Last week, we discussed taking responsibility for blips in your personal, academic and/or career history via the optional essay. This week, we follow up with a simple discussion about the optional essay itself. Our title for this entry, The Optional Mistake, is a double entendre in that candidates often make the mistake of completing the optional essay and then make mistakes within the essay itself.

1. Choosing the optional essay: Many candidates feel compelled to write the optional essay, concerned that neglecting it means that they are sending the message: I am out of additional fascinating stories that others will complete. The truth is that the AdCom (in virtually all cases) has offered the optional essay (or additional information space) as an opportunity to discuss unique circumstances in your candidacy, not to submit another 500 words on your career or an interesting personal accomplishment. Unless you have something vital that MUST be discussed, you should approach the essay itself with caution.

2. Writing the optional essay: If you feel you need to write the optional essay, we suggest that you be as brief and direct as possible. By offering additional text, you are essentially asking an overworked AdCom to do even more work and are demanding more of their valuable time on your file. Thus, a discussion of your academic problems need not begin with excellent grades in high school; a gap in your work experience need not begin with a chronology of how consistently you worked before the gap. We have seen candidates overcome any number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, from very low GMAT scores to drunk driving arrests. We always encourage applicants to address such issues in a short and sweet manner (completing optional essays well within word limits), and time has proven that this strategy can yield results.