The college application process is long. It’s complicated at times, and it can be confusing. We totally get it. We’ve gone through it many times. By choice. It can be easy to breathe a sigh of relief when you’re applying to Hamilton (your third application this week) but then see that twinkling “This essay is optional” written at the top of the page. “Omg,” you think. “Dare I? I have SO many other essays to write that are all required and what difference is one little 250-word count essay going to make? I’ll just skip this one. I have to finish Bates tonight to stay on track so I’ll go do that instead.” Right? Time management and prioritization? Nope. Wrong. Sirens. Here’s why:
Always. Do. The. Optional. Writing. Supplement.
In our opinion, nothing is optional. If you fail to complete a part of an application that is available to you, but optional, then you are simply giving away your edge. You’re saying, “I don’t care enough to complete this,” and as such, your application will more than likely be thrown out.
Think about it: you have two sophomores, Greg and Cameron, vying for a position as President of the extracurricular club that you’ve poured hours of your sweat and tears into for the last 3 years. The application process is a public speech to the club and a one-on-one interview with you. They both complete these steps and they both do well. *Surprise*--Cameron finds you in between classes and hands you an envelope, “Please consider this as a part of my run for President. Thank you.” You open it during lunch and it’s an impassioned letter of intent discussing how much the club has meant to her, what she aims to accomplish, and why she wants to accomplish these items from the post of President. It’s a shoe-in. Of course. Cameron went above and beyond the requirements and took the time to explain why this position meant so much to her. Any reasonable person would give her the position of President. Moral of the story: don’t be Greg. Write the optional essay. Always.
Completing the optional essay gives you a chance to indicate your interest and share something completely dynamic that the admissions readers don’t already know about you. It’s your chance to be creative and show your genuine interest in the college, as well as let the admissions readers in on a little-known fact or two about you.
Ultimately, choosing to not complete something just because you don’t have to just plain doesn’t reflect well on your chances of succeeding both in college and in life. We know that sounds harsh, but the secret to getting ahead is all about anticipating and executing on what’s coming next before someone has the chance to ask it of you. The optional essay is easy in comparison to that—you don’t have to anticipate what they want to know. It’s all out there, they’re being very transparent with you about what they want to know. They’re even giving you a word limit in which to share your anecdotes and stories. Take advantage of this opportunity and space—it will only help you.