This is my stern: my take on NYU Stern’s “Pick Six” essay


A Pick Six Essay photo collage on the theme of food and travel

NYU Stern’s ‘Pick Six’, or as I like to call it, Six Pix, was one of the nicest and most creative writing suggestions I made during my MBA application journey. . I felt like this was a great opportunity for the MBA admissions team to get to know me beyond my resume, EQ mentions, essays, and application. These four parts basically paint a picture of things you’ve done in the past, but not too much depth. You could argue that essays are one way to do it, but you’re limited by the word count.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so with six pictures I could express 6000. I’m a little embarrassed to share this, as I was assuming that no one other than the admissions team and my friends over there. commented would never see my Pick Six again. Of all the coffee-table discussions I have with potential applicants, I have found that the most frequently asked questions revolve around discovering this essay, defining EQ and incorporating it into their application and their interviews.

I’m going to talk about my Pick Six and show you some pictures of it (I’ve left out some that feature other people for privacy purposes) and the thought process that went with 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 story that doesn’t exist; much better to be genuine and genuine than to try to tailor your essays to what you think admissions officers or the program are looking for.

So without further ado, here are the editorial prompts and how I approached them:

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

I have no artistic talent. I just used a basic template. While this was a missed opportunity to use NYU’s Violet, I thought it might strain it too much. Instead, I focused on making it clean and following the directions.

“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 important to you.


Some key notes. The first is the one-sentence restriction. If you can remember all of your grammar rules after studying for GMAT – especially sentence correction and the use of punctuation – I have used each rule to help me stretch those sentences to tell a story. I think it shows a bit of creativity on my part. However, if you can tell the story in one short sentence, then I think that’s also creative!

In my CV, there is a bullet at the bottom in the additional information section that says “world traveler”. There is so much more history than these two words. I chose the photo above because I know how diverse and international NYC and NYU are. I would naturally be in my place. I love to travel, but who doesn’t? Having traveled to so many countries and doing it on my own has been one of the most enlightening and thoughtful experiences of my life. The person you spend the most time with in your life is yourself, so you better make sure that person is fun and interesting to be around. This photo ended up being a major talking point during my interview.


It was a photo of me and a few friends while we were in military uniform after completing a major humanitarian mission. It was the start of my teamwork, leadership and perseverance while serving in the US Air Force. My resume was already loaded with military accomplishments, leadership accomplishments, and strong international teamwork. I felt I only needed to include one photo from this major chapter in my life.


I can share this one as these are only archive photos. In addition, it’s difficult to take a picture of myself while dancing! I like to dance. I wanted to talk about it to show that I like to step out of my comfort zone, but I’m not a very traditional candidate either. The looks of surprise I get when I’m in Latin America doing their social dances so well have been the highlights of my nights. At Stern, I hosted Salsa and Bachata parties and was able to introduce my classmates to these fun and amazing dance styles.


This was a class photo of my students I was teaching in Honduras. Teaching was something that fascinated me very much after I separated from the military. I wanted to keep 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 was in desperate need of teachers. I explained why I went and showed it making an impact on my students. I grew up very poor; my parents were immigrants from Vietnam. I know how important education is in moving forward in life and wanted to try to give back. This has been a major theme in my life and I wanted to talk about it.


The NYU Stern brand’s call to action is based on the principles of daring, dreaming, leading, empowering and manifesting change. I think this image captures that perfectly. I have taken cooking classes in many countries I have traveled to, which has given me a good understanding of the culture, history and social aspects of the region. 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 photo, I was the only man in a room with 40 women. People were giving me questioning looks, but some of the best chefs in the world are men, so it’s kind of 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 this colorful apron with pride and didn’t care what people thought. I wanted to change this negative stereotype and it starts by destigmatizing it very early on!


The final photo was basically fun, wacky, and creative photos I took with my students before summer break, but in a different part of the world. I wanted to show my entertaining side. The MBA program is intense, especially during finals and recruiting. It is important that I can let go and enjoy my short stay here. This is absolutely true for the past year and a half that I have been in this program so far. It also showed that I can help others come out of their own shells and let go, as the country I was teaching in was very traditional and conservative.

Overall, I had a story to tell, and through these images 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 nice project because I was finally able to share different aspects of my life apart from my CV, the general average and the test results. We all have a story to tell. Make sure to say yours!

Biography: Phan Hoang, a first generation Bostonian, is a second year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, he enlisted in the United States Air Force and served in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions around the world. He has also taught abroad in countries such as Honduras and China. He worked in product management during the summer.


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