Harvard | Mr. Captain Mishra
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Ms. Lady Programmer
GRE 331, GPA 2.9
Kellogg | Mr. Engineer To PM
GMAT 710, GPA 4.0 (with Honors)
Yale | Mr. Tambourine Man
GMAT 740, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Ms. Eternal Optimism
GMAT 720, GPA 4.0 (First Class Honours)
McCombs School of Business | Mr. CRE
GMAT 625, GPA 3.4
Ross | Mr. Double Eagle
GMAT 740, GPA 3.77
Wharton | Mr. Rural Ed To International Business
GRE 329, GPA 3.6
IU Kelley | Mr. Jiu-Jitsu Account Admin
GMAT 500, GPA 3.23
Wharton | Mr. Sales From Law School
GMAT 700, GPA 11/20
Columbia | Mr. URM Artillery Officer
GRE 317, GPA 3.65
Stanford GSB | Ms. Eyebrows Say It All
GRE 299, GPA 8.2/10
Harvard | Mr. Air Force Seeking Feedback
GRE 329, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Mr. UHNW Family Office
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Certain Government Guy
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Hopeful B School Investment Analyst
GRE 334, GPA 4.0
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Stuck Consultant
GMAT 760, GPA 3.6
MIT Sloan | Mr. Mechanical Engineer W/ CFA Level 2
GMAT 760, GPA 3.83/4.0 WES Conversion
Wharton | Mr. Asset Manager – Research Associate
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Kellogg | Mr. Community Involvement
GMAT 600, GPA 3.2
Chicago Booth | Mr. International Banker
GMAT 700, GPA 3.4
MIT Sloan | Mr. South East Asian Product Manager
GMAT 720, GPA 3.6
Harvard | Ms. Hollywood To Healthcare
GMAT 730, GPA 2.5
Stanford GSB | Ms. Investor To Fintech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.8
Kellogg | Mr. Structural Engineer
GMAT 680, GPA 3.2
Darden | Mr. Anxious One
GRE 323, GPA 3.85
Ross | Mr. Saudi Engineer
GRE 312, GPA 3.48

The Optional Essay: Use it or Lose it?

You’ve just spent hours – or more likely weeks – writing the two to four essays that most top MBA programs require. The last thing you want to do is write another essay…unless of course that essay will help you. How do you know if it’s worth it to spend the time composing an optional essay?

Answering the “Weakness” Optional Essay

First, keep in mind that the optional essay is not an option for applicants who have a weakness or inconsistency in their application that is not addressed elsewhere. If the question asks you to address a weakness, and you have a weakness or two, then you should definitely use this space to provide context. For example, if you had one bomb of a semester during college, you’ll want to explain how a death in the family or an emergency surgery got in the way of one semester’s grades. If you have a gap in employment, provide the reasons why you were forced to leave your job before having a replacement position lined up.

In these cases, your optional essay should remain short and to the point, making sure that you also reveal the steps you took to ameliorate the weakness or improve your circumstances. Don’t reach for excuses when you don’t have any – most adcoms see through a superficial explanation. And don’t whine or blame. Take responsibility for mistakes. We’ve all made them.

Answering the Open-Ended Optional Essay

If you face an open-ended optional essay question, then you have a decision to make, and an opportunity. You certainly don’t need to write an optional essay. It is NOT required, but if you have anything additional that you’d like to offer the adcom readers, then this is your chance.

Frankly, if you are a talented, accomplished multi-faceted individual, you will not be able to provide all pertinent information in the required boxes and essays. In my view – while if one has nothing to say, one should say nothing – the open-ended optional essay is simply another opportunity to sell your ability to add a unique perspective, voice, or talent to the class. However, don’t use it to rehash material found elsewhere.

Bottom line: use this space to your advantage. Toot your horn and share with the adcom readers one more reason to admit you.

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the soon-to released book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.

Our Series On Perfecting Your MBA Essays: