How to get into NYU Stern’s full-time MBA program

BY Sydney LakeNovember 23, 2021, 2:53 PM
Students walk out of Stern School of Business at New York University, as seen in 2019. (Photo by Li Rui—Xinhua/Getty Images)

A degree from one of the most revered universities is proven to pay up. Even during a pandemic, nearly 92% of New York University Stern School of Business 2020 MBA graduates received job offers within three months of graduation. They earned a median base salary of $150,000 with a $30,000 signing bonus—and some even raked in more than $200,000 right out of the gate.

Separating you from all of those job offers and a salary bump? Getting accepted to NYU Stern, which Fortune ranks as the No. 7 MBA program in the country. But it’s very competitive; only 19% of applicants are admitted.

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In many ways, the nation’s top business schools are all competing for the same “type” of students who are both book and street smart. But NYU Stern values candidates with a strong EQ, or emotional intelligence. The school’s application allows candidates to, quite literally, color outside the lines to illustrate their entire personality.

“It’s not a paint by number,” Joy Pincus, an NYU alum and senior consultant at Aringo, an MBA admissions consultancy, tells Fortune of the Stern MBA application process. “You cannot find the magic formula and follow it, especially at NYU. They’re asking you to be unique and to show yourself.”

By the numbers, the average incoming MBA student at NYU Stern in 2021 had a 729 GMAT score, a 3.59 undergraduate GPA, and five years of work experience. Nearly one-quarter of admitted students came from financial services careers, and a combined 18% of the class came from consulting and technology backgrounds.

Of the nearly 4,000 applications submitted, only 360 students enrolled. So how can you shore up your NYU Stern MBA application? 

NYU Stern encourages creativity

The NYU Stern application includes traditional elements such as essay questions, an interview, and letters of recommendation. But when you take a closer look, you’ll see that the school prefers a well-rounded individual over just a numbers person.

“Not only do we want students in the classroom who are able to handle the academic rigor of the program for the IQ piece, but also folks who have the skills that we’re hearing time and time again from recruiters on the career side that they need in their companies and organizations,” says Lisa Rios, NYU Stern’s assistant dean of MBA admissions.

These skills include empathy, listening, and understanding others’ needs, Rios tells Fortune. Candidates can show strong EQ through the school’s essay questions. Stern first asks about a candidate’s career goals, which is a pretty common MBA application question.

The real creativity, however, comes in during the remaining two essay questions.

NYU Stern poses this question to potential MBA students: “In today’s global business environment, the only constant is change. Using NYU Stern’s brand call to action, we want to know how you view change,” the essay question reads.

“Change: _____ it. Fill in the blank with a word of your choice. Why does this word resonate with you? How will you embrace your own personal tagline while at Stern?”

This essay gives candidates an opportunity to share what their personal call to action is, Rios tells Fortune.

Then, applicants have even more freedom to showcase their personality through the “pick six” assignment. Here, prospective students are asked to select six images and write corresponding captions that “help illustrate who you are.” The idea is to describe yourself to both the admissions committee and future classmates.

“It’s an invitation to a person to show [admissions] who you are in a fun, creative way,” Pincus says.

Showcase your EQ

Unique to NYU Stern is its EQ endorsements, which most closely resemble a traditional recommendation letter. Applicants must submit two of these endorsements with an application. One must come from a current supervisor, but the other can come from someone who knows you personally or professionally. 

Endorsers are asked three questions to specifically target the applicant’s EQ:

  1. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles?
  2. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. 
  3. Emotional intelligence (EQ) skills such as self-awareness, empathy, communication and self-management are at the core of our community of leaders. Please provide one specific and compelling example to demonstrate the applicant’s emotional intelligence.

These questions allow admissions to ask a third party about the candidate’s interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, Rios tells Fortune. “This is a great way for us to hear from somebody that the candidate respects how they value the way they interact with others and engage with others,” she adds. 

The interview also allows candidates to showcase their EQ. Interviews are non-blind, meaning that admissions officials have thoroughly reviewed a candidate’s application ahead of the conversion. 

“We see the interview as a chance to be able to root for the candidate and get information we need to make a strong case for admissions,” Rios says.

In addition to knowing your resume and essays by heart, Rios suggests preparing just like you would for a job interview.

Pincus also suggests thinking about these questions ahead of the interview: “What’s important to me? What do I want? What are my goals and why do I want this school?”

Be specific about why you want to go to Stern

With close proximity to other top MBA programs including Columbia University (which Fortune ranks as having the No. 6 full-time MBA program) and Cornell Tech, NYU Stern wants applicants to be specific about their desire to attend the program, Pincus says. She suggests that candidates do thorough research about the program’s offerings and think about how they align with their short-term and long-term career goals.

Fit is important to NYU Stern because the school expects students to be engaged members of the community, Rios says. Even so, there’s no perfect mix of winning personality traits or past experiences that can guarantee admission.

“The candidate needs to try and show why it’s an environment that they’re going to thrive in,” she says. “It’s super, super important to show your fit for the school, the school fit for you. Show why you specifically want to go to NYU Stern.”

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.