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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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How to Write the NYU Essays 2023-2024

NYU has just one supplemental prompt this year, which allows you to choose from six different options. Although this prompt is technically optional, NYU’s prime location in the heart of downtown New York City, campuses all across the globe, and affiliation with excellent graduate schools in a range of subjects make it highly competitive to gain admission. So, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to share something new about yourself with admissions officers.


Read these examples of past NYU essays about diversity and “Why NYU?” to inspire your writing.


NYU Supplemental Essay Prompts


Prompt: We are looking for peacemakers, changemakers, global citizens, boundary breakers, creatives and innovators – Choose one quote from the following and let us know why it inspires you; or share a short quote and person not on our list who inspires you, and include why. (250 words, optional)


  • Option A: “We’re used to people telling us there are no solutions, and then creating our own. So we did what we do best. We reached out to each other, and to our allies, and we mobilized across communities to make change, to benefit and include everyone in society.” Judith Heuman, 2022 NYU Commencement Address

  • Option B: “I encourage your discomfort, that you must contribute, that you must make your voice heard. That is the essence of good citizenship.” Sherilynn Ifill, 2015 NYU Commencement Address

  • Option C: “If you know how to fly but you never knew how to walk, wouldn’t that be sad?” Lang Lang, 2015 NYU Honorary Degree Recipient

  • Option D: “You have the right to want things and to want things to change.” Sanna Marin, Former Prime Minister of Finland, 2023 NYU Commencement Address

  • Option E: “It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair.” Taylor Swift, Change, Released 2008, 2022 NYU Commencement Speaker


  • Option F: Share a short quote and person not on this list, and why the quote inspires you.


Option A

“We’re used to people telling us there are no solutions, and then creating our own. So we did what we do best. We reached out to each other, and to our allies, and we mobilized across communities to make change, to benefit and include everyone in society.” Judith Heuman, 2022 NYU Commencement Address (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


Although the framing is a little more particular, this prompt has similarities to two supplemental prompt archetypes: the  “Global Issues” essay and the “Community Service” essay. Basically, you want to show NYU that you’re able to not just identify a problem in the world around you, but actively work towards solving it.


That second piece, of showing that you’re someone who acts when you see injustice, rather than merely observing, is crucial. So, you should have a personal connection to the issue you write about, as the point of your essay ultimately isn’t to teach admissions officers about a particular issue, but rather show them what your passion for that issue says about your potential as an NYU student.


So, don’t write about how aboriginal people in Australia struggled during the 2020 wildfires if you don’t know anyone in that community and have never been to Australia, as your essay will likely end up sounding overly factual and academic. Instead, think about issues that have directly impacted your own life. 


Maybe that’s a social media campaign you spearheaded to help abandoned animals get adopted when the shelter was overcrowded. Or working with your friends from Spanish class to ensure the local soup kitchen always had a Spanish speaker working, to make the environment more welcoming to immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.


Keep in mind that the story you tell should have some component of “reach[ing] out to others,” as this quote highlights the importance of collaboration when solving big issues. So, while creating a statistical model on your own to show the viability of solar polar is certainly something to be proud of, it may not be the best anecdote to write about for this prompt. If you then hosted webinars sharing the model with local business owners and answering their questions, however, that could be an effective way of aligning the story with the spirit of the prompt.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


Like any good college essay, your response should show, rather than tell, your readers what you did. What that means is to use descriptive writing, with strong sensory details, to paint NYU admissions officers a picture, rather than just saying “I did x, y, and z, and learned a, b, and c.” The more detail you can include, the more immersive your story will be, which will make your essay both more engaging and more fun to read.


The other key to a strong response is having takeaways that are both clear and personal. You don’t want your essay to feel like a Hallmark card, so avoid clichés like “This experience showed me the power of diversity” or “I realized that deep down, we’re all the same.” The point of the college essay is to distinguish yourself from other applicants, and relying on generic tropes won’t accomplish that.


Instead, think about how you can take one of these overused ideas and creatively reframe it through the lens of your story in particular. For example, if you write about the soup kitchen example above, you could talk about how you bonded with one person who attended frequently because you discovered you both enjoyed crocheting, and how that taught you to look for shared experiences even with people who may outwardly seem quite different from you. 


The general idea of diversity as a unifying, rather than divisive, force is the same, but by connecting that idea to something specific that happened to you, you’ll give NYU admissions officers of how that idea tangibly impacts your day-to-day life. Ultimately, they’re trying to figure out how you would fit into their classrooms, clubs, dorms, dining halls, and so on, and specificity gives them a much clearer idea of that than just big-picture ideas.


Mistakes to Avoid


There isn’t really any major pitfall to keep an eye out for here. Just make sure you’re conscientious of how you frame your issue. Even though NYU, like most colleges, is much more liberal than society as a whole, you still want to use discretion when discussing politics in a college essay, as you have no way of knowing exactly what context your readers are coming from.


So, if you’re writing about a fundraiser you and your friends organized after the overturning of Roe v. Wade to help women from red states afford travel to states where abortion would remain legal, keep the focus on your efforts and what this experience taught you. Don’t talk about your feeling that anyone who opposes abortion is a misogynist, as, for all you know, the person reading your essay may have a loved one who is pro life, or they may even be themselves. 


You can talk about controversial topics in this essay, but do so in a way that’s introspective and acknowledges the complexity of the issue, rather than in a way that celebrates your own moral superiority.


Option B

“I encourage your discomfort, that you must contribute, that you must make your voice heard. That is the essence of good citizenship.” Sherilynn Ifill, 2015 NYU Commencement Address (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


Like Option A, this prompt has elements of both the “Global Issues” essay and the “Community Service” essay. However, the scope here is a little broader, as you’re being asked to talk about a time when you made “your voice heard,” rather than one when you were an active part of helping solve a particular problem. That means you have a little more flexibility in what you write about.


For example, you could describe the time when a conversation with a Jewish friend of yours made you realize Christmas-centric your school’s holiday decorations were, and how that motivated you to accompany her to talk to the principal about it, as she felt uncomfortable going alone. You could also take a similar angle as the one described above, with Option A, and talk about service work, like advocating for preserving wildlife habitat over expanding the boat launch at a nearby lake, or something else on a slightly larger scale that you spoke up about. 


However, don’t talk yourself out of writing about a more personal story like the Christmas example. Although this approach may seem less “impressive,” in reality talking about that kind of smaller moment in daily life can do a lot to show admissions officers what you’re like when nobody’s watching. Just about everyone applying to NYU will have an impressive resume, so you can really distinguish yourself by telling them a story that you’re still kind, altruistic, and thoughtful even outside the context of a particular project or organization.


That being said, both approaches can work incredibly well, so long as they honestly reflect your desire to speak up about the things that matter to you.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


Once you’ve picked a particular moment to focus on, you want to think about what lessons you took away from that experience. NYU admissions officers care about who you’re going to be for the next four years, not who you were in the past, so they want to get a sense of how this experience is going to impact your contributions to their community.


There’s no one right way to do this, so if you immediately see a way to tell your story in a reflective, informative way, go for it! If you’re having writer’s block, though, one reliable approach would be to explain what happened, what you learned, and then include a second, much briefer anecdote that shows how you’ve utilized what you learned in the time since. 


For the Christmas example, after you finish describing the principal’s willingness to include menorahs and dreidels alongside the Santas and Christmas trees, you talk about how this experience showed you most people do want to be inclusive, they just might not know exactly how, so we all have a responsibility to speak up when we see a way to be better. You could then talk about how this realization then motivated you to talk to your manager at your part-time job about adjusting shift start times to align with the bus schedule, as she didn’t know that some employees didn’t have their own car.


250 words isn’t a lot, so depending on how much space you need to describe the original anecdote, you may not have space for the second one. That’s completely fine–as long as your takeaways are framed in a personal way that directly connects to the story you have just told, your readers will understand the significance of this experience to who you are today.


Mistakes to Avoid


Letting your main anecdote breathe is the most important thing, as if you rush through things, your reader might not have enough details to properly anchor your eventual takeaways, which could make your essay feel impersonal or generic. 


For a somewhat extreme example of this, say you wrote about the day you noticed your school had changed their holiday decorations, and how happy that made you, but totally glossed over your own involvement in driving that change. Having a takeaway about the importance of standing up for what you believe in would then make no sense. So, make sure the details you include at each point in the essay work together to create a single, cohesive unit.


Option C

“If you know how to fly but you never knew how to walk, wouldn’t that be sad?” Lang Lang, 2015 NYU Honorary Degree Recipient (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


This prompt may come across as overly philosophical at first, but before you rule it out, take a second to think about what it’s actually saying. Flying is more glamorous, exciting, and magical than walking, but walking is what we all do every single day to move around the world. While practicality never makes any headlines, daily life wouldn’t work without walking. 


Connecting that idea, about the value of practicality, to NYU’s focus on difference-makers means that you’ll want to discuss the importance of small, seemingly insignificant actions to driving broader change. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day: for every figurehead of a major, earth-shattering movement, there are thousands or even millions of people who spent years paving the road so that the leader could one day walk down it. These people rarely get fame or recognition, but the movement never would have succeeded without them.


Of course, to write a strong, engaging response here, you don’t want to write about a huge historical movement that happened generations before you were even born. Instead, apply the same general idea to your own life. Think about what you do, or observe, on a daily basis that shows you the value of sometimes just taking things one step at a time. If there’s something you’ve been passionate about for a long time, that can be a great starting point, as you’ve probably made many small contributions over the years, compared to something where you were just involved in one, big, “flying” project.


For example, maybe you’ve always loved animals, and as a child you used to talk to your mom about flying around the world and rescuing all the endangered species. Once you got older, you realized you couldn’t do that, but what you could do was start a blog featuring a different endangered species every month, along with nonprofits dedicated to helping that species survive. You’ve even established partnerships with some of these groups, and helped organize fundraisers such as bake sales and 5Ks.


As this example shows, ideally you want to show how you’re finding a way to contribute to a much bigger cause. NYU wants to accept difference-makers, and although most of us aren’t able to donate millions of dollars or spearhead new technological initiatives, you can still show that you’re dedicated to finding ways to help however you can. 


Remember, as we noted in Option B, describing your grassroots efforts can in some ways demonstrate your dedication to a cause more than a high-level accomplishment or accolade, because that kind of work truly shows who you are on a day-to-day basis. So, if something comes to mind, don’t sell yourself short by saying “Oh, but they won’t care about that.” If whatever it is was meaningful to you, we promise they will 🙂


Tips for Writing Your Essay


This is the kind of prompt where the brainstorming, if you do it well, is 90% of the work. Since the prompt is more abstract, you’re going to have to spend more time up front thinking about exactly what you want to say, or else you may end up sitting down to write and realizing you have no idea where you want to go. So, if you find yourself staring at a blank page, we would suggest rewinding, and spending a little more time brainstorming.


Once you have a clear sense of the story you want to tell, all you really need to do is actually put the words on the page. As you do that, remember that you want to include strong sensory details, to make your essay as immersive and engaging as possible. Focus less on what you did, and more on how you felt and what you learned from the experience. You may or may not do something similar to, for example, raising awareness for endangered species during your time at NYU, but you want to show admissions officers that, whatever you get involved with, you’re going to bring a thoughtful, dedicated perspective to your work.


For example, rather than saying just “My post on the work done to get manatees from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ got 5,000 views, from places as far away as Italy, Kenya, and New Zealand,” take the next step, and describe how that success made you feel. That might look something like: 


“When I saw the number, I went back to the first post I ever did, on the African Bay owl. That post didn’t get a single view from someone who wasn’t related to me. But as I flipped back to the manatee post, I realized that we’re all related to each other in ways other than blood, as we all share this planet, and reminding people of that can be as simple as putting up a blog post and letting them come find it.”


NYU would be impressed by your outreach alone, but what will truly take your essay to the next level is including this next layer of reflection, and showing them the broader lessons you learned from this experience. That will prove to them that you’re not just talented and motivated, but also that your values align with theirs.


Mistakes to Avoid


We noted at the beginning of this prompt breakdown that you shouldn’t get scared off just because it’s a little more philosophical than some of the others, and we stand by that. However, its more abstract nature will likely make the brainstorming process take longer, and it’s possible you do end up just feeling stuck. 


If you don’t think you have the time right now to give this prompt the attention it needs, that’s completely fine! The advantage of option prompts is that you have, well, options. Even if you’re initially drawn to this prompt, if you find yourself beating your head against the wall and not getting anywhere, don’t be stubborn–just pivot to one of the others.


Option D

“You have the right to want things and to want things to change.” Sanna Marin, Former Prime Minister of Finland, 2023 NYU Commencement Address (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


Like Options A and B, this prompt is, roughly, a version of the “Global Issues” essay. That means you should have two main goals here. First, identify an issue that matters to you. Second, explain what your interest in that issue says about you as a person. 


Note that, unlike the first two options, the problem you choose doesn’t have to be one you’ve taken a lot of tangible action towards resolving. Obviously, you should have some level of personal investment in your issue, as otherwise your essay could come across as disingenuous. But if you have a cause you’re passionate about, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to get involved in directly, that would still be fair game here.


For example, maybe you’d like to increase access to healthy food options, as you live in a remote area and grow a lot of your own food with your family, so you know what a difference high-quality produce makes, but you also know how frustrating it can be to simply not have access to certain things, as your supermarket’s stock is limited. Because you don’t live in a city, you haven’t had the chance to get involved in any volunteer work related to this issue, so instead you’ve done your very best to learn everything possible about the process of growing your own food, so that you’ll have a wealth of hands-on experience to draw on when you are eventually in a situation where you can discuss theoretical, bigger picture solutions to this issue.


This hypothetical student hasn’t been able to take much concrete action towards addressing food inequality. However, they’re still demonstrating a genuine desire to help fix this issue, as well as forethought and motivation, by explaining how they’re finding a way to build up their skill set now, so that when the time comes, they are prepared to create tangible change. Any NYU admissions officer would feel confident about this student’s potential to become a difference-maker.


Of course, you are also more than welcome to write about an issue you have already done some work to help solve. We only want to highlight that already contributing to the solution isn’t a prerequisite for this prompt, so you can cast your net a little wider in your brainstorming than you would for Option A or B.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


Once you sit down to actually start writing, the key is to make sure you aren’t just discussing your personal connection to this particular issue, but also highlighting admirable personality traits that will serve you in any of your future endeavors, whether related to the same issue or not. To see what we mean here, look back at the example we gave above. That student shows several traits admissions officers will find attractive, including:


  • They are able to extrapolate from their own lived experiences to better understand a broader, societal issue
  • They can appreciate the nuance of a big-picture issue
  • They can critically evaluate their own skill set and determine the best way for them to contribute to a resolution


These qualities come across because of the (hypothetical) level of detail the student provides. If they were to instead just give a general sketch of the situation, along the lines of “I care about food inequality, and although I haven’t yet been able to combat this issue, hopefully I will one day,”  then admissions officers have a lot of blanks to fill in. 


Instead, you should do the work for them: build a concrete connection between this issue you care about and certain, broader attributes that are fundamental to who you are. That will show them not just that you’re passionate about this one issue, but that you’re an overall thoughtful, mature person who’s ready to take advantage of all NYU has to offer.


Mistakes to Avoid


If you choose to write about an issue that you haven’t taken much concrete action on yet, just be careful that your essay doesn’t become more about the issue, and your interest in it on a theoretical level, than about your own personality. In the context of the example given above, that might look like a bunch of statistics showing how lack of access to healthy food disproportionately impacts lower income people. 


While that is certainly informative, remember that this isn’t an academic essay. It’s a personal reflection, so even if you’re still figuring out how you can best contribute to tangible change, you still want to highlight specific experiences or moments that showcase the strengths you will eventually use to make a real difference. Otherwise, NYU admissions officers may come away from your essay knowing more about the issue you’re highlighting, but not much about what you’d bring to their community, which is ultimately the question they’re trying to answer.


Option E

“It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair.” Taylor Swift, Change, Released 2008, 2022 NYU Commencement Speaker (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


Like the previous prompt, this quote wants you to discuss a cause you are currently fighting for, or would like to fight for during your time in college and beyond. But the angle is a little bit different, as this quote is centered around the challenges of fighting for something in unfair circumstances.


If you choose this prompt, you’ll want to talk about an obstacle you’ve overcome, or are in the process of overcoming, in your effort to make your communities a little more just. This doesn’t have to be anything intense, like facing harassment or threats after a talk you gave at a school assembly about your experiences with racism. Of course, you are welcome to discuss this kind of extreme hardship if you are comfortable doing so. 


You don’t have to, however. There are a whole bunch of things that make advocacy work difficult, and many of them have nothing to do with physical violence. For example, you could talk about your attempts to research successful city planning projects that incorporate more green spaces, and your frustration upon realizing many of the articles you wanted to read were stuck behind paywalls.


Alternatively, you could talk about how you want to help increase access to affordable education in your city by tutoring, but not having a car makes it difficult for you to reach many of the people who seek out your help. No obstacle is too small–as we’ve highlighted in several of the previous breakdowns, contextualizing a societal issue within your own life is what NYU wants you to do with pretty much all of these prompts, so don’t feel like you need to dramatize anything. Just be honest about your efforts, and the things that have gotten in your way.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


The key to writing a successful response is to not focus your entire essay on the challenge itself, as that will result in a rather defeatist tone. Rather, spend the first part of the essay explaining the difficulties you’ve faced in your efforts to resolve some societal issue, and spend the second half explaining what you’ve done to overcome them. That will result in a more positive overall vibe for your essay, which shows your ability to adapt and grow even in the face of challenges, a skill that will be vital to your success in college.


Like with the challenge itself, you don’t have to glamorize whatever it is you did to work around the obstacle you encountered. For example, don’t say you set up a consortium of high school students where everyone pitched in some money so that you could create shared accounts on all the sites you wanted to use, unless you actually did do that. 


It’s okay to say you asked your parents for their credit card, and that you agreed to take on extra chores around the house because being self-sufficient in your advocacy work is important to you. Or that saving up for your own car proved too difficult, so you’ve worked out a schedule with your elderly neighbor to use his car in the evening, since he goes to sleep early anyways, so long as you pick up his groceries on the way home. 


NYU isn’t going to judge you for the particulars of your situation. They just want to see that, when the fight isn’t fair, you still find a way to keep punching.


Mistakes to Avoid


Taylor Swift may be the biggest pop star in the world right now, but this sadly isn’t an essay for you to talk about your fandom. Keep the focus on the challenges of tackling inequality, not on your Eras Tour outfit or opinions on which (Taylor’s Version) album has the best (From The Vault) tracks 😉


Option F

Share a short quote and person not on this list, and why the quote inspires you. (250 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


While you may initially feel drawn to this option because of the freedom it affords you, we advise against defaulting to it if you don’t immediately feel a connection to one of the other prompts. The other options do have narrower focuses, but you have five to choose from, and all of the quotes are open-ended enough that you aren’t being forced into a box.


Because this prompt is already unusually flexible for a supplemental essay, you should have a good reason for creating your own option. Ideally you’ll already have a particular quote, or at least a particular person, in mind. If you’re just thinking “Oh, I’d like to write about [general topic],” the time you spend googling possibilities is time you could instead be spending on your actual response, so we’d encourage you to look back at the options already given to you and see if any of them could be an inroad to your desired topic.


Additionally, you may have noticed that, while the options NYU gives you all portray slightly different perspectives, and come from a wide range of speakers, they all have something to do with the theme of justice and equity. In the main prompt, NYU even says they’re looking for “peacemakers, changemakers, global citizens, boundary breakers, creatives and innovators,” so your quote should show your potential to become a difference-maker in the world. Avoid writing about, for example, Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on black holes, as that would be jarring for admissions officers.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


Obviously, the exact structure of your essay will depend on which quote you select. But in general, many of the points we’ve made in our breakdowns of the other prompts will apply here too. The best advice we can give is:


  • Use anecdotes, rather than speaking generally about whatever your topic is
  • Make sure the essay doesn’t just focus on your topic, and instead teaches your reader about a few tangible personality traits that speak to your potential as an NYU student 
  • Provide enough detail that your story feels personal, rather than like something any old applicant to NYU could have written.


With regards to this prompt specifically, since you’re taking this choose-your-own adventure path, don’t be afraid to be a little unconventional in how you do these three things. Maybe you share a quote of something meaningful your dad once said to you about having a responsibility to give back to others, and then you describe a few moments you have shared with him that exemplify how he embodies this ideal every day, and how you seek to do the same.


Alternatively, say you study Latin in school. Maybe you choose a quote from Ovid, your favorite Roman author, that relates to injustice, and explain how to you, this quote shows that, although it’s easy to get discouraged by all the doom and gloom on the news, humans have been trying to make the world a little bit better for as long as our species has existed.


These two examples both take advantage of the fact that you have a pre-existing personal connection to the actual person who said the quote, not just their words, as that’s something you probably don’t have with any of the options given to you (with the possible exception of Taylor Swift). As a result, NYU admissions officers get to see a level of depth and reflection in your response that they otherwise wouldn’t, which is the benefit of this option–you can pick both the framework and the content of your essay, rather than needing to fit what you want to say into a particular structure.


Mistakes to Avoid


This isn’t a mistake, but just something to keep in mind if you’re seriously thinking about coming up with your own prompt: you still only have 250 words, and you’re going to have to spend probably about 20 of them just on your quote and the name of the person who said it. So, make sure your quote is relatively short (you can also use well-placed ellipses to save yourself room)–Option A, for example, would be much too long, as you’d be using over 20% of your space just on the quote itself.


Regardless of how short your quote is, however, you’re still going to have less space available than if you had chosen one of the options NYU provides, which is yet more reason you need to be 100% sure that this option will allow you to say something none of the others will. If you choose this option without already having some sense of what you’d like to say, having 20 fewer words may end up really biting you.


To summarize: if you’re feeling bold, and already have a clear sense of how you’re going to channel that boldness, this prompt is a great opportunity to truly set yourself apart from other applicants. But if you’re just choosing it because you can, and coming up with your own prompt sounds fun, we’d encourage you to give the pre-established options another look.


Where to Get Your NYU Essay Edited 


Do you want feedback on your NYU essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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