How To Sing & Run Your Way Into Stern

Spencer Case literally sang his way into New York University’s Stern School of Business. After finishing his first year in Stern’s MBA program, the Princeton University English major is now doing a summer internship at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Becky Bridges literally ran in her blue Nike running shoes right into Stern–down New York City streets and along the East Side River. Michael Johnson pretty much talked his way into the school’s MBA program–noting that he could order beer in three different languages.

All three took Stern up on its personal expression “essay” in which prospective students can use almost any method possible, from illustrations to videos, to describe themselves to their MBA classmates. At a time when business schools are slashing required essays and word counts, it’s one of the most creative ways a person can use to pull him or herself out of the applicant pile.


There are limitations to it. Video or audio files, for example, can be no longer than five minutes (though Spencer Case’s piano-playing, Broadway-styled video filmed from his sparsely decorated bedroom went 13 seconds long). If a candidate turns in a written submission of their Stern personal expression essay, it has to be limited to 500 words. Some candidates send in three-dimensional items, such as cereal boxes spoofed up to represent them, board games, cookbooks, photo albums, collages, and paintings. One candidate did a Monopoly board of himself. But the most captivating examples of these personal expression essays tend to be video productions.

The Stern personal expression essay was established 11 years ago, though it began accepting video submissions only a few years ago. “It was put in place originally to get greater insight into who people are,” says Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid at Stern. “It gives people a blank slate to communicate who they are and what makes them unique. There are a lot of people who enjoy that. It gives them a chance to be creative so it tends to be a well-received essay.”

What’s even more unusual, however, is that the school has been giving would-be applicants a sneak peek of some of the best of the video submissions–or at least those that helped to get candidates get into Stern’s MBA program. They represent a rare glimpse into at least a small part of the often secretive admissions process of a highly selective MBA program.


As Gallogly explains, “A few years ago we went through some of the videos that were submitted by students who enrolled and we found a few that represented a good range of what we typically receive. So we began sharing them. Many of students felt honored by it. We put up a few over the last couple of years and we continue to do so. A lot of people watch them and find them helpful. In this day and age of the incredible shrinking essay, this is one that allows you to communicate a lot about yourself in a small space. The Stern personal expression essay is a great way for people to show their uniqueness.”

Stern doesn’t keep track of how many applicants are using video to apply to the school. But Gallogly says the use of video is definitely on the rise. “There is a significant number of them and they are on the rise,” he says. “It’s pretty easy these days for people to make videos. We have always gotten questions about it and the production values we expect. But everyone isn’t going on to become an entertainment person so it really doesn’t matter if the production values are lower.”


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