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How to Nail the NYU "Pick Six" MBA Application Essay

The NYU Personal Expression or "Pick 6" MBA essay is unique as it asks applicants to explain themselves in only 6 images. Here are tips to help you choose the right photos and submit the best application possible.

February 3, 2023

NYU is an acclaimed university known for a variety of different undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Stern School of Business at NYU was founded in 1900 and is consistently ranked as one of the top 15 business schools in the country. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of and tips for one part of the application commonly referred to as the "Pick Six" essay.

Here is a quick overview of NYU Stern’s profile for the class of 2024.

  • Applicants: 3,553
  • Class Size: 324
  • Admission Rate: 27%
  • Female: 45%
  • Minorities: 47%
  • International: 44%
  • US Military: 11%
  • LGBTQ+: 9%
  • Avg. Years of Work Experience: 5
  • Average GMAT: 733
  • Average GRE: 163 (Quant), 162 (Verbal)
  • Average GPA: 3.62

Personal Expression (“Pick Six”) Essay Overview

One of the two essays Stern requires is known as the “Pick Six” essay. Instead of a traditional written response, students are asked to send in a PDF with six images, graphs, visualizations, artworks, etc. that they believe "help illustrate who they are." Many find this essay more difficult than others because of the non-traditional format. Though it can be daunting, think of it as a creative way to represent your candidacy that would otherwise be impossible.

The full prompt is as follows:

"Describe yourself to the Admissions Committee and to your future classmates using six images and corresponding captions. Your uploaded PDF should contain all of the following elements:

  • A brief introduction or overview of your "Pick Six" (no more than 3 sentences).
  • Six images that help illustrate who you are.
  • A one-sentence caption for each of the six images that helps explain why they were selected and are significant to you.

Note: Your visuals may include photos, infographics, drawings, or any other images that best describe you. Your document must be uploaded as a single PDF. The essay cannot be sent in physical form or be linked to a website."

“Pick Six” Essay Tips and Tricks

Let’s start with some general MBA essay tips. These are ubiquitous for all of your business school applications. For more essay help, read How to Write a Powerful MBA Essay and The Ultimate M7 MBA Essay Guide.

Don’t repeat information that can be found in other parts of the application: In almost every case, if there is a story told in another part of your application–whether that be a different essay, letter of recommendation, resume, etc.–don’t repeat it. You want to highlight as many facets of your candidacy as possible and repeating information will prevent you from doing so, and may also come off as repetitive.

Start early: Writing essays takes a lot more time than most people think it will. Give yourself at least three months, if possible, so that you can take the time necessary to brainstorm, draft, edit, revise, and get feedback. Once you’ve finished a version you’re happy with, read it out loud. Doing so will help you hear it as the admissions committee will.

Also, as we’ll talk about below, getting a second person’s advice is extremely valuable. Work with a Leland coach at any or all stages of putting together your essays in order to submit the best version possible. They can help you choose the right stories, pare down to the word count, edit the different drafts, and generally help you polish. Most of our coaches are alumni of top MBA programs and can also help you understand exactly what the schools are looking for.

Don’t portray a story that you think the admissions committee wants to hear: The first rule of MBA applications: be genuine. You are the only you out there and that is what makes your application unique. Be true to yourself, your values, and your story. There is a variety of ways to tell that narrative, with different areas of focus and examples, but whatever you choose should remain core to who you are as a person.

How to Approach the “Pick 6” Essay

Now, as with most creative assignments, there are many different ways that you could approach this essay. In this next section, we’ll provide some tips but keep in mind that there’s no wrong way to go about it. Here are several approaches to brainstorming you could take.

  • Make a list of the values and ideals that are most important to you.
  • Think about the most momentous points and decisions of your life up until this point and why you made those choices.
  • List your hobbies and think about why they are important to you.
  • Look through your camera roll and put the 20 most important ones to you in a folder; why did you choose those ones? What do they have in common? What is different?
  • Ask your family and friends to describe you in a few words; what words are repeated? Which resonates with you?
  • How would you characterize your past? How do you want to characterize your future?

Now, let's dive into some strategies for success.

1. Spend a lot of time on introspection

Summarizing your entire life in six images is not an easy task, nor should it be. Before you start getting even close to picking your finalists, spend time reflecting on the questions above. This is important not just for the Stern “Pick Six” essay, but for all MBA application essays. Business schools want to know who you are, who you’ve been, and who you think you will be. Take time to reflect on these things as well as on what’s important to you, what drives your life, and what inspires you.

2. Think about the kind of story you want to tell

Your six photos could tell many different kinds of stories. For example, they could provide a comprehensive image of your past, your future aspirations, a mix of both, or something else entirely. What story is the one that you most want to tell?

You can also think about this in terms of the rest of your application. If you mostly focus on your history in the other essays, then use the images to show your present or future. The short answer and first essay ask more about your career aspirations, so you may use the "Pick Six" to focus more on who you are personally, not professionally.

3. Tie in the characteristics of a “Sternie” when possible and applicable

Through the different essay descriptions and instructions, several themes become apparent. Stern wants applicants who are involved, in both the community and eventually in its program. It also places emphasis on individuality, which, as mentioned in the general tip above, means staying true to yourself. Choose the things that are uniquely and genuinely you.

Stern is also looking for people who want to improve the world around them. If there is a natural and genuine way for you to weave this into your images and their captions, do so.

4. Get a third-person perspective

Once you have the images and captions that you think you want to have, show them to a friend, mentor, parent, coach, or anyone else who knows you well. Do the images accurately portray who you are? Then, ask a coach or mentor who doesn’t know you as well. What kind of person do the images show? Are they the characteristics that you wanted to portray? Understanding how someone else sees the story shown in the images is important because it’s likely how the admissions committee members will see it.

5. Think outside the box

Within the limits of six pictures with six captions, you have some room for creativity. We've seen screenshots of important texts, graphs, momentous occasions and photos with the applicant in them, stock photos, food photos, and more. Some applicants choose to create a sort of collage with multiple, smaller images in the larger photo. All this is to say, it's okay to push the boundaries of what you think "six images" could be.

Where Can I Start?

Applying to business schools is no easy task. If you're applying to other top programs, you may find these articles helpful.

If you’d prefer personalized advice in a one-on-one setting, work with a Leland coach. With over 80+ MBA experts on the site, you’re sure to find someone who fits your background and goals. Browse them all here.

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