Opinion: Bring back the ‘Why NYU?’ essay

It makes sense that NYU has decided to go test-optional. Essay-optional, however, is a whole different story.


File photo: Fall 2022 Welcome Week.(Courtesy of Kevin Wu)

Naisha Roy, Deputy Opinion Editor

Just about all of us remember sitting down at the computer, staring at the “Why NYU?” supplemental essay on the Common Application, and asking ourselves that very question: Why? Why did we want to go to NYU? What about its programs appealed to us? Were we really ready for college in the city? By taking the time to fill out that prompt, many of us learned more about NYU, solidifying our commitment to attend if we were to be accepted.

But not everyone in the incoming class of 2027 will have this memory. For the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, NYU removed its iconic “Why NYU?” essay, replacing it with an optional, diversity-related prompt. Now, after seeing this year’s drastic drop in acceptance rate, I just have one question: Why, NYU? The university should bring back its previous supplemental question, and require it for admission cycles in the future. 

The “Why NYU?” essay prompt asked students to describe what parts of the university’s programs, campus or community drew them to apply, and required a 400-word response. The new prompt is shorter, optional, and focused on something completely different.

“NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education,” the new question reads. “We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community.”

The university said that it chose to remove the original essay prompt due to the types of responses it was typically garnering.

“The responses to the essay were uneven, at best, and reflected favor to certain groups in the applicant pool at worst,” said Jonathan Williams, associate vice president of undergraduate admissions. “We determined that it would be a good step toward improving equity in our holistic review process to remove this particular question from the evaluative process.”

There’s nothing wrong with an equity-focused prompt. In fact, one of my favorite parts about NYU is its emphasis on maintaining a variety of perspectives in its student body — a factor I probably mentioned in my “Why NYU?” essay. The issue is that there are plenty of places in the Common Application where students can showcase their diverse perspectives on the world without stating them directly. Demographics, the required personal essay and extracurricular activities are all places that admissions officers can look to find the ways in which a student brings diversity.

There is no other space on the application, however, where students can explain why they are interested in a particular program at NYU, or why it is their dream school. The “why this college” essay is the only place where students can demonstrate how a college might serve them, instead of merely marketing themselves to the institution.

The prompt also requires students to actually research the college they’re applying to instead of getting swept away by the university’s perceived prestige. This is especially important for a college like NYU, which has a very unique campus, and programs that can be obscured by a starry-eyed dream of what life is like in the heart of New York City.

The acceptance rate for NYU’s class of 2027 was 8% because of the number of applications the university received, which increased by almost three times as much between the classes of 2026 and 2027 as it did between the previous admission pools of 2025 and 2026.

“Just as there are multiple factors that we consider when admitting a student, many things affect the increases we continue to see in our applicant pool,” Williams said. “We are extremely fortunate to be a dream school for so many students. We can never take that for granted.”

However, the “Why NYU?” essay is one of those tools that distinguishes between students who may have applied to NYU as a last minute bid, and those who dream of going here. NYU should construct an application that discourages students from randomly casting a wide net of possible universities, and instead keep it specific to the school.

NYU doesn’t have to remove the diversity-focused prompt; it could still maintain the “Why NYU?” essay and make the equity prompt a shorter, optional supplemental essay. The University of Chicago uses this strategy. Its supplements are known to be incredibly abstract and creative, including questions like, “What advice would a wisdom tooth have?” However, these questions are also grounded by a required “Why UChicago?” prompt. This combination lets students show their unique perspectives and imaginative styles while still holding them accountable for the fact that they are applying to a distinct university with specific programs.

The admissions process is already stressful and nebulous. It can feel like you’re struggling to sell yourself to a daunting institution, and so many aspects of your application are already set in stone. However, supplemental essays are the one place where students can focus on their future and control the narrative of their application. NYU should bring back its “Why NYU?” essay — if only to give students that control back.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Naisha Roy at [email protected].