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Should you complete the optional essay on your MBA application?

Katie Schenk - October 28, 2019

Should you complete the optional essay on your MBA application?


If you’re just beginning to work on your MBA admissions essays, you’re likely filled with a combination of trepidation and optimism.

That makes perfect sense.

After all, there’s a lot riding on those words; your GMAT score is only a foot in the door, and your CV will prompt admissions officers to take another look. But once you’ve got their attention, your MBA essay can make all the difference between an interview request and the dreaded rejection letter. Writing the optional essay for MBA applications might seem unnecessary, but it can be used to your advantage. Your essay may convince business schools that you’re a worthy applicant, and encourage them to give you a seat. 

So, should you complete that optional MBA essay?

Shouldn’t you make sure you do all you can to demonstrate your strong candidacy?

Unfortunately, this is another one of those blurry spots in the application process that you’ve got to consider quite carefully; there’s no blanket answer that works for everyone. On the other hand, there are a few guidelines you can use to help you decide whether to complete the optional MBA essay.

MBA application factors

Business schools consider various factors while deciding whether or not to accept you. They consider your GMAT or GRE scores, your GPA at the undergraduate level, your work experience, and your MBA application essay. Your MBA application essay is important because that is where your individuality will shine through. When you want to provide additional information or clarity on any part of your application, you should consider writing that optional essay. Through your MBA application, you need to convince the admission committees that you deserve a place at your desired university. 

When to complete the optional MBA essay question

The optional MBA essay is your chance to explain any discrepancies in your application. If you’ve got a perfectly clean CV that you’re proud of and a GMAT to die for, then you probably don’t need to complete the optional essay. (Feel free to exhale now.)

4 reasons to complete the optional MBA essay question

However, if there are any inconsistencies, you’ll want to give that optional MBA essay a second chance. These are a few of the troubling areas to consider writing about:

  • Low marks in your undergraduate studies, or any educational opportunities undertaken since then. There are many reasons this could have happened, but if you don’t spell it out for the admissions team, they’re free to think the worst. For example, it is quite possible that you scored a low GPA, but have been performing extremely well in a sport or in some other extracurricular activity. You’ll want to highlight that in your optional MBA essay. 
  • Low GMAT results. This test isn’t the end-all, be-all of MBA admissions, but a low score will raise more than eyebrows unless you explain the reasons behind it. If you’re wondering how to overcome a low GMAT score, writing that optional MBA essay is your solution. 
  • A missing reference from your current employer. There are a few reasons why you’d choose not to request a reference from your boss; it’s most likely that you don’t want your company to know you’re leaving. But if you don't explain this in your MBA essay, the admissions board might believe you’ve not behaved adequately in your present position.
  • Gaps in employment or education should be addressed in this essay. If you don’t mention that you were travelling the world, the board could assume the worst. And, even if it is the worst thing you can imagine – you can always turn it around to your advantage by demonstrating what you’ve learned.

How should you answer the optional MBA essay?

The optional essay is there for you to acknowledge the gaps in your application and to provide additional information to avoid lingering questions. You can’t assume that you’ll have a chance to clarify a gap when you get to the interview phase – you won’t get the invitation to speak if they can’t make heads or tails of your application.

Your MBA essay is not a place for emotion, however.

For example, if your final semester as an undergrad was marked by terrible grades that brought down your entire GPA, you want to let the admissions committee know why. If your dog was sick or you were consumed by your job search, say so in your MBA essay; whatever the reason, take responsibility for it.

What do admission committees want to see in an optional essay?

Any applicant completing an optional MBA essay should keep it as short and to the point as humanly possible. 

It may not feel like an essay at all. If you only need two or three sentences to get your point across, then do so. Never expound because you think it’s too short; it’s not.

And, don’t tell the admission committees how they should look at it or feel about it. Indeed, you shouldn’t even mention how you feel about it. You should, however, explain what you learned from the experience and how it shaped you as a human being or a business leader.

Optional MBA application essay examples

To address the low GPA example, you could simply say, “My final term marks were lower than average as I was coping with an illness in the family. The experience taught me about dealing with unavoidable situations and my instinctive reactions to overwhelming factors. While it didn’t assist with my GPA, I was able to use this understanding to more successfully navigate the challenges when faced with a similar situation during my time with AB Company, where I employed better communication and delegation skills to overcome the shortfalls previously experienced.”

It’s less than 100 words, answers the why question, demonstrates that you recognise where you may have gone wrong, shows what you learned from it, and provides proof that you’re not stressed about what the low GPA could mean for your entire application.

Now, if you have a few gaps to address, it’s time to get cracking with that additional essay. If not, perhaps it’s back to revising your CV. 

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Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 28, 2019. Originally published on November 29, 2020.


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