Should You Write an Optional Essay for College?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Close up view of a woman writing an essay

Should You Write an Optional Essay for College?

The college application process can be overwhelming, with numerous components to complete and submit. Among these components, you might come across something known as an ‘optional essay.’ You may wonder, what is an optional essay, and should you bother to write it? This article delves into the domain of optional college essays, guiding you in making an informed decision that aligns with your specific needs.

Understanding the Purpose of an Optional Essay

The Role of Optional Essays in College Applications

Optional essays are an additional part of some college applications, usually presented as a choice, not a requirement. Their purpose contrasts somewhat with the typical mandatory essay, which is designed to assess your academic abilities, personal character, and life context.

A young woman using a laptop while writing an essay

The optional essay often serves as a platform for you to share additional details or circumstances that cannot be adequately articulated in the main application. It’s also an opportunity to discuss events or experiences that might have affected your academic performance or personal life, which otherwise might not be understood by the admissions committee.

For example, let’s say you had a challenging family situation that impacted your grades during your sophomore year of high school. In the main application, you may briefly mention this, but the optional essay allows you to delve deeper into how you overcame those challenges and how they shaped you as a person. This additional information can provide valuable context for the admissions committee when evaluating your application.

How Optional Essays Can Enhance Your Application

Submitting an optional essay can enhance your application in several ways. Firstly, it can help give the admissions committee a more rounded picture of who you are as an individual. It helps elaborate on unique perspectives or experiences that you can bring to the college environment.

For instance, if you have a passion for community service and have volunteered extensively throughout high school, the optional essay can be an opportunity to showcase the impact you’ve made in your community. You can discuss specific projects you’ve been involved in, the challenges you faced, and the valuable lessons you learned along the way.

This not only highlights your dedication and commitment but also demonstrates your ability to make a positive difference in the world around you.

Moreover, an optional essay can demonstrate your writing ability and intellectual curiosity. It can show the admission board your commitment and enthusiasm to be part of their institution by going that extra mile.

For example, if you are applying to a liberal arts college and have a deep interest in philosophy, you can use the optional essay to discuss a philosophical question or concept that has captivated your mind. You can explore how this interest has influenced your academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, and personal growth.

By showcasing your intellectual curiosity and passion for learning, you can leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

In conclusion, while optional essays may not be mandatory, they provide a valuable opportunity for you to share additional information and showcase aspects of your character and experiences that may not be fully captured in the main application. By taking advantage of this option, you can enhance your application and increase your chances of being admitted to your desired college or university.

Pros and Cons of Writing an Optional Essay

Advantages of Submitting an Optional Essay

There are several advantages to writing an optional essay. Predominantly, it provides you with an additional platform to paint a fuller picture of yourself and stand out from the crowd. The essay can also be a place to explain any inconsistencies in your academic record, personal hardships, or unique experiences that significantly shaped your character.

Female student writing an essay

For example, if you had a challenging semester due to personal circumstances, such as a family illness or financial difficulties, the optional essay gives you the opportunity to provide context and explain how you overcame those obstacles. Admissions officers appreciate this level of transparency and may view your resilience and determination in a positive light.

Additionally, not all applicants will take the time or effort to complete an optional essay, which can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Therefore, submitting one could demonstrate your dedication and passion for the specific college.

Moreover, the optional essay can be a chance to showcase your unique experiences and perspectives. Perhaps you have traveled extensively, volunteered in a meaningful way, or pursued a passion outside of school. These experiences can add depth to your application and help admissions officers see you as a well-rounded individual.

Potential Drawbacks of Writing an Optional Essay

Despite the potential benefits, writing an optional essay does have downsides. One common drawback is that it will consume extra time and energy. In the fever-pitch of application season, this could prove stressful, especially if you are applying to multiple colleges.

Furthermore, you must ensure that your optional essay maintains the same quality standard as your other application materials. A hastily written or poorly edited document may potentially do more harm than good – giving the impression of lackluster effort or inadequate preparation.

It is important to consider whether the content of your optional essay truly adds value to your college application. If you find yourself struggling to come up with meaningful content or if the information you want to include is already covered in other parts of your application, it may be best to forgo the optional essay.

Another potential drawback is the risk of oversharing. While it is important to be honest and authentic in your application, it is equally important to maintain a level of professionalism. Sharing overly personal or sensitive information may make admissions officers uncomfortable and could potentially harm your chances of acceptance.

Lastly, submitting an optional essay may give the impression that you are trying too hard to impress the admissions committee. It is important to strike a balance between showcasing your strengths and accomplishments and coming across as genuine and humble.

Deciding Whether to Write an Optional Essay

When it comes to deciding whether to write an optional essay, there are several factors to consider. One of the most important considerations is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your application. Take the time to carefully analyze your application and identify any areas that could benefit from further explanation or those that set you apart and deserve elaboration.

A young student writing an essay on a table with a laptop.

By taking a closer look at your application, you may discover that there are certain aspects that require additional attention. Perhaps you have a unique experience or story that you have not been able to express elsewhere in your application. In such cases, writing an optional essay can be highly beneficial.

Assessing Your Application Strengths and Weaknesses

When assessing your application, it is crucial to consider both the strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, you can gain a better understanding of where you stand and what areas you need to focus on. If you find that your application is lacking in certain areas, an optional essay can provide an opportunity to address these weaknesses and provide further context.

On the other hand, if your application is already strong and comprehensive, you may wonder if writing an optional essay is necessary. In such cases, it is important to evaluate whether the additional essay will truly add value to your application. Consider whether the essay will provide new insights or information that cannot be found elsewhere in your application.

Considering Your Time and Resources

Aside from assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your application, it is also crucial to consider your available time and resources. Writing a well-thought-out and compelling essay takes time and effort. It requires careful planning, research, and revision.

Before deciding to write an optional essay, ask yourself if you have enough time to dedicate to this task. Rushing through the essay or producing a poorly executed piece may leave a negative impression on the admissions committee. It is essential to allocate the necessary time and effort to ensure that your optional essay enhances your application rather than detracts from it.

Furthermore, consider your available resources. Do you have access to the necessary materials or information to write a strong essay? Will you be able to seek feedback from trusted individuals who can provide valuable insights and suggestions?

By carefully considering your time and resources, you can make an informed decision about whether to write an optional essay. Remember, the goal is to enhance your application and provide the admissions committee with a deeper understanding of your qualifications and experiences.

Tips for Writing an Effective Optional Essay

Writing an optional essay can be a valuable opportunity to showcase additional aspects of your application. While the common essay prompts are often broad and open-ended, optional essays allow you to delve into specific topics that can add value to your overall profile.

When choosing a topic for your optional essay, it is important to select something that truly highlights your strengths or unique qualities. Consider focusing on a special skill you possess, an obstacle you have overcome, or an exceptional achievement or experience that has shaped your perspective.

Once you have chosen a topic, it is crucial to craft your essay in a compelling and effective manner. Remember, every sentence should serve a purpose and contribute to the overall coherence of your essay. Strive for a balance between storytelling and providing tangible evidence of your skills or experiences.

Male student typing in his laptop.

It is also important to maintain a consistent tone throughout your essay that reflects your personality. Avoid using overly complex language or jargon that may alienate your readers. Instead, aim for a natural and engaging narrative that captivates the reader’s attention.

Furthermore, revising and proofreading your essay multiple times is essential. Take the time to edit, correct, and polish your work until it represents your best effort. This will ensure that your essay is free from grammatical errors, typos, and other mistakes that could detract from your message.

Additionally, consider seeking feedback from trusted individuals such as teachers, mentors, or friends. Their insights can provide valuable perspectives and help you refine your essay further.

Remember, the optional essay is an opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and provide additional context to your college application. By choosing the right topic, crafting a compelling essay, and thoroughly revising your work, you can create an optional essay that strengthens your overall application and leaves a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Conclusion: Making the Best Decision for Your College Application

The decision to write an optional essay is personal and depends on your unique circumstances. Weigh the pros and cons carefully, considering your application’s strengths and weaknesses, available time and resources, and the potential value that the essay could add. Remember, an optional essay can be a beneficial tool to bolster your college application, but it should not detract from the other components. Choose wisely, and good luck!

Having all the necessary information is important before choosing any course of action. AdmissionSight is always here to assist you with any questions or concerns. We have more than ten years of expertise assisting students in successfully navigating the challenging admissions process.

Consult with AdmissionSight and find out what we can do to help you get into the school of your choice by ensuring that you are sufficiently aware and well-prepared for the application process.



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