your art practice. You can talk about inspirations, stylistic influences, or anything else you feel is relevant to how your art progressed to what it is today. If you had a mentor or a formative experience, talk about that! There’s a lot of freedom here, and a lot of space to continue talking about your background in art.


In terms of the progression of your essay, I recommend switching their order. I suggest beginning with the second clause—your background. Then, go into your influences, inspiration, and experiences. Finally, end with why their program is right for you. This allows for a more linear progression in your essay.


And there you have it! Best of luck in your NYU application!


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