Director of Admissions and Aid The Stem School of Business, New York University
OUR ESSAY QUESTIONS are a little different from many other schools'. The first one, in which we ask about goals and career aspirations, is very similar. But we try to be a little more creative and relevant in our other two questions. In general what we're looking for are people who have well thought-out ideas, can express those ideas in an articulate, concise way, and can follow our directions (page limits). The essays need to be specific 10 the individual ana shsre something of their orientation with the admissions committee. They should use good grammar and follow the basic rules that you learn when you write an essay. We are evaluating their communication skills and how they think.
Our third essay—where we ask students to describe themselves to their classmates—has become my favorite. Some applicants write very creative essays, but we have also received cassette recordings, videotapes, games, puzzles, and poems. It's the variety of orientations and ways of expressing themselves which I think adds a certain creativity to the process. We're one of the few schools to do this, so it's not like a cut-and-paste [situation]. Seventy-five percent of the responses to this question are in written form but it's not the traditional essay.
Some essays are very, very personal and share information that I'm amazed they're willing to share—intimate details of their personal or family life or work life. I'm not saying it's inappropriate at all; sometimes it's very appropriate and very relevant. Other people are very good at giving a global perspective on a career or an industry and how they fit into that—and their essays can be very effective.
We're one of only a few schools that offer interviews only after we read an application, so we know a lot about the applicant before he or she ever walks into our office. It's a win-win situation for us and the applicant.
Mistakes? Not using spell-check. Also, I read essays that say "I know Wharton or Columbia or Tuck is the school for me"—and they re submitting these essays to us! It shows a lack of attention to detail. The other mistake is not doing your research. Sometimes when applicants talk about career goals, they are totally unrealistic and it's real obvious to the admissions committee that they don't have much knowledge of the industry they wish to enter. Again, that translates into a lack of attention to detail, a lack of thoroughness we're looking for from applicants. Sometimes they also haven't done enough research on Stern and cannot express why it is the right program for them.
Advice? Many times they miss an opportunity to use the resources at hand, to have other people read and react to the essays. They write in isolation, send them to various schools, and just assume they've done the best job. Applicants should take advantage of colleagues with whom they work or friends whom they respect to give them constructive feedback. Most writers will tell you that editing and rewriting are essential. Sometimes I fee! that an essay I'm reading was composed in this way: the applicant sat down in front of a computer, wrote it, did spell-check, sent it in, and that was the last time he or she looked at it. You can tell when people have spent time and effort on their essays—it comes through loud and clear. The ultimate result applicants want is an offer of admission from every school to which they apply so the decision [about where to go] is theirs, not ours. It's really too bad if they say, "Oh, if only 1 would have ¡done something differently with the essays]/' I want them to feel so confident when they apply that they think, "This is the best possible job I can do." They should make sure thai they are presenting their very best.
A minimum of three people read every application—and sometimes it's many more than that. It's interesting: if we have a particularly difficult or interesting application and I'm not familiar with the industry, what they're talking about, or their orientation, I will ask a variety of people to read it. 1 can think of one case when we had an applicant from Turkey; I'm not that familiar with the Turkish culture and the opportunities there in the business sphere. So I was asking in all of these people—faculty and current students who had been there [to Turkey]—and that application had many reviews before a final decision was made.
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