Last week, we discussed taking responsibility for blips in your personal, academic and/or career history via the optional essay. This week, we follow up with a simple discussion about the optional essay itself. Our title for this entry, “The Optional Mistake,” is a double entendre in that candidates often make the mistake of completing the optional essay and then make mistakes within the essay as well.
1. Choosing to write the optional essay: Many candidates feel compelled to write the optional essay, concerned that neglecting it means that they are sending the message: “I am out of additional fascinating stories.” The truth is that the admissions committee (in virtually all cases) has offered the optional essay (or additional information space) as an opportunity for you to discuss unique circumstances in your candidacy, not to submit another 500 words on your career or an interesting personal accomplishment. Unless you have something vital in your candidacy that MUST be discussed, you should approach the idea of submitting an additional essay with caution.
2. Writing the optional essay: If you feel you need to write the optional essay, we suggest that you be as brief and direct as possible. By submitting an optional essay, you are essentially asking the admissions officer to read another essay—basically, to do even more work—and are thus demanding more of this person’s valuable time. So, the key to writing an effective optional essay is to respect this individual’s time and be as brief as possible, while still conveying all the necessary information. Thus, a discussion of your academic problems need not begin with a detailing of the excellent grades you earned in high school; a gap in your work experience need not begin with a chronology of how consistently you worked before the gap. We have seen candidates overcome any number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, from a very low GMAT score to drunk driving arrests. We always encourage applicants to address such issues in a “short and sweet” manner (completing optional essays well within word limits), and time has proven that this strategy can yield results.