6. Weigh the "optional" essay: Sometimes you are given an opportunity to complete an optional essay. The optional essay is typically offered for one primary reason: to give the M.B.A. applicant an opportunity to convey additional information that he or she believes will truly help make the application complete. If you believe something important has been missed, this is your opportunity to provide that information. But remember, if you are going to use this question to address a part of your application that you believe is a potential disadvantage, do not offer excuses. Instead, provide clarification.
If the optional essay is in the form of an additional question from the M.B.A. admissions committee, by all means, answer it. If the optional essay is offered as an open-ended opportunity for you to address a topic of your choosing, be careful. Do not repeat what has already been communicated elsewhere in the application. Consider addressing topics of particular relevance to business schools such as current economic issues, why business and business education captivates you, or how the business school experience will give you the chance to give back and do something special to make a difference in people's lives.
If an optional essay question is not offered, yet there is something you believe you need to add, go ahead and do so. But keep it short—one page at the most. At the top of the page, write "Additional information for the Admissions Committee."
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Some final thoughts: Remember, be yourself. You are most definitely not helping yourself by pretending. Sooner or later this will be detected. Although not psychologists, business school admissions professionals are trained to look for phonies, and they are almost always found out.
Good luck and happy writing!
Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. To learn more about graduate admissions, visit gradschoolroadmap.com.