The Optional MBA Essay, Explained

Understanding what the optional MBA essay is designed for.

Confused about optional essays?  If so, you are not alone. Here are some guidelines about the optional MBA application essay.

  • Be Brief.

You shouldn’t tell an elaborate, personal story, or write creatively.  You want to use this space judiciously, and to communicate succinctly. This is also not the right place to recap your entire candidacy, or to attach an essay that you wrote for another school.

  • Be Clear and Direct.

If you need to discuss your undergraduate record, for example, be specific. Reference that F in Calculus in the Fall of 2010, as well as the Berkeley extension course that you took and got an A in last Spring.  Don’t say something vague like “You may have some questions about my ability to handle the work.”

  • Clarify Gaps, Discrepancies and Deviations.

This is your opportunity to explain why there is a six-month gap between jobs, or why you aren’t asking your direct supervisor for a recommendation even though the school asks you to do so. You do not want to ignore these issues; the schools may think that you are being evasive. It is also a good space to acknowledge a very low GPA or GMAT, and to point to other factors that are more indicative of your potential.

  • Don’t Tell The Committee What To Think.

However, it is not a good strategy to tell the school that they shouldn’t be worried about your grades, test scores or lack of work experience.  They will draw their own conclusions about your candidacy, and insisting that they overlook potential flags can make you seem arrogant and lacking in self-awareness.

  • Don’t Feel Obligated To Use This Space.

Really, please don’t write anything if you don’t need to address confusing timelines, low scores or grades, an unusual choice of recommender or other core issues.  The admissions committee will not welcome a gratuitous additional essay, and will thank you for understanding that that the optional essay is designed for people who need to explain specific aspects of their candidacy.


Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Over the last three years, clients have been awarded more than 10.3 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 95% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.