These College Application Essays Got Us Into NYU
ByMary-Catherine Rowe Harvey
The early decision deadline for many colleges (NYU included) passed over Halloweekend. I don’t doubt that many stressed college hopefuls’ weekends were ruined. My younger sister became a victim to such an occurrence and sent me her essay to proofread. Reading her essay inspired me to dig out my own application from what feels like a lifetime ago. I haven’t been able to fathom the strength to reread what I wrote since then. There is something so intensely embarrassing about college essays. The prompts are vague, so applicants tend to transform awkward anecdotes into 500 words of clunky metaphors and overly-wrought emotions. They’re humiliating windows into our souls — essentially the written equivalent of the dream of showing up naked we all had in high school.
I’ve compiled a few of our fellow NYU students’ recollections of their own essay topics — including some from members of NYU Local’s own staff — for your enjoyment. They range from the awesomely awful to downright cringeworthy. (One person refused to share his essay topic, saying, “I would rather not give you more ammunition to mock me with.”)
“I wrote about how I hate being patronized and how it had implications in society as a whole. And how adults were dumb.”
“It was a thinly-veiled metaphor in which I described watching my baby sister climb a rock wall for the first time. I talked about her bravery in fighting toward the unknown, and how I aspired to be like her: strong, goal-oriented, taking risks while the rest of my peers were content to watch from the safety of the ground. After getting accepted to NYU, I immediately lost the essay, partially to prevent her from finding it and reading about how goddamn special she is to me.” — Kelly Weill, Editor-in-Chief
“The relationship between beauty and cheese pizza.” — Cassidy George, Gallatin sophomore
“I wrote about this Cafe in Mumbai (Cafe Madras) that’s so crowded and popular, you sit where they tell you and rarely if ever get to sit with everybody you came with. I talked about how it brings people from all walks of life together, from businessman to laborer. Everyone’s there to eat their amazing South Indian food and that unites everyone who is divided by socioeconomic borders. Oh, and it makes great coffee. I’m not sure where I was trying to go with that…” — Freia Lobo, National
“I wrote about liking Banksy…I recant everything I said in that essay.” — Kyla Bills, Entertainment
“I wrote my Common App my essay on how I got mugged walking to a PSAT prep class in my hometown. Basically I just described the walk, the (brief) fight, and then what the whole thing did to my feelings about music, because I had my earbuds in the entire time as this kid tackled me. So basically I got jumped to a soundtrack. I even remember the specific song that was playing: “I’m Good” by Lil Wayne (Definitely not oblivious to that irony). Anyway, I may have had my face bloodied and arm broken and the kid may have gotten my beat-up iPod Nano, but I got into NYU, so who is the real winner here?” — Peter Slattery, Entertainment
“World Cup 2010: USA vs. England and the importance of not being indifferent.” — Andrew Harvey, Gallatin senior
“I wrote about how I was considering a career in fashion, but didn’t want to be a snobby fashion stereotype like the rest of the girls at NYU. Insulting a school’s student body — an excellent way to win the admissions officers’ hearts!” — Hannah Orenstein, Entertainment Editor
“I wrote about an ex-boyfriend. Yeah. I’m surprised I got in, too.” — Christina Li, Photo Editor
In fairness, my own application concluded with, “I know now I have to authenticate my thoughts and that will inevitably authenticate me as a person.” It pains me to think I thought these words should be strung together in a sentence. The fact that someone read that and was like, “Yes, you should definitely come to this exclusive institution” is shocking to me. I like to think that there is an annual competition between the college’s admission reps as to whose essay was the most cringeworthy read and that applicant (no matter the eligibility) is given a spot at NYU. That might explain how some of us ended up here…
The Early Decision I Deadline has passed and Early Decision II and Regular Decision are quickly approaching.
One question that I always got at my high school visits from students was some variation of “How do I show I’m interested in NYU?” or “What do you look for in my essays and application?”
And like I’ve told all my Texan students, I’m telling the NYU blogosphere this:
We’re looking for personal and academic fit. NYU is an incredibly diverse/huge/worldly/intimate/unique/complex place, and we don’t expect you to know every single thing about it! Even we admissions counselors (and some of us, alums!) don’t pretend to be all-knowing wizards of the university. When we review your applications, we’re looking not only for academically-prepared students, but those who will take advantage of the plethora of opportunities NYU provides.
You’ve seen our brochures and materials and subscribed to the mailing list. You’ve looked through our list of majors and campuses and found the right curriculum for your future career. You’ve followed us on all the social media platforms. You’ve probably taken selfies with us while we were in your city. You may have even visited campus and seen an actual residence hall room!
What have you learned from this research, about the university and about yourself? Why do you see yourself thriving and excelling here–at NYU–rather than at any other institution? What is it about NYU’s _____ that makes it THE university you want to graduate from?
In short, “Why NYU?”
It’s a simple-yet-intricate question, and we hope for simple-yet-intricate answers in your essays. It should be a well-struck balance of discussing your goals and NYU’s resources that will help you achieve them. Show us your personality, and then tell us how it fits at and within NYU. Tell us what you want to study, and explain why NYU’s program is the best for you to do so. Don’t know what you want to major in? Then elaborate on why you want to explore your academic options here.
As an NYU alum and member of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, I love reading this portion of students’ applications and save it for the last part of my review. Because we don’t offer interviews for our admissions process, the essay is a window into your life and who you are. I enjoy reading the essays and trying to imagine if this applicant would be the sort of person my student-self would meet in class, in my residence halls, at campus activities.
Remember there’s no specific formula to writing your “Why NYU?” essay. We want to get to know you and envision how you’d add to the NYU community, so it’s up to you how you want to portray that in your writing. I advise you to, before you hit submit, to reflect on your essay and ask yourself, “Does this demonstrate my fit for NYU?”
And before I go, here are a few quick tips:
DO show me you’ve researched NYU.
DON’T feel you need to quote Taylor Swift/Frank Sinatra/E.B. White/insert-famous-NYC-artist-here. Fill your word limit with your own words!
DO be specific about your interest in NYU, but…
DON’T be TOO specific (you really don’t need to tell us how excited you are to take UB-45972, Section 6 at 11:00am on Mondays with Professor Slughorn at KMEC, room 436…).
And DO please, please, please: keep it under 400 words. No exceptions.
Good luck with the final touches on your applications!