Should I Write An Optional Essay For College?

July 24, 2022
By AdmissionSight

Should I Write An Optional Essay For College?

It takes a lot of effort to apply to colleges. It’s enough to overwhelm a student between making a college list, taking tests and sending scores, writing essays, and gathering recommendations. Knowing that the school you’re applying to has an optional secondary essay can feel relieving in light of this.

You will have one less thing to do if it is optional.

But you shouldn’t disregard the optional admissions essays. Should I write an optional essay for college? Let’s examine and discover:

What Is an Optional Admissions Essay?

While all colleges require applicants to submit a lengthy or “main” essay, frequently using the Common App application system, many colleges also accept shorter, optional essays.

The admissions officers are aware that your large essay will be a more general one that you’ll be sending to every school on your list, whereas these essays are frequently more specific to the particular school for schools that use the Common App.

Meanwhile, let’s define what is an optional admissions essay. Typically, those essays are only 200 to 250 words long, and these word counts are more likely to be strict restrictions than suggestions or guidelines. But each school will have a different exact policy.

Correcting an essay using a red pen.

The optional essay will typically pose a very specific question, in contrast to your larger essay, which gives students a wide range of topics to choose from.

The questions “Why this school?” and “Is there anything else we should know about you?” are two of the most typical. These are fantastic chances to personalize your application and demonstrate to the school that you’re a serious applicant.

Other schools will use the optional essay to reach out to specific applicant types—for example, students of color or LBGT students—and request more information about their experiences. If that’s the case and you do fit the target demographic, this is a great chance for you to elaborate on your viewpoint. Do not be concerned about writing an essay if you do not belong to the aforementioned demographics. The admissions committee won’t be shocked that you didn’t respond to the question because it doesn’t apply to you.

Now that we’ve learned about what is an optional college essay, it’s time to ask yourself “should I write an optional essay for college?”

Once more, the answer is a qualified YES. You should consider submitting the optional essay if you truly feel that you have something insightful to say about a certain topic.

Don’t write something if your only motivation is that you “think you should,” “everyone else is doing it,” “they say it’s optional, but I think it’s mandatory,” or “I’m sure I can come up with something to say.” Keep in mind that the admissions committees that will review your essays annually read thousands of them. They are able to detect a weak, forced, or insincere essay from a mile away. You will suffer more consequences by turning in a fake essay than by just skipping the assignment altogether.

Will It Count Against You If You Don’t Write One?

No. It’s optional, as the name implies.  Although they don’t anticipate everyone to include it, if you do, it will be read and taken at face value, which is why the aforementioned advice is important.

Will They Think It’s Too Much If You Write It?

TMI—too much information—becomes a concern if you decide that you actually have something important to say about the query. Here is the usual counsel:

Give the essay to someone you don’t know well after you’ve finished writing it.

You’ve shared too much if either (or both) of the following occur: Either you are uncomfortable with the other person reading it, or the other person is uncomfortable looking, acting, or reading it.

The “Mom/Grandma Method” is another way to determine if you’ve shared too much:

Should I write an optional essay for college? If upon realizing its importance you have created one then, your mother reads the essay, would you feel okay? How about your grandmother? If you answered “no,” why would you want a total stranger in an admissions office to read it?

What Are The Most Common College Essays?

Every college essay question is different. You may be required to respond to various prompts in your supplemental statement depending on the college. Now, what are the most common college essays? To help you understand college optional essay types, here are the 7 types frequently used by applicants:

“Why This College?” Essay Type

You can give your motivation for applying to their college using this prompt.

Students frequently make the error of assuming that this prompt doesn’t require much thought and will therefore write a generic response. Giving a trite justification for why you want to go to college won’t help you. Admissions officers for colleges are skilled at spotting weak attempts at this kind of essay.

Young female student working on an essay.

Instead of simply saying, “It has always been my dream to attend this college,” try to make a specific mention of the academic programs offered by the college you hope to be admitted to. Use this opportunity to share your favorite aspects of campus life and demonstrate your interest in the community and culture of the school. It’s a great way to get the attention of the admissions committee to show the committee that you are knowledgeable about the school you want to attend.

Essay on Academic Interest

You are able to write about the subject matter of your choice for this kind of essay.

Given that one-third of first-year college students change their major at least once, this calls for a perceptive approach. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re unsure of what you want to study. Just remember to describe your current academic interests and make a connection to any potential career objectives.

Colleges can see how committed and passionate you are about your studies and interests by reading this essay.

Essay on Community Service

This question’s main goal is to give students the opportunity to discuss how they are involved in their community, whether it be through their families, extracurricular activities, jobs, education, or volunteer work.

Students working on their community service.

The impact you had through your involvement or any successes you had should be discussed. Make sure to talk about how these experiences have affected your perspective on life and, if you can, relate it to your academic goals.

Essay on a Favorite Hobby

Colleges are curious about what you do in your free time, believe it or not.

This includes not only volunteer work and extracurricular activities, but also anything you do that gives you satisfaction and productivity. Let’s say that because of the challenges posed by your interests, you were able to develop and gain knowledge. Admissions officers are more than happy to read about them in that case.

Making a good impression in your free time requires demonstrating depth and longevity.

Essay About a Challenge

Every student has experienced some difficulties in their lives, whether they were professional or personal.

You are able to talk about a difficulty you have encountered and how you overcame it in this essay. It gives colleges a chance to see how your life experiences have influenced who you are today. Not only that, but this question also reveals how you approach and deal with issues in order to come up with the best solution.

Essay on Social Consciousness

This essay asks you to be more specific about the social action you have undertaken to promote diversity and inclusion.

This essay wants to know what you think “social justice” means to you, whether it be a place you volunteered, a fundraiser you started or participated in at school, or any news event that motivated you to take action. Colleges seek out prospective students whose morals align with their own because they thrive on the diversity of their student body and providing a secure learning environment.

Interpersonal Essay Topics

How would you introduce yourself to a complete stranger? Or, would you like yourself if you met it?

This kind of essay invites you to consider how you might present yourself to others. Consider how you would get along with a roommate or integrate into campus life. It’s an opportunity for you to reflect deeply on who you are as a person and provide an honest insight into how others might perceive you.

One-of-a-Kind Essays

You must be creative in your responses to these essays because they are unique. These are not the standard essay questions that most colleges ask. They open the door for you to present an intriguing viewpoint or idea regarding the posed question.

For instance, they might inquire as to when you failed to complete a task and what you took away from it. Or they might pose a hypothetical question to you, like, “What would you do if you discovered a coworker stealing?” These unconventional questions are intended to examine your way of thinking.

Essay-Optional Colleges

If you are thinking, “should I write an optional essay for college?”, you make take the following points into consideration, too. Reading and evaluating college application essays is time-consuming. Small schools with fewer resources and large schools with hundreds or thousands of applications may not have the time to read every admission essay. Also, many colleges only require essays for the most competitive programs, such as honors, engineering, and nursing, or for scholarships.

Female student leaning on the wall while thinking.

Some schools, especially public schools, admit students based on GPA, test scores, and/or class rank. Applicants are admitted if they meet the minimum index score. Lastly, one of the reasons why there are essay-optional colleges is because they hope that by eliminating the application essay, they can attract more applicants. They want to draw in more students, so they’ve made the application process easier.

The following table lists 64 colleges that don’t require essays:

State Name of School Essay Requirement
Alabama University of Alabama None
Alabama State University None
Alaska University of Alaska Anchorage None
University of Alaska Fairbanks None
Arizona Northern Arizona University None
University of Arizona Admission is optional for “Comprehensive Review”
Arizona State University None
Arkansas Arkansas State University None
University of Arkansas None
California California State University None
Colorado University of Colorado – Denver None (except for UC Boulder)
Connecticut University of Bridgeport Required for dental hygiene student’s only; otherwise, it is recommended but not necessary.
Delaware Delaware State University None
Florida University of Central Florida Strongly recommended but not necessary
University of South Florida None
Georgia Georgia State University Optional
Hawaii University of Hawaii Manoa None
Idaho University of Idaho None
Illinois Illinois State University Personal statement is optional
Indiana Indiana Wesleyan University None
University of Southern Indiana None
University of Indianapolis Writing samples are encouraged
Iowa Iowa State University None
University of Iowa None
Kansas Kansas State University None
University of Kansas Short answers only for those who don’t meet the requirements for Assured Admission
Kentucky Kentucky State University None
Louisiana Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge None
University of Louisiana – Lafayette None
Maryland Bowie State University Optional
Massachusetts Bridgewater State University Encouraged but not required
Michigan Eastern Michigan University None
Western Michigan University None
Minnesota University of Minnesota – Twin Cities None
Mississippi University of Mississippi None
Mississippi State University None
Missouri University of Missouri None
Missouri State University Only required if you don’t meet the selection index criteria
Montana University of Montana None
Nebraska University of Nebraska – Lincoln Required only for scholarship consideration
Nevada University of Nevada Reno None
New Jersey Kean University Recommended but not required
New Mexico University of New Mexico None
New York Siena College Optional writing sample
CUNY-Baruch College Recommended but not required
CUNY-Hunter College Optional
North Carolina West Carolina University Encouraged but not required
North Dakota University of North Dakota None
Ohio Ohio University Optional
Oklahoma Oklahoma State University Needed for comprehensive application review
Oregon Southern Oregon University Optional writing sample
Western Oregon University Required only for students who don’t meet minimum academic requirements
Eastern Oregon University Necessary only for students who are petitioning
Pennsylvania University of Pittsburgh Optional short-answer questions
South Carolina Clemson University Optional
University of South Carolina Only required for Honors College application
South Dakota University of South Dakota None
Tennessee Tennessee State University None
Utah University of Utah Only required for Honors College application
Utah State University None
Washington Washington State University None
West Virginia West Virginia University None
Wyoming University of Wyoming None
Canada McGill University Necessary for some programs and scholarships

How to Write an Optional College Essay?

Experts advise being concise, coherent, friendly, honest, and accurate in essays. A candidate should also include vivid details and anecdotes.

From wondering “should I write an optional essay for college?” to learning how to write an optional college essay, here’s what students need to know:

Begin with a memorable salutation.

Every year, admissions officers read thousands of essays, but they only give each one a few minutes. Your introduction, or hook, must grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more in order to effectively convey your message. Do not begin your introduction with a quotation from a well-known author, a cliche, or a statement about the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).

While you can occasionally use dialogue or a poignant quote from a close friend or relative, make sure it captures the main idea of your essay. Use the two approaches below to start your essay in a unique, imaginative manner.

Option 1: Open with a hook that grabs attention.

In order to pique the reader’s interest and encourage them to carefully read your essay, start your essay with a surprising statement. The reader’s expectations are dashed by a mysterious introduction, which also raises questions that can only be resolved by reading more.

Option 2: Begin with a striking image.

Create a vivid, well-defined image to instantly plunge your reader into your memory.

You can begin in the middle of a significant scene or describe an item that embodies the theme of your essay.

Write creatively.

You can be creative with your style and tone when writing an essay for a college application. Try to use engaging language as you draft your essay to make your story come to life and stand out.

Don’t tell, show.

To “tell” something in writing is to merely declare a fact: “I play basketball.” In writing, “show” refers to using specifics, illustrations, and vivid language to aid the reader in visualizing your memory:

“As I prepare to shoot—two seconds, one second—and make a three-pointer, my heart races!”

To remember the most memorable elements of an image or scene, first consider each specific detail.

  • What pictures stand out the most?
  • Is this memory connected to any specific sounds, smells, or tastes?
  • What feelings or sensations did you experience at the time?

To elicit an emotional reaction, exhibit vulnerability.

To elicit an emotional response, you don’t need to divulge a major secret or traumatic tale; instead, you should dig deep to express your genuine feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Vulnerability is a sign of maturity and humility. But avoid going overboard to win people over.

Use the right tone and style.

By adhering to these rules, you can make sure that your essay has the appropriate tone and style:

  • Speak in a respectful but conversational tone; this is less formal than academic writing but more formal than texting friends.
  • Use “I” statements as often as possible to emphasize your perspective.
  • Use words that you are familiar with to write in your own voice.
  • To maintain a rapid pace, write succinctly and in the active voice.
  • Adhere to grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).

Create a compelling conclusion.

To leave the reader with a lasting impression, you should conclude your college essay with a thought-provoking statement or imaginative conclusion.

Avoid the following in your college application essay:

  • Writing a summary of what you’ve already written and expressing your desire to attend the school
  • Mentioning qualities like “I’m a hard worker” that should have been demonstrated in the essay.

Here are two techniques for writing a powerful conclusion.

1. Full circle, sandwich design

An image, concept, or story from the introduction is used to close the essay using the full circle, or sandwich, structure. With this tactic, the reader feels very strongly brought full circle.

The essay in the example below ends by revisiting the “museum” metaphor from the beginning.

“Thank you for your time, for instance. Our tour is now over. I cordially invite you to re-join us for the College Experience collection, which will feature Rose’s ongoing quest for knowledge and identity, in the upcoming fall.”

2. Share your knowledge

The insight you gained from the experiences you’ve described can be demonstrated in the conclusion. Keeping your main point a secret until the very end builds suspense and keeps it in the forefront of your reader’s mind.

“I still stagger through the school’s hallways, but these days I don’t seem to mind as much. I have a lot more friends now, and they no longer avoid me. Because of my rekindled interest in learning, my teachers frequently encourage me to do better and learn more. Although football is still on hold, I feel like I’m now participating in a game that actually counts.

I was crushed by my broken ankle. It then exposed my ignorance.”

Rewrite and receive comments.

Check your essay’s content, style, and grammar before submitting it. Ask no more than two or three people for their opinions. Multiple revisions are typical; however, give yourself some time off in between each round of editing. You can see what works and what doesn’t in an essay as well as the kinds of changes you can make to make your own better by looking at our college essay examples.

Observe the word limit.

The majority of schools set a word limit for each essay, and you should stay within 10% of that maximum. To demonstrate that you can write succinctly and adhere to instructions, keep your words within the allotted word count. However, avoid writing too little, as this could imply that you are unable or unwilling to write an insightful essay.

Verify your grammar, style, and content.

  • Check the overall message, flow, and clarity first.
  • Next, look for issues with style and tone.
  • Lastly, pay attention to eradicating grammatical and punctuation errors.

Ask for comments.

Get feedback from two or three people who are familiar with college essays, have solid writing skills, and know you well.

  • You can get assistance from teachers and guidance counselors in editing your language, tone, and content.
  • Friends and family can verify the truthfulness.
  • An essay editor or coach can provide unbiased, professional feedback because they are experts in college admissions essays.

What Makes A Good College Essay?

“Should I write an optional essay for college?” This might be the first question that comes to mind, now, what constitutes a strong college essay? Experts advise students to adhere to the same guidelines when writing a college admissions essay, whether it be a personal or supplemental one: find their voice, write about a subject that matters to them, share their personality, express themselves, and proofread thoroughly.

Young woman typing an essay using her laptop.

Regarding the latter, experts advise students to have a close friend or family member read their essay before turning it in. Proofreaders like teachers, friends, and parents can be useful, but experts point out that the student voice should be preserved. The dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Karen Richardson, shares what makes a good college essay:

“The essay should ideally be the student’s own creation. I advise students to read their essays aloud to those who are close to them and to ask, “Would you know that this essay is about me?” If not, the essay needs to be revised. However, ensure that it is still your voice.”

At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process to get accepted to the top universities in the world. On average, 75% of our students are admitted to an Ivy League university, Stanford, MIT, UChicago, and Caltech, one of the highest track records in the industry. Feel free to set up an appointment today to book your initial consultation and learn more about college essays and requirements.

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