It’s My Stern: My Take On NYU Stern’s ‘Pick Six’ Essay

A food and travel-themed Pick Six Essay photo collage

NYU Stern’s “Pick Six,” or as I like to call it, Six Pix, was one of the most enjoyable and creative essay prompts I did during my MBA application journey. I felt like it was a great opportunity for the MBA Admissions team to get to know me beyond just my resume, EQ Endorsements, essays, and application. Those four parts essentially paint a picture of the things you’ve done in the past, but without too much depth. You could argue that the essays are a way to do that, but you are limited by a word count.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so with six pictures I could express 6,000. I’m a little embarrassed to share this, as I assumed no one other than the admissions team and my friends who gave me feedback would ever see my Pick Six again. From all of the coffee chats I do with potential applicants, I’ve find the most commonly-asked questions revolve around unraveling this essay, defining EQ, and incorporating them into their application and interviews.

I’m going to talk about my Pick Six and show you some pictures from it (I’ve left some out that feature other people for privacy purposes) and the thought process that went behind it. Please take all of this with a grain of salt. Just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. Also, don’t force a narrative that doesn’t exist; it’s much better to be authentic and genuine than try to adapt your essays to what you think the admissions officers or program is looking for.

So without further ado, here are the essay prompts and how I tackled them:

“A brief introduction or overview of your “Pick Six” (no more than 3 sentences)”

I do not have any artistic talent whatsoever. I just used a basic template. Although a missed opportunity to use NYU’s Violet, I figured that might be forcing it too much. Instead, I focused on making it clean and following the instructions.

“Six images that help illustrate who you are. A one-sentence caption for each of the six images that helps explain why they were selected and are significant to you.”


A couple of key notes. The first is the restriction to having just one sentence. If you recall all of your grammar rules from studying for the GMAT — specifically sentence correction and the use of punctuation — I leveraged every rule to help me stretch these sentences to tell a story. I think that shows a little bit of creativity on my part. However, if you can tell the story using just one short sentence, then I think that’s creative as well!

In my resume, there’s a bullet point at the bottom in the additional info section that said “world traveler.” There’s so much more story to it than just those two words. I chose the picture above because I know how diverse and international NYC and NYU are. I would naturally fit right in. I love traveling, but who doesn’t? Having traveled to so many countries and doing it by myself has been one of the most illuminating and self-reflective experiences of my life. The person you’re spending the most time with in your life is yourself, so you better make sure that person is fun and interesting to be around. This picture ended up being a major topic of discussion during my interview.


 This was a photo of me and some friends while we were in military uniform after we had accomplished a major humanitarian mission. It was the beginning of my teamwork, leadership, and perseverance journey while serving in the United States Air Force. My resume was already heavy with military accomplishments, leadership achievements, and robust international teamwork. I felt that I only needed to include one photo from this major chapter of my life.


I can share this one as they are just stock photos. Plus, it’s hard to take photos of myself while dancing! I love dancing. I wanted to talk about this to demonstrate that I like to break out of my comfort zone, but I am also not a very traditional applicant. The looks of surprise I get when I’m in Latin America doing their social dances so well were highlights of my nights. At Stern, I hosted Salsa and Bachata nights and was able to introduce my classmates to these fun and amazing dancing styles.


 This one was a class photo of my students whom I taught in Honduras. Teaching was something I was very passionate about after separating from the military. I wanted to continue giving back to the world and try to make a difference. At the time, Honduras was one of the most dangerous countries in the world and they were in desperate need of teachers. I talked about why I went there and showcased making an impact on my students. I grew up very poor; my parents were immigrants from Vietnam. I know how important education is to get ahead in life and I wanted to try to give back. This has been a major theme in my life and I wanted to touch upon that.


NYU Stern’s brand call to action is built on the principles to dare, dream, drive, empower, and manifest change. I think this picture perfectly encompasses that. I took cooking classes in many of the countries I traveled to, which gave me a good understanding of the culture, history, and social aspects of the locale. These experiences also added to my own personal cookbook, where I was able to create fusions from what I learned. However, in many places, I was the only male in those classes. In this picture, I was the only male in a room with 40 women. People gave me questioning looks, but some of the best chefs in the world are men, so it’s a bit confusing why this stigma even exists. It was even worse when I tried to teach my students how to cook, which I believe is an important life skill. I wore that colorful apron with pride and didn’t care what people thought. I wanted to change this negative stereotype and it starts from de-stigmatizing it early on!


The final photo was essentially funny, goofy, and creative pictures I took with my students before summer break but in a different part of the world. I wanted to demonstrate my entertaining side. The MBA program is intense, especially during finals and recruiting. It’s important that I can let loose and enjoy my short time here. It has been completely true for the 1.5 years that I’ve been in this program thus far. It also showed that I can help others break out of their own shells and let loose as the country I was teaching in was very traditional and conservative.

Overall, I had a story to tell, and through these pictures I was able to add more depth and breadth about myself and demonstrate why Stern would be the right fit for me. It was a pleasant project as I was able to finally share different aspects of my life outside of just my resume, GPA, and test scores. We all have a story to tell. Make sure you tell yours!

Bio: Phan Hoang, a first-generation Bostonian, is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, he was an enlisted in the United States Air Force serving in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions worldwide. He has also taught internationally in countries such as Honduras and China. He worked in Product Management during the summer.


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