This is a question I receive all the time. Sadly, there is no definite yes or no answer to this one (I know, as usual), so I always answer with the only accurate answer I can give, which is: “It depends.”
After writing 3-5 required essays for your target business school application, you’re probably not interested in writing anything more, especially if it has the word “optional” tacked on to the front of it. But that’s definitely not a reason to skip this sometimes-critical question. Don’t worry – you’ll get your R&R soon!
First look at the question: is it open-ended or is it asking for context to weaknesses in your application. If it asks exclusively for explanation of items that may cause an application reader to raise an eyebrow and you don’t have something to explain, don’t answer the optional question. However, if you do have what to explain or the question is open-ended, read on.
Next, you’ll need to determine if your application still needs something before you can confidently hit “Submit”?
For example, if you have an academic weakness (like a poor GPA you need to explain), if you have a gap in your MBA job history, or if you have any other inconsistencies in your application, then you should write the optional essay. In fact, you shouldn’t even view it as optional; don’t think twice about it – simply consider it another requirement. Once this issue is addressed, you should have a stronger, more complete application.
The optional essay may also be used as a space to discuss a distinctive element in your background. Those from an overrepresented group will especially benefit from this extra opportunity to share an unusual interest, hobby, or experience that distinguishes them from the crowd.
To sum up: Don’t leave your admissions reader guessing. If there’s something you can add that will address a gap or inconsistency in your application, then you should definitely take advantage of the optional essay. If they is something you want them to know that you couldn’t fit into the other essays and your optional essay is open-ended, use it to provide another reason to admit you. If you have nothing to add and nothing to explain, skip it.
Please view Accepted.com’s Business School Application Essays 101 for more advice on how to create a memorable and effective MBA application essay – required or optional!
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and author of MBA Admission for Smarties, the premier admissions consultancy and essay editing company that has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to over 450+ top schools since 1994. Visit Acccepted.com for all your MBA admissions consulting needs today!