When I was considering schools, I found only three I'd be happy with, given my criteria. So I knew I had to make those three applications count. But I worried about not being the "ideal" candidate, having no finance or consulting background, and having worked remotely for a tech startup while enjoying a fairly significant career as an actress. Yet, as I began start the application process, I realized that these schools didn’t want a cookie-cutter "ideal" candidate anymore. Rather, they were looking for diverse, passionate, and interesting people. The essay questions alone attested to that: Stern asks you to introduce yourself to your classmates, using practically any medium under the sun. Columbia asked to relate a significant life experience and explain how it shaped who you are. Anderson asked for an audio or video essay where you reveal something unique about yourself. These schools are practically begging for applicants to show off their true interesting selves.
So instead of panicking about my non-traditional background, I let my true colors show. Of course, my story still made sense, but I didn't shy away from mentioning my background in acting and how I was eager to share some improv exercises with classmates looking to improve their presentation skills, or how I planned to revamp a club's website with my knowledge of CSS and HTML. And now that I'm in school, I still use these unique, albeit non-traditional, skills to my advantage. Professors try hard to incorporate a variety of perspectives into their classes, and I love having a lot to say when we're talking about Google's growth from scrappy start-up to market leader.
There are still plenty of my classmates from those "traditional" backgrounds in finance and consulting. But even they have diverse interests and aren't afraid to show them. One former banker friend has a blog about digital media. Another finance friend fosters stray and feral kittens. These passions are what make my classmates fantastic, and these classmates weren't admitted by accident. So make sure you let your true self shine through your application. You just might be rewarded with admission and some new friends who can show you how to brew your own beer, take you sailing, or pull a quarter from behind your ear.
Feel free to contact me if you have a non-traditional background and have questions about admissions, class work, etc. I’m happy to help: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Harrison, Forte Fellow
NYU-Stern School of Business, Class of 2012