How to Choose X Number of Essay Questions to Answer from Y Number of Choices

Optional Essays: When & how to write them.

How do you know which one(s) to pick?

If you face multiple essay questions on an application, how are you going to choose which one(s) you should answer and which one(s) you should skip? (Note: Fewer schools are offering multiple-question options though it’s good to know how to approach this issue if you’re using the Common Application, or applying to Stanford GSB or one of the other schools that does offer you question choices.)

First, options are good! But they do force you to think (a task we’re not always so excited to do). If a school makes you choose two out of four or three out of four questions to answer – how do you know which one(s) to pick?

You want to choose the questions that allow you to portray yourself at your best – to present your most impressive qualifications and talents, and to demonstrate to the adcom that you’re top applicant material.


• Choose topics that complement the other topics that you have discussed (or will discuss if you haven’t written any yet), and that complement the information you’ve provided in other parts of your application (like your resume/CV, letters of rec, transcript, etc.). For example, your resume presents your work history, but can’t go into any depth. Your essays can go into depth and can discuss experiences in greater detail, as well as non-professional experiences that didn’t make it into your resume.

• If you feel uncomfortable writing about a certain topic (like if a question asks about your career vision, and your career goals are still fuzzy), then that’s another reason to choose (or not choose) one question over another.

In short, figure out what you would like the admissions board to know about you, and then choose essays that will do the job and minimize repetition.

You’ve got options – and opportunity!