Understanding the Value of the Optional Essay

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At Chicago Booth’s Evening and Weekend MBA program we employ a holistic review of every application. That means no single part of an application will make or break a candidacy. The best applications reflect the unique strengths and experiences of a candidate. So what if one part of the application is underwhelming? If you can identify a “weak link” in your application, chances are the admissions committee will notice it too!

The opposite can also be true – if a leadership experience or recent promotion wasn’t highlighted in another portion of the application, it can be a chance to go into greater depth. The admissions committee appreciates hearing in your own words why a certain experience makes you a standout candidate.

The purpose of the optional essay is to give applicants a chance to expand and give perspective on any aspect of their background. See below for our committee’s “Do’s and Don’ts” to help you draft an impactful optional essay.

 Do:
  • Highlight accomplishments, extracurricular activities or unique life experiences that are not sufficiently highlighted in any other portion of the application.

  • Give perspective on a less competitive application section that may give the admissions committee pause.

  • Be consistent. An optional essay can tie together the elements of your personal story, and solidify your “Why an MBA, Why Part-Time and Why Chicago Booth.”

Don’t:

  • Make excuses. This is a chance to show personal and professional development along with self-awareness.

  • Submit without proofreading. Like all sections of the application, the optional essay should be checked for errors.

  • Be redundant. If the optional essay is rehashing information present in other essays or sections of the application, it isn’t needed.

 Past admitted candidates have written about:

  • College athletic or leadership experience

  • Extenuation of a low GPA in undergraduate

  • Highlight analytical and quantitative abilities if GMAT/GRE quantitative sections are below average

  • A recent leadership experience or promotion

  • Account for a leave of absence from university or a gap in work experience

  • Experience overcoming a unique or rare obstacle

  • An explanation of personal values, motto or conviction

  • A relevant writing sample, such as a business model developed, or program initiative

We hope this helps shed light on the optional essay and as always, please contact us with any questions!

Julia Peaslee is an Admissions Manager, Operations for the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA Programs.