The OPTIONAL Essay – Should I write the optional essay? Do I need to write the optional essay?
The MBA application will almost always provide MBA hopefuls with the “Optional Essay” and many applicants often struggle with whether this essay is truly optional. While some programs clearly state that this essay should be used to address extenuating circumstances, others ask whether there is anything else about your candidacy you would like to share with the admissions committee. Given this prompt, many applicants are tempted to write something.
As a general rule, the optional essay is the last essay that should be written and should be viewed in the context of the whole application. Once the application has been completed, ask yourself if there is something else that you want to convey to the admissions committee that could not be addressed in any other part of the application.
The topics that can be considered in the optional essay are academic weakness, gaps (employment and academic) and major career changes, choice of recommender and information that adds to your application. It is this “information that adds to your application” that tempts applicants to write the optional essay.
The admissions committee may want to know reasons for a C grade or below in the transcript or a weak GMAT. Do not make excuses; instead emphasize improved performance in later university years or in subsequent classes. If you have a new GMAT score, it can be used to demonstrate that the low grade in college was an outlier and not an accurate indication of your abilities.
CAREER GAPS and CHANGES
A several month gap between jobs should be addressed. Did you take the time off to care for an ailing parent? Did you attend school or training programs while you were not employed? If you recently switched careers, you may want to show that it was a well thought through decision and how the MBA program will help you achieve the next career step.
CHOICE OF RECOMMENDER
Business schools typically will ask that a letter of recommendation be written by a current manager because this person is the person is best able to comment on your abilities and skills as they are today. However, not every applicant feels comfortable asking their current supervisor. Reasons vary but it can be due to personality conflict or perhaps they aren’t ready to let their managers know that they might be leaving. Whatever the reason, it should be addressed so that the admissions committee to eliminate doubts about the working relationship with your employer.
INFORMATION THAT ADDS TO YOUR APPLICATION does not mean you have to write something. The worst thing you can do is to re-write an essay for another programs that repackages your strengths. By writing this essay, you are asking the admissions committee to do even more work so make sure the content has not been addressed anywhere else in the application package.