Perusing NYU supplemental essay examples will greatly help you with your own essay writing. There is nothing quite like being able to see how somebody else has composed their essays to help you with your own.
In this article, you will see sample prompts for NYU’s supplemental essay prompts, as well as a small tips section on formatting and requirements.
Essay Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Sometimes I feel like my country doesn’t belong to me, or even my life some times. I live in a suburb of New Jersey, and in my particular area, I’m one of the only Black kids around. All of my friends are white.
None of this is necessarily a problem – I love my friends dearly – but it doesn’t change the fact that I get a daily dose of, “Hey, you’re different!” just from walking out the front door. If that wasn’t enough of a punctuation point on the whole racial imbalance of my particular life, I get to do things like switch on the news, or read any headlines, so it seems, on any given day just to get an underline or two added to the way I am distinct from my peers.
I have sat with my friends at a comedy show and had the comic tell racially charged jokes. I can feel them look to me. “Is that funny?” say their darting, peripheral glances, and I know that I have a choice to make; I can laugh or not. If I laugh, it’s funny. If I don’t, they’ll be offended for me. Even if the joke just wasn’t funny – not offensive, just not worthy of a chuckle – they might get offended for me. I love my friends, and they clearly have my back, but man alive, is this wearying sometimes.
“Go back to where you came from!” the racists shout to me, and I think, “Jersey? Where I came from is a ten-minute bus ride.” Nonetheless, I persistently receive this abuse and wonder if it’s all worth it. Maybe I should explore my roots. My grandparents came over from Senegal. It’s not as if Senegal couldn’t use another bright, idealistic student to try and improve its quality of life. Senegal is still coughing from colonialism, the boot having only been removed from its neck since 1960.
That feels like giving up, though, so I’ll stay – just to show those racists who the real patriot is, I suppose.
As I look toward my future, I think about where I come from – as a person, not "Jersey."
I come from a place that feels like home until the world outside makes me feel like I don’t belong. But my family, my friends, my suburb feels welcoming. I want to take that and expand it. It sounds like a pipe dream. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put all this garbage of animosity and prejudice behind us? Well, why not?
My studies will be in political science for that very reason. I have ambitions beyond the mundane goal of achieving some kind of government position. I want to change the future. If you think about it, the future is going to change based on what we do, or what we don’t do, so we might as well try to shoot for the moon, right?
I feel like I have a great beginning place to tackle these subjects, too.
I started by talking about the general homogeneity of my neighborhood back home, but the fact of the matter is that I, and my family, are examples of a slight step into heterogeneity, and all as a part of integration, not alienation.
I started by talking about how my friends sometimes look to me and make me feel discomfort in my skin. Yet, they also make me feel welcome and accepted. Maybe there are a few things they do that aren’t 100% comfortable, but that’s okay. If the world were filled with people like them – who would make friends with anybody – what a world we would live in.
So that’s where I come from: a place of small changes and big acceptances. I am an African-American, but I am also from New Jersey. I am also an American. I am also a student, a friend, a son, and somebody with a future. I want to make that future as bright as I can, to reflect my bright, shiny roots.
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Essay Prompt #2: Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
There is an audible gasp of “Ahhhh…” as, almost in unison, three of my friends sigh in my living room. Each one pays me twenty dollars for the experience, and smiling, tell me that it’s worth it. Of course, I don’t normally make it a habit to charge my friends such exorbitant rates for coffee, but I had just won a bet: that I could brew the best cup of coffee they had ever tasted.
This feat of culinary engineering started with my obsession with coffee. My mother is Columbian, so we come from a proud, genetic heritage of coffee drinkers. I started drinking coffee young – when I was about twelve or so – although, at the time it was closer to a distillation of the sugar molecule because I also had a sweet tooth.
As I grew, I became fascinated with the brewing of coffee. I would admire all the little presses and grinders for sale in artisanal coffee houses and trendy shops, and my friends would make fun of me for standing around, staring at those devices while they were waiting at the door with their beverages already in hand. So interested was I in these strange piece of coffee paraphernalia that my parents bought me some coffee-making equipment for Christmas one year.
That was the start of my journey to brew the perfect cup of coffee. This journey bled over into my academic life, or vice-versa, as I was excelling in my chemistry class. I hijacked the lab equipment to start working on the exact right brewing process to take a handful of beans and turn them into the perfect cup.
Chemistry is the art of the sciences. It requires all the precision, research, and hypothesis-and-experimentation of the sciences, but there is a definite artistic side to the chemical process. How hot do you get that Bunsen burner? Do you use an Erlenmeyer flask or a beaker? What is the timing for each section of an experiment? I often felt like a witch with a cauldron, brewing up strange potions. I will say that I was encouraged by my science teacher, Derrek Janson, as he shared my interest in coffee.
As the months wore on, I conducted a series of experiments involving different blends of gourmet coffee beans, fine and coarse grinds, and different temperatures and brewing times. Mr. Janson and I even mixed up the different kinds of water we used. Hardness, softness, DI (de-ionized) water, and so forth – all for the science processes that went into our need for the ideal brew. I documented everything, and I won a ribbon at a science fair for my experiments.
After high school, I took a to travel a little bit, and I was staying with some fellow travelers in a small village in Italy. I mentioned that I was studying chemistry and thinking of becoming an entrepreneur. After all, who wouldn’t want to drink the best cup of coffee they’d ever had in their lives? My traveling friends scoffed and bet me twenty dollars – each – that I couldn’t deliver on that promise.
The only thing sweeter than the sixty bucks I won is my perfect coffee, which I still drink with a little sugar.
Essay Prompt #3: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Postmodernism seems to have taken over large swathes of public thought, as a big question mark, because that’s the point of postmodernism, isn’t it? It’s all about questioning everything, deconstructing, dissecting every idea, thought, and notion that society has had for the past 10,000 years. Of course, it always struck me as obvious that the rise of postmodernism throughout the twentieth century paralleled the advancement of quantum physics with all of its superpositions; this couldn’t be coincidence, could it? The real question is: can we ever really know anything at all?
In the 1950s, Jacques Derrida challenged structuralism with his theories. This is a scant twenty years or so after Heisenberg was drumming up his uncertainty principle. The arts and the sciences converged in the twentieth century to give us these twin modes of thought. Einstein revolutionized physics, pumping life into a discipline that had hit a plateau and cementing himself as one of the preeminent thinkers of all time. Indeed, his name remains synonymous with scientific thought and even intelligence itself. Who hasn’t seen a picture of Albert sticking his tongue out, inscribed with his famous E=MC2 idea? But even Einstein didn’t see where quantum mechanics was going.
In the lifespan of a generation, scientific thought began to suspect that the universe wasn’t as quantifiable as we had thought, hoped, or even counted on. It turns out that there are some particles that don’t behave like particles, and that the act of measuring things that are very, very tiny means that you change their nature – they are two things at once. Nothing works the way we want it to on a quantum level. Meanwhile, philosophers began to suspect what mathematicians were proving with tests like the double slit experiment: knowledge isn’t as concrete as we thought. These ideas were expressed in philosophical works like those of Derrida, but we also see them expressed in the art world of the twentieth century. Take Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, or Jackson Pollack. Who in Renaissance Italy could envision Pollack’s work? The art world was asking, “What is art, anyway?” And they hadn’t even met Warhol yet!
All of this leads to the uncomfortable thought that we all have: how do I know what I know? Eschatology is a fascinating field, and I believe it is necessary, given the amount of industrial-grade doubt we have produced over the past 100 years. How do we know what we know? Can we know anything at all?
You might be tempted to fall back on Descartes: cogito, ergo sum, and know that you exist by your own mind’s workings. That might be true, and you might know where you stand with Descartes, but as Heisenberg will point out, you won’t know how fast you’re going.
We question everything, but we do find answers. We find that quantum mechanics might feel strange and give us an uneasy connection to empirical data, but it still produces quantifiable data that can be used to build new technologies. There are even “quantum” computers, which suggests that there is a truth to all of this. With the world being as divisive as it is, taking aim at one another via social media, I believe that the pursuit of subjects like eschatology, philosophy, and quantum mechanics provides an alternate path.
Do I have answers to the question of, “is there truth?” No, not yet. But I am hopeful. I believe that the combination of disciplines – arts, sciences, philosophies – will grant us ever more reliable answers than before. I want to study in an interdisciplinary fashion for this reason, to explore quantum mechanics, philosophy, art, and the humanities to keep looking for the really, really big answers to the really, really big questions.
Most NYU supplemental essays are between 500 and 700 words. You don’t want to go too long, or you’ll risk becoming tedious; remember that the admissions committee will be reading more than 200,000+ essays from their recently reported 105,000 applicants. With those numbers, making your essay run for pages and pages just seems cruel.
As for the format itself, we encourage you to stick to a standard essay writing format:
- an opening paragraph that sets everything up, which should be headed by an attention-grabbing “hook” sentence;
- the body of the essay, containing two or three main points over a few paragraphs, during which you will explore your main ideas;
- finally, a concluding paragraph which wraps everything up.
You’re applying to an academic institution, so keep the tone on the formal side, avoiding slang and other types of suspect vernacular. The differences between a standard essay and your application essays is that the latter are written in the first person because you are telling your story. You can be freer with opinion – and you don’t need citations, of course!
The biggest requirement, and what you should focus on the most, is showing your best qualities to the admissions committee and making sure that you stand out. Consider these essays a way to “get to know you,” almost like a written interview before the in-person interview you hope to get.
If you follow these tips and construct your essay with patience, thoughtfulness, and skill, we are confident that you will get that interview.
Wondering how to navigate your applications?
Constructing a supplemental essay is a long process and can feel intimidating. We hope that reading these examples will make you feel a lot less intimidated and more confident about going forward with your application. If you need an extra boost, a can really help you refine what you have written. Remember to put in the work, go after what you want, and seek help where you need it.
1. How long should my NYU supplemental essays be?
NYU doesn’t post a limit on their website. From year to year, application requirements might vary. Pay attention to any instructions in your application package and make sure you stick to the limits that NYU sets. Never go above the limit, remember to include spaces in character count restrictions, and more than anything, remember that brevity is the soul of wit: a shorter essay – well-written – will be more effective than a rambling one.
2. How long should I take to write my essays?
Spend some regular, quality time with your essays over the course of 6-8 weeks. That might sound like a lot, but going from brainstorming your way through the blank pages to putting the final polish and spell-checked version into your application should take time. Remember that you’ll almost definitely need to do multiple drafts and re-writes – ideally receiving good, reliable feedback between those drafts.
3. Do I have to write in the first person?
There are no rules that say you do, which means you don’t have to. Still, remember that these essays will be (mostly) about you, so the first person is understood to be in play and will be the most convenient way to convey your story to the applications committee. Use the storytelling perspective that best suits your essay, of course, but don’t feel the need to try something different just because you can.
4. Can I use supplemental essays for NYU if I apply to other schools?
It’s your work, so yes.
Make sure that you answer the prompts, though. Whoever wrote them was meticulous about the wording; therefore, you need to answer the exact wording of the prompt. If your recycled essay answers a similar question but one that is nevertheless slightly different, you need to edit your essay to fit the new prompt. That might be a minor tweak or a complete overhaul. Make sure you scrub or exchange any NYU-specific lingo from essays you use for another school.
5. Are the essays graded?
Not formally, but you are being judged and evaluated based on your essays. That’s not to say that you’re being scored necessarily, just that what you write really matters.
Don’t worry about grades or points; worry about effort and results.
6. Do I have to write supplemental essays?
NYU has them, so if you want in to New York University, then yes, you’re looking at some supplemental essay writing.
7. Do prompts change from year to year?
They can, but they are often very similar from one year to the next. Institutions aren’t radically shifting the kind of students they want from year to year. So, there might be a bit of a change-up, but you will usually find very similar prompts.
8. Do I have to mention academics in my essays?
No. You should highlight yourself in ways that the admissions committee will appreciate enough to bring you in for an interview. Highlighting a skillset you have, qualities you have, or academics are great, but there is no one element in that list that is required to be included in your essay.