Monday Morning Essay Tip: The Optional Mistake

Last week, we discussed taking responsibility for blips in your personal, academic, and/or career history via the optional essay. Our title for this week’s post, “The Optional Mistake,” is a double entendre in that candidates often make the mistake of writing an optional essay when they perhaps should not and then make mistakes within the essay as well.

Many candidates feel compelled to write an optional essay because they are concerned that not doing so will imply that they have no additional fascinating stories to share. The truth is that in virtually all cases, the admissions committee has offered the optional essay (or additional information space) to allow you to discuss possible unique circumstances in your candidacy, not so you can submit another 500 words about 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.

If you do decide to write an optional essay, be as brief and direct as possible. By submitting one, you are essentially asking the (likely overloaded) admissions officer to read yet another essay and are thus demanding more of this person’s valuable time. The key to writing an effective optional essay is therefore to respect this individual’s time and be as concise 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 occurred. We have seen candidates overcome any number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, from a very low GMAT score to an arrest for drunk driving. We always encourage applicants to address such issues in a “short and sweet” manner (completing any optional essays well within word limits), and time has proven that this strategy can yield results.

For more assistance with writing an optional essay (or even just deciding whether you should write one), see our Optional Essay Guide.

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