Pinpoint Your Specific Interest
There are many generic answers to this question. “I love New York City” and “NYU is such a good school” fall into this category. We highly recommend staying away from these stale answers, but if you do reference them, make sure they reflect on your personal interests.
For example, if your desire to live in NYC is predicated on its prominence in the fashion world, tell the admissions officer that. However, saying you “want to hang out in Times Square” with no other explanation isn’t good; after all, you could just vacation in New York City sometime! By addressing this correctly, not only will you be communicating how NYU is a great fit for you, but you’ll also be showing off one of your interests.
Keep in mind that a majority of essays will reference NYC in a significant way, so it might be advantageous to take a different approach to this question. NYU is famous for its study-abroad program; over 3,000 undergraduates take advantage of this opportunity every year!
By studying abroad in places like Abu Dhabi or Shanghai, you could have a truly cosmopolitan experience as an undergraduate at NYU. You could write about how you would hope NYC is only one part of the broader cultural experience you hope to have, giving your application an interesting twist that most other applicants might not be focusing on.
By pinpointing your interest in NYU, whether it is broad or very specific, you will be able to establish the foundation of your response.
Here’s an example of a common prompt: ”A personal statement of 1,000 words or less from the nominee describing his or her background, interests, plans for graduate study and career aspirations. The statement should include a discussion of some experiences and ideas that have shaped those interests, plans and aspirations.”
As Mary Tolar has noted, “If you are applying for nationally competitive scholarships, for graduate school, or for a number of post-graduate service or employment opportunities, you have seen the vaguely phrased request; in one form or another, it comes down to “tell us something about yourself… You are asked to share your “academic and other interests. A clearer charge might be: compose an essay that reveals who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do in this life. Tell this story in a compelling manner, and do so in less than a thousand words. What’s so hard about that? Simply make sense of your life. (right.) But what does that mean?”
The personal statement is more like a genre than a rubric; there are set of constraints, but no formulas. This means that we need to triangulate our understanding of what it will be with more than one piece of advice rather than a single definition.
For that reason, I recommend you begin by printing out Mary Tolar’s advice. Highlight the phrases that strike you as helpful. Chances are, these are the phrases that surprise you or confirm what was a hunch. Noticing what stands out will help reveal assumptions you may not have even known you had. (This is a stage in the process that should not be overlooked in your rush to master the personal statement. The more you notice what you are learning, the easier the process will become.)