When the MBA Optional Essay is No Longer Optional

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If your grades plummeted your sophomore year in college, this is the place to explain.

You’ve already written the required essays that most business schools ask for – do you really need to write the optional essay?

If you’re a strong applicant who doesn’t need to explain weaknesses or application inconsistencies, then you may be able to skip the optional question.

But the optional essay is NOT AN OPTION in the following two cases:

1. There is a weakness or inconsistency in your application. If your grades plummeted your sophomore year in college, this is the place to explain that you underwent surgery that semester. Or, if there is a gap in your employment, you provide the explanation. In other words, don’t leave the admissions committee guessing or assuming the worst.

When using this essay to address a weakness, keep it short and keep it simple. State the facts, the pertinent reasons surrounding the facts, and what you learned or what you did subsequently to improve or change, to the extent possible, the outcome. A straightforward presentation is the goal. Your goal is to provide context for events that may not reflect well on you; it is not to make excuses. Either show that circumstances that no longer exist impeded your performance, or that you have learned how to handle those circumstances so that they no longer impede your performance.

2. You have additional information to share. Some schools are blunt and ask that the optional essay be used to address weaknesses; other schools ask a more open-ended optional essay question. Note, however, that schools do not ask for a summary of your essays, so take a look at your entire application. Have you presented a well-rounded picture of your candidacy? If you have nothing to add, then you do not need to write an optional essay just because it’s there. Are your essays heavily weighted to professional experiences? If yes, use the opportunity to showcase another dimension of your life, perhaps your community service activities or involvement in a sport. If you are still uncertain, consider what you could add that provides another reason to accept you.

Use or do not use the optional essay to your advantage to add value to your application.

Download your free report: TOP MBA PROGRAM ESSAY QUESTIONS:  HOW TO ANSWER THEM RIGHT!  Detailed question analyses and valuable advice on how to answer the questions so your candidacy shines.

Robbie Walker  is a writer, columnist and editor who received her MBA from Chicago Booth. She is happy to assist you in targeting the right schools and identifying the details that best highlight your candidacy.