I know from experience that frankly, the college application process can feel scary and overwhelming. And sometimes getting started is the hardest step. Hopefully this guide helps you tackle the Common Application as you apply to NYU.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of applying to NYU, check out this comprehensive article on what to keep in mind if you’re applying during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle.

And once you know that NYU is the school for you, you’ll need to decide a few things before applying. Not to worry, I’ll walk you through it!

Billboards shining in Times Square at night
One of my early visits to Times Square!
When you’ll apply

NYU has three application deadlines: Early Decision I, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision. (Not sure which decision window is right for you? Check out this article from a former student ambassador to learn more.)

Early Decision application deadlines, as its name suggests, are earlier than other deadlines. The only difference between ED I and ED II are the application deadlines and decision dates. However, if you apply Early Decision and are offered admission to NYU, the University expects you to honor your commitment and withdraw your applications to other schools. There are exceptions to this, but you should be 100% sure NYU is the school for you if you apply Early Decision.

Personally, I needed the freedom and time to decide which school was the best fit for me. I didn’t know if I wanted to go to school in the UK or the US as a British citizen living in Taiwan. So, I’m happy that I decided to do Regular Decision when I was applying to NYU.

Where you’ll apply

While the choice of when you’ll apply to your school(s) of interest is common among other American universities, choosing a campus location is very specific to applying to NYU. Each campus features unique clubs, opportunities, majors, and programs!

You will be asked to rank your preferences of NYU Abu Dhabi, New York City, and NYU Shanghai. You can rank them or if you’re set on a specific campus, you can just select the one you want. New York City made sense to me because it was the biggest campus and I wanted the flexibility of different colleges and majors.

I was tempted to apply to NYU Shanghai, but there were more challenges applying there because of my Taiwanese nationality. An important thing to remember: Don’t select a campus if you’re not passionate about going there. Only rank the campuses you’re genuinely interested in!

What you’ll study

When do I decide my major? Can I apply undecided? Does that impact whether or not I get accepted? These are questions we are often asked during prospective student tours.

Firstly, this depends on which location you’re applying to—each campus has majors unique to its location.

For example, NYU Abu Dhabi has a major specific to its location called Business, Organizations and Society. Conversely, NYU Shanghai has majors like Interactive Media and Business as well as Global China Studies. You should keep in mind the majors available at whichever campus(es) as you decide to apply to.

For NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, you don’t have to declare a major when you apply. If you have an area you’re interested in, you can note that on the Common App.

New York City is slightly different since there are multiple colleges spanning a range of fields. When you apply you will select a specific school. Depending on the school you select, you will have to declare your major on the Common App. However, with some schools you can matriculate as an undeclared student. So don’t fret! If you feel undecided, there are options for you in New York City!

If you need more time to decide, consider applying to the College of Arts and Science or School of Liberal Studies. You won’t be expected to choose a major until your second year. Additionally, if you know you’re interested in a field within engineering, the Tandon School of Engineering allows first-year students to matriculate without declaring a major. Choosing a major can be a really daunting task, luckily we have an article on how to narrow your options.

Breaking Down the Common App

The essay:

For the Common App essay, I thought I needed some life-changing event to write about, which is a huge misconception. After looking back and talking to a lot of my friends who also were admitted into NYU, this is just not true. Little things we’ve come into contact with in our life end up becoming such an identifying factor of who we are as a person. Harness this and write about it! One of my closest friends wrote about persimmons (yes, the fruit!).

TL;DR: There really isn’t a certain topic you should write about. But make sure when you’re done writing to get feedback from your teacher, parents, friends, siblings. There’s nothing worse than submitting an amazing essay with a spelling mistake in the first sentence. If you want to talk about the impact of a natural disaster or COVID-19 on your studies, there’s a special (optional!) section for that as well.

NYU’s supplemental essay:

NYU’s changed its supplemental essay prompts over the past few years, but this essay is still completely optional. Whether you write the essay is completely up to you and your circumstances, but just know that NYU won’t punish you for not submitting one. This article will give you a full rundown of this year’s prompt and how you can tackle it.


The biggest misconception for me was that I thought I needed award-winning activities to get into NYU. If you have attended a bunch of competitions, that’s great and you should include these accomplishments in your application. But maybe you spent a lot of time making YouTube videos in high school–and that’s fine to put down in this section too. I feel like schools genuinely want to know who  you are outside of classes. Remember, it’s okay to not fill up all ten spots!

Once you’ve decided on the activities, how you write about them also matters. Personally, I participated in Model United Nations all four years of high school. However, if you know anything about Model UN, it is that no one “wins.” I initially had a hard time quantifying my achievements, so I spent time finding the best descriptors that captured my participation.

Test scores:

NYU is test optional for this application cycle. What does that mean? I remember when I was applying, NYU was test flexible. I felt that it was too good to be true!

If you have the same feelings I had check out this article to clear up your misconceptions.

Letters of recommendation:

At least for me, I dreaded asking for letters of recommendation. I was confused who I should ask for a letter. Also, I wasn’t sure how far in advance I should ask my recommenders. There are many things you can do to ensure these letters work to your advantage and that the process is as seamless as possible (like asking early!).

For this application cycle, NYU only requires one letter of recommendation from anyone who is an a position of authority (it could be a teacher, an athletics coach, your music teacher, etc), but you are welcome to submit up to three recommendations to support your application. Read an NYU admissions counselor’s advice on getting the most out of your recommendation here. 

Additional information:

Nestled in the writing section is the “Additional Information Section.” This isn’t a place for you to cram whatever you couldn’t fit in your application. But this is definitely a space that should be utilized in certain situations. While I didn’t use it, I had friends in the international baccalaureate program who detailed their extended essay topic (a core component of the program). So, it really can be utilized skillfully to add any leftover pieces you feel are integral to your academic identity.

Things to keep in mind if...

You’re applying to a creative major

I didn’t apply for a creative major, but for those looking into NYU’s drama, film, or music programs, don’t forget about the creative component of the application.

You’re an international student

As an international student myself, I know how it is to apply to NYU if neither of my parents went to college in the United States. The American college application process was a big mystery for my family. Bear in mind that there may be a couple of extra steps when applying, especially if English is not your first language. So make sure you confirm whether you need to submit an English proficiency test.

The best advice I can give international applicants is to embrace your identity when completing the application, whether that’s through your essay or your activities section. Personally, growing up in Taiwan and speaking Chinese has been such a huge part of my identity. So my application was actually based on a Chinese phrase! I feel like I definitely found a way to make my international identity an advantage, and you can too.

You’re submitting financial aid materials

Another part of your application will be figuring out how to finance your education. It can be confusing process, so make sure you and your parents confirm you’ve submitted all the necessary materials to be considered for financial aid at NYU. Don’t forget there are always options for external scholarships, so think about those too! If you have any further questions about financial aid, the people who are truly experts are in NYU’s Office fo Financial Aid.

New York City skyscrapers on a foggy day.

Hopefully, your application goes smoothly, but sometimes you might find problems with your application. Don’t worry I got you covered here too. You can always read about updating your application after submission, lagging checklists, sending in documents, and submitting prerequisites.

And once you hit submit? Celebrate!

After I submitted my application, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. Go out with your friends, eat a nice dinner with your family, or take a nap with your cat (my pick). If NYU happens to visit your high school, take this opportunity to get to know us more! You can ask our admissions rep any lingering questions.


Yasmin Hung (she/her/hers) is a rising senior pursuing Psychology in CAS with a minor in public health. She is interested in research regarding inclusive healthcare, particularly in women’s and reproductive health. As an international student, originally from Taiwan, she moved many times growing up. NYU’s diverse student body and global campus experiences are what drew her to this university. When she isn’t working as an admissions ambassador or studying for her next psychology exam, she enjoys cooking for her friends, meticulously organizing niche Spotify playlists, and trying out new Chinese food restaurants around NYC.