Maybe “discouraging” is the wrong word. But most adcoms are doing their darnedest to get you to think about whether you really need to include an optional essay at all. There’s only one school that encourages the optional essay, but MIT is weird. 🙂 Assuming they keep things the same this year, they’ll allow for an extra submission that can be pretty much anything – and they encourage applicants to use that opportunity.
In certain other applicant situations – which can vary by school – the optional essay is necessary. It’s a total case-by-case situation.
It’s important to remember that the optional essay really is optional.
In some cases, the “essay” part even is.
With the new Ross essay questions for the Class of 2019 came this addition to their application instructions :
This section should only be used to convey information not addressed elsewhere in your application, for example, completion of supplemental coursework, employment gaps, academic issues, etc. Feel free to use bullet points where appropriate.
They’re not even calling it an essay anymore!
The key message though: It’s not meant as an, “Hmmm, there’s this other essay available, I think I should tell them how much I really want to go there!” Or “I didn’t get to use this story about this project I’m on, and that my boss is going to promote me at the end of the year, so I’ll write about that in this essay!” or whatever other random thing sounded like a good idea. It’s not another opportunity to lay out more stuff to your adcom reviewer. It’s if there’s something that needs to be explained that’s not covered elsewhere.
The 2016 Columbia MBA app also says that bullet points are fine for the optional essay.
These schools are trying to signal that a) this part is optional, and b) if you do one, maybe you don’t need to do an actual essay for it.
The Harvard and Stanford apps have long worked this way; heck, they don’t even give you an opportunity to submit any extra essays. If you have something to explain to them, you need to include it in a very small Additional Information field that they allow in the app form.
If you have what we’ll call a global issue in your profile – the common ones being a rocky academic history (aka low GPA), or a gap in employment (aka you were laid off) – then all the schools will need to hear from you about what was going on at the time. In most cases, the place to provide this information is the optional essay/statement. Other cases that traditional required the optional essay, such as an explanation why you’re not getting a letter of recommendation from your current supervisor, now can be included within the application for some schools. Other schools still want this in the optional essay. You will have to investigate each school’s requirements carefully before deciding what needs to go in the optional essay for that school – but the most important point is that you should NEVER submit more than the required essays UNLESS YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION WARRANTS IT.
Just like when you’re couchsurfing, the watchword is, “Don’t outstay your welcome.” You don’t want to become the guest who wouldn’t leave, with essays and a resume that are way longer than the school asked for, and more essays than you were requested to send in.
The restrictions in field length from HBS and Stanford, and now the new explicit instructions from these other schools that bullet points are OK, are explicit ways to tell you that this should be SHORT!
If you’re working with us through the Complete Essay Package or one of our Essay Decimator essay review services, then you’ll get lots of opportunity to solicit our advice on whether or not the optional essay / statement is needed for your situation. Sometimes some juggling of content among the different essays is necessary between first draft to second draft. It’s even possible for some applicants to do away with the optional essay if they can cover the core issue appropriately in their base essays. That can be a nice way of trimming down your submission, if you can pull it off.
However, please don’t take all of this to mean that there’s a stigma against applicants who submit additional information. There’s no shame in using the optional essay when it’s appropriate. In fact, if the optional essay is indicated based on your exact circumstances and you DON’T submit one, then that’s going to cause way more problems for you.
The schools want you to exercise your best judgment. HOW you approach the elements of the application, and the decisions you make in how you present yourself, is almost as important as what you say when you write those essays.