If you're applying to New York University, you'll need to submit both the regular Common App materials as well as the NYU supplement, which includes a short essay. At its heart, the NYU essay prompt asks you to answer a single straightforward question: why do you want to go to NYU?
In this article, we'll fully analyze the "Why NYU?" essay prompt and what successful essays need to accomplish. We'll also go over potential topics to write about and look at the essay that got me into NYU's College of Arts and Science.
First, however, we'll begin with a quick discussion of why schools ask students to write "why this school?" essays
feature image credit: Sagie/Flickr
What's the Point of "Why This School" Essays?
While the Common App essay gives students a chance to showcase something of who they are that might not be evident elsewhere in their application, the "why [school]?" essay allows students space to explicitly state why they are such a good match for the school.
Presumably, if you're applying to the school, your test scores, grades, course rigor and curriculum, extracurriculars, and volunteer experience all put you at least somewhat in line with other students at the school.
The "why this school?" essay is your opportunity to discuss not just why you could excel at the school, but why you are a good fit (and why you want to go there).
"Why this school" essays are also a useful way for schools to judge student interest in a school (which can indicate whether or not a student will attend if admitted). Based on students' "why this school?" essays, colleges can distinguish students who are specifically interested in attending that school from students who clearly applied just because of the school's location or ranking
Writing a strong "why [school]?" essay not only gives you another instance to showcase your writing and reasoning skills, but also tells the school that you care enough to invest time in researching what makes them special. It signifies that you have put in the time to realize whether or not you're a good fit. (And, it secondarily shows that having put in that time, you're more likely to attend if admitted than someone who just wrote some generic statements about why they want to attend college).
Colleges want you to show you've taken the time to think about why you want to apply. Tiffa Day/Flickr.
Why NYU Essay Prompt, Analyzed
Here's the complete NYU supplement essay prompt for 2020:
We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? 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 also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand - Why NYU? (400 word maximum)
Besides the standard "what motivated you to apply to [school]?" question that almost every "why this school" essay asks, the NYU prompt gives you one extra nudge for what to focus on in your essay.
Specifically, NYU wants you to talk about what's drawn you to "a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study?" (or, if you're drawn to more than one, why you're drawn to each campus/school/college/program/area of study).
Keep in mind that you should be discussing all of this in the context of NYU. Obviously, if you're interested in NYU because of one of their 10 undergraduate schools, then that's particular to NYU, but the same goes for their campus locations, programs, and areas of study.
For instance, if you're passionate about studying theater, you wouldn't just write that you want to attend NYU because you love theater and NYU has a theater program and is in New York, a city that has theater; that description could apply to half a dozen schools. Instead, you'd go into the details of what attracts you about specific classes and professors at Tisch, or other opportunities that are unique to NYU (ability to do certain kinds of projects, the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration, etc).
This prompt also hints at a few different directions you can go with your "Why NYU" essay:
Why have you expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses.
If you're already certain of what you want to study in college or have a "spike", you'll want to go the "particular" route in your essay. This means mentioning specific classes, professors, programs, or how you see NYU supporting your future career/academic plans.
On the other hand, perhaps you're not at all sure what you want to study in college (AKA me in high school). In that case, you'll shape your essay more around how you believe going to NYU will allow you to explore many different avenues to find your passion.
Finally, if you already know that you want to spend time abroad during college in a place where NYU has a campus, you can emphasize your interest in continuing to receive an NYU-level academic education while living in another country.
Abu Dhabi is one of several cities NYU has campuses in.
Potential "Why NYU?" Essay Topics
Earlier, we briefly touched upon some topics that you might write about in your essay, including specific courses/teachers/programs and study abroad opportunities.
We're now going to take those broad topic categories and go into a little more depth for how to write about them in your "Why NYU?" essay.
NYU has the following 10 undergraduate schools, colleges, and programs:
- College of Arts & Sciences
- Gallatin School of Individualized Study
- Liberal Studies
- Meyers College of Nursing
- School of Professional Studies
- Silver School of Social Work
- Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
- Stern School of Business
- Tandon School of Engineering
- Tisch School of the Arts
Because there are so many different undergraduate programs within NYU, it's a good idea to identify which program(s) you're applying to and why in your NYU supplement essay.
Since you'll need to decide on a program before applying to NYU anyway, you might as well use the time you spend reading about each college to figure out if there are any programs within particular colleges that call out to you.
For instance, if you're interested in the intersection of different fields (like psychology and computer science, or biology and philosophy/ethics) and are self-motivated to create your own program of study, you should talk about that in your application to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. If you've spent the last 12 years devoting all your extra time in and out of school to theatre and want to attend a conservatory with opportunities to go see live theatre, then write about that in your application to Tisch.
NYU is a world-renowned university for a reason, and it's not just because of its immense real estate holdings; it has a wide variety of courses and professors renowned in their fields. If one of the main reasons you're drawn to NYU is for its academics, then this is a good topic to get into in your supplemental essay.
Flip through the online course catalogs and read about professors in departments you're interested in. Are there any classes you really want to take (that seem particular to NYU)? Or any professors you absolutely have to study with?
You don't need to go so far as to read the professors' research or anything like that (unless you're super excited by it!), but doing even a little research into the courses and professors you'd be learning from and mentioning it in your "Why NYU?" essay will go a long way toward showing the admissions officers that you're serious enough about NYU to check out its specifics.
Extracurricular Opportunities and School Traditions
If there's an extracurricular at NYU that you've been particularly involved in during high school (or are excited to start getting involved in at college), you can write about it, as long as you're clear about why it's something unique to NYU.
In a similar vein, you can also try reading through some of the campus-wide events offered throughout the year and see if there's anything special about them that speaks to you.
NYU's annual Strawberry Festival boasts the longest strawberry shortcake in NYC.
NYU Essay: Topics to Avoid
The "Why NYU" essay prompt makes it pretty clear that you should focus your 400 words around a specific college/program/area of study.
What you absolutely should avoid is gushing about NYU's location (whether you're applying to the New York campus or not).
Back when I applied to NYU, the "why NYU?" essay prompt was even more blunt about not centering your essay around New York City:
"Many students decide to apply to NYU because of our New York City location. Apart from the New York City location, please tell us why you feel NYU will be a good match for you."
If New Yorkers have heard it all and seen it all before, NYU admissions officers have certainly read any and all paeans you could care to write to New York City.
It's fine to write about how being in New York gives you access to opportunities relevant to your course at NYU (e.g. you can get amazing internship opportunities for journalism and theatre there that you wouldn't be able to get anywhere else). However, you need to be clear to center your essay around the program at NYU, with the New York location (and its opportunities) being an added bonus.
Unless you have a unique take on why NYU's location is so important to you (e.g. your grandparents used to live in a building that was demolished to make way for Bobst law library and you were brought up on vengeance that has since turned to adoration), stay away from NYU's location in your explanation of why you want to go there.
New York City may be the fifth character in Sex and the City, but it shouldn't make a cameo in your "Why NYU?" essay.
Brainstorming for the Why NYU Essay
Before you start to narrow in on what angle you'll take in your "Why NYU?" essay, you should first examine your reasons for applying to NYU. By "examine," we don't just mean "list your reasons"—we mean you need to go a few levels deeper into each surface reason that occurs to you.
For example, this is the list of reasons I had for applying to NYU (roughly in order of importance):
- My test scores and grades/course rigor make it likely I'll get in
- NYU has lots of good schools and programs
- It's easy enough to get from NYU to my family, transportation-wise
On the face of it, none of these reasons are very compelling. If I'd just gone on to write my "Why NYU?" essay (or in those days, essays) with those three bullet points, I doubt I would have been accepted.
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Instead, I went deeper with each reason to see if there was anything there I could mine for the NYU supplement essay.
Surface Reason 1: My test scores and grades/course rigor make it likely I'll get in.
- One level deeper: I'm applying to NYU as a safety school, because I'm pretty sure I'll get in there, even if I don't get in anywhere else, and I'd want to go there if I got in.
- Should I write about this in my "why NYU" essay? Definitely not. No school wants to hear that it's a safety (even if it's a safety you would be fine with attending because it's still a good school).
Surface Reason 2: NYU has lots of good schools and programs.
- One level deeper: I'm extremely undecided about what I want to study—I know that I'm interested in English (Creative Writing), Math, Neuroscience, Chinese, and Music, but I might end up deciding to study something entirely different in college. It's important to me that I go somewhere that I'll have the opportunity to explore all of my interests (and develop more), which I can do at NYU.
- Should I write about this in my "Why NYU" essay? This reason is definitely promising, although I'll need to do more research into the particular programs and courses at NYU so I can namedrop (and in the process, double-check that I'm right about being able to study all these things there!).
Surface Reason 3: It's easy enough to get from NYU to my family, transportation-wise.
- One level deeper: My parents want there to be good transportation options for me visiting home (or them visiting me). NYU's location (New York City) definitely makes that possible (there's easy access to planes, trains, buses, rental cars, fixed-gear bikes…).
- Should I write about this in my "Why NYU" essay? Probably not. The prompt asks me about why I've expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study, not a geographic area. Plus, it's not like there aren't plenty of other New York schools. I maybe could throw in this reason if I'm running short on things to say, but as it is, it looks like my second reason is going to be the best bet for the "Why NYU?" essay.
Why NYU Essay Sample
Below, I've created a "Why NYU?" essay example that draws verbatim from what I used in my (successful) NYU application. (The essay requirements were slightly different then, with different word counts, so I had to expand a little upon what I originally wrote.)
I feel NYU would be a good match for me because of the number and kinds of programs it has. I am very interested in a variety of subjects, and NYU seems to encompass everything. In fact, I'm applying to the College of Arts and Sciences because I can’t specify my interests any more than that at this time. I have so many things that I want to learn that I can’t imagine limiting myself before I even enter college.
Take Chinese, for example. I'm learning Mandarin now (and have been for the last five years), but I would also like to learn Cantonese. There are not many other schools that offer Cantonese classes that can boast trips into Chinatown as part of the curriculum! Furthermore, I am excited by the possibility of studying abroad at NYU Shanghai. I'd not only be able to go to China for a semester for a year and immerse myself in the language and culture, but I'd be able to do so with the continuity of being on an NYU campus, even halfway across the world.
The music theory program in the College of Arts and Sciences also really interests me. I've picked up some theory here and there, but I haven't had all that much formal training. I'm also really intrigued by NYU's early music ensemble and the chance to explore different modes and tunings. At the other end of the spectrum, while I've written a few pieces on my own and taught myself a little bit about MIDI, I have not really had a chance to experiment very much with computer/electronic composition, and would really like to use those Steinhardt facilities that would be available to me at NYU to help remedy this.
Finally, I cannot stress enough how important reading and creative writing are to me. Because of how much the two feed into one another, I'm excited by NYU's Reading Series and the potential to be able to attend organized events for interacting with other writers outside the classroom.
The opportunity to expand my Chinese language abilities beyond Mandarin (and have the chance for practical application) is what first intrigued me; the chance to explore computer music and get my hands on NYU's facilities was the next breadcrumb; but the breadth and depth of the courses for writing lure me in even more, until I can resist no further.
This essay isn't necessarily the best piece of writing I've ever done. However, it still effectively conveys my desire to attend NYU because I mention a few key reasons I want to attend NYU:
- The variety of courses available. I began by stating that I'm undecided and part of what attracts me to NYU is the opportunity to get to do lots of different things. I then go on to discuss several different examples.
- Specific NYU opportunities. I looked up various courses, events, and opportunities offered by different departments and mentioned a couple of them specifically (the Reading Studies program for creative writing, Cantonese classes, studying abroad in China).
- While I did mention a New York City thing (going into Chinatown), it was linked with something that's relatively NYU-specific (the opportunity to study Cantonese as well as Mandarin).
Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr.
Tips for the Why NYU Essay
To wrap up, we've summarized our top four tips for writing the "Why NYU?" essay.
#1: Look over the descriptions of the different schools/programs. This will help you figure out both which one you want to apply to as well as what makes those schools interesting for you to apply to.
#2: Read through the course catalog and look up professors in departments you're interested in. As the NYU Admission blog states, you don't have to go overboard in stating exactly what course you want to take with what professor at what time, but you should demonstrate that you're aware of what kinds of things you will be able to do and learn while at NYU
#3: Look into whether there are any extracurricular activities or NYU traditions that particularly appeal to you--and explain why they matter specifically to you.
#4: Avoid writing odes to New York City. If there are particular opportunities you're interested in that are only available in New York (e.g. internships at the American Museum of Natural History, research into immigration history at Ellis Island) you can mention it, but don't lean too heavily on the location.
#5: Remember that while you should make it clear why you want to attend NYU with your essay, you don't need to agonize for hours over it. Ultimately, other parts of your application (including your test scores and grades/course rigor, letters of recommendation, and personal statement) are more important factors to your acceptance than your NYU supplement essay is. You just need to show that you've done at least a little research into NYU and why you want to apply there in particular.
And if along the way you find that you don't really have a super good reason that's getting you excited to apply to NYU? It might be worth reconsidering whether or not you should apply there.
Have a bunch more college-specific supplement essays to write? Be sure to check out our overview of the "why this college" essay.
Looking for application tips for other selective schools? Read our complete guides to the University of California system and to the Georgetown application.
Should you apply early or regular decision to college? Find out the pros and cons of early decision in this article. (And read up on the distinctions between early decision, early action, and the different kinds of each here.)
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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.