You’ve already written the required essays that your target business schools have asked for. Do you really need to write the optional essay, too?
If you’re a strong applicant who has no weaknesses, low stats, or application inconsistencies to explain, then you might be able to skip the optional essay.
But the optional essay is not an option in the following two cases:
1. There is a weakness or inconsistency in your application.
Suppose your grades plummeted during your sophomore year in college. In that case, this is the place to explain why – perhaps you underwent surgery that semester, had a death in the family, or took on too many extracurricular activities or work responsibilities. Or, if there is a gap in your employment history, use this essay to explain the circumstances. In other words, don’t leave the admissions committee guessing – they just might assume the worst.
When using the optional essay to address a weakness, keep it short and simple. State the facts, the relevant context surrounding those facts, and what you learned or did subsequently to improve or change the outcome to the extent possible. Your goal is to offer clarifying information about aspects of your profile that might not reflect well on you – not to make excuses. You want to leave the reader understanding that you navigated a situation that no longer exists and/or that you developed knowledge or skills that will allow you to achieve a different outcome should a similar situation arise in the future.
2. You have additional information to share.
Some schools are specific about how they want you to use the optional essay and ask you to focus your essay on addressing weaknesses; others have more open-ended optional essay questions. However, no school wants just a recap of the information you have provided in the other parts of your application. So look at your entire application and ask yourself whether you have presented a well-rounded picture of your candidacy. Consider your background as well. Has the application provided an opportunity to share that you are a first-generation college student, for example? Or that you grew up in challenging circumstances, perhaps as part of an underserved community? Providing additional insights into the challenges you have overcome in your life will allow the admissions committee to understand how you have persevered to get to where you are now. If you have nothing to add, however, you do not need to write an optional essay simply because it’s there.
Whether you write the optional essay or not, take the same care in crafting your answer as you do with each of the other essays in the application.
As the former executive director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School and assistant dean of admissions at Georgetown’s McDonough School and the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School, Kelly Wilson has 23 years’ experience overseeing admissions committees and has reviewed more than 38,000 applications for the MBA and master’s programs in management of information systems, computational finance, business analytics, and product management. Want Kelly to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!