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  • Malvika Patil

NYU Stern's Pick Six visual essay

Updated: Feb 9

In 2023, three of our clients received full-ride scholarships to NYU Stern’s MBA program. Each of them completed the NYU Stern Pick 6 visual essay with our help. It’s one of the most creative prompts of all MBA application questions. 

The Question

Personal Expression (a.k.a. “Pick Six”)

Describe yourself to the Admissions Committee and to your future classmates using six images and corresponding captions. Your uploaded PDF should contain all of the following elements:

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

  • 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.

Note: Your visuals may include photos, infographics, drawings, or any other images that best describe you. Your document must be uploaded as a single PDF. The essay cannot be sent in physical form or be linked to a website.

Who is NYU Stern Looking For?

“Stern is a diverse community of exceptional individuals - students who harness their interpersonal and intellectual strengths to master change and spark transformation.”

Stern aspires to build a diverse MBA cohort that demonstrates both IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient). They want to nurture well-rounded leaders who care about their community, personal development, and interpersonal relationships just as much as their career. So, as you draft your pick six essay, make sure that each one of your pictures sheds light on a different aspect of your personality. 

Many applicants don’t know where to start when it comes to the Pick 6. But we’ve got you covered; here’s how to write a winning Pick 6 essay:

Which Pictures Should I Pick?

In this essay, you’re asked to show who you are through six pictures from different times in your life. The ideas behind the images you choose should be to illustrate your interests, values, motivations, perspective and/or personality. Look through images from work, trips, experiences, personal life, etc. that represent an aspect of your personality, working style, and life experiences. Ideally, we recommend our clients to use a mix of images from both their personal and professional lives. 

That means, pictures that you took or you’re in. Do not upload photos you found on the internet or stock photos. Drawings, diagrams and screenshots of websites are also fine, but we suggest limiting these to 1-2 from your Pick Six.

Once you’ve got your images in place, organize them by themes. This is because each picture should demonstrate a different aspect of your life, and this way you’ll avoid repeating two images that show the same activity/trait. At SWC, we create the application narrative first, and afterwards choose images that strengthen your core narrative. For example, if you’ve written about volunteering work in your other essays, you should include a picture of that work! Perhaps start with a shortlist of top 10 images and narrow it down later.


Some of the most common picture themes are:

  1. Volunteering experience: Think about the time when you added value to a community or cause. For example, volunteering to build animal shelters, teaching in an underdeveloped country, organizing a successful crowdfunding event, providing football coaching, etc. are great examples of nurturing the community around you. 

  2. Extracurricular activities: Your extracurricular engagements showcase your passions and interests. This could mean anything from playing saxophone in a band, swimming in open waters, building ceramic pots, or growing vegetables in your backyard. Use your creativity and add in pictures that speak volumes about your personality outside of work.

  3. Your proudest moment: Candidates often like to add an image that highlights their proudest moment. For example, this could be setting a world record, successfully completing a project, funding your sibling’s tuition, supporting a local entrepreneur, or buying a house for your parents. 

  4. Your most prized possession: Another good theme to pick is a prized possession that has a meaningful story behind it. Your most prized possession could be your dog’s urn, your grandfather’s watch, a family heirloom, or a Birkin bag. But only add it in if it represents an important memory, value, or goal. Consider how this image will help your future classmates understand who you are.  

  5. Entrepreneurial journey: If you are (or have been) an entrepreneur, this could be the space to include an image from your journey. For example, a picture of your prototype, screenshot of a news article, or an award you received. 

  6. Toughest moment: Vulnerability demonstrates maturity. An image from a tough moment or period of your life helps the AdCom understand what you’ve overcome to be here. Explain how you rose to the challenge and what you learned from it in your caption. 

  7. Celebratory snapshot: Whether it’s a picture of you celebrating a win with your family or having beers post a successful project with your colleagues/close friends, an image that portrays a celebration is a good choice for this essay. 

  8. A chapter from your life: Consider adding an image from a major chapter of your life. This could be time spent in the army, growing up in a different country or studying abroad, or time spent as a caregiver for a family member. These are defining experiences that can provide a lot of insight into your background, motivations, and professional purpose. 

  9. Breaking out of your comfort zone: Leaders who are willing to drive change aren’t afraid of getting uncomfortable and stepping into the unknown. So, if you stepped out of your comfort zone to pursue or achieve something, it could be a valuable addition to this essay. You could have tried new foods or experiences, challenged yourself to participate in a triathlon, climbed a mountain, or taken a professional risk.

  10. Travel or vacation: This isn’t about how many countries you’ve covered on your Scratch Off World Map; think about the lessons you’ve learned, enriching experiences you’ve had, and cultural exposure you’re had in your travels. This shows that you’re not just well-traveled, but also open to learning, comfortable being in unfamiliar environments, and that you appreciate people from diverse backgrounds - something that’s highly valued in the MBA classroom.

Once you’ve identified the pictures and their themes, choose six that best represent who you are. We recommend that you choose a good mix of images that demonstrate different aspects of your personality.

Don’t be afraid of infusing creativity in this visual essay. We’ve worked with applicants who have submitted unconventional, creative essays, like Jasmin, who used tarot cards in her Pick 6 - a unique approach that helped her bag a Stern admit with a sizable scholarship!

Which Pictures Should I NOT Pick?

Applicants generally have no problem finding pictures from their personal life, such as on vacation. That’s completely understandable; most people have more pictures from vacations, these are happy memories, and you probably look better in these pictures!

But this is an MBA application, not a Tinder profile! Your goal is to convey your interests and passions, not to appear physically attractive.

Also, try to avoid pictures that you’re not in, such as pictures of other people or landscapes. Frankly, these are boring for the reader and they’ll be wondering whether you simply found them on Google.

Writing Captions

Now, it’s time to write a caption for each picture. Given the one sentence word limit, this is often one of the more complex parts of drafting this essay. As admissions consultants, we understand that it can be incredibly challenging to fit the context and meaning of an image in a single line. As a result, many applicants try to use clever punctuation to squeeze 2-3 sentences into a single caption. But the school recommends that you aim for a succinct, short caption. And if your photos are good, it shouldn’t be necessary to write so much! Try to remove irrelevant details from the caption and keep each caption down to approximately 2 lines (or 35 words) maximum.

A clever caption talks about the significance of a picture for YOU. For example, if your image is about you hiking in the alps, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the Alps or the Himalayas. A strong caption describes how you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone to try a new hike in negative degree weather, and the feeling of accomplishment that came from this.

Writing an Introduction

Now you’ll write the 3-sentence introduction that summarizes your images. Most people write this last, after their Pick 6 essay has broadly taken shape. 

Usually, the best way to do this is by identifying the common patterns or themes in your essay and writing an introduction that corresponds to these ideas. For example, if your essay focuses on your core values, this could be the message you write about in your introduction. 

Finally, review your essay with your consultant! Ensure that your essay is visually dynamic and adds color to the stories you discuss in the rest of your MBA application.

Bonus: Check out our advice on how to write the NYU Stern Change: It essay.

Are you applying to NYU Stern’s MBA program this year? You should check out, where our NYU Stern course includes 6 example images and captions, based on the applications of three clients in 2023 who received full-ride scholarships from NYU Stern. Click below to join!


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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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