Almost every MBA Applicant wonders if it is prudent to write an MBA Optional Essay. While it depends on the individual’s situation, here are the top 9 reasons that usually warrant an optional essay
If you are a visual person, here is a video which goes through the same reasons:
#1. Extracurricular achievements or Volunteer work
Let’s start with a positive. If you have an unusual background, unique hobby or another extra-curricular experience that you have not yet gotten a chance to cover yet in your Essays, then this is your time to shine. The optional essay truly is optional. So take advantage of it if necessary, but exercise good judgement and restraint to not repeat yourself if you have already discussed these in another essay or another part of your application.
#2. Low Undergrad GPA
Or any low GPA since the undergraduate school. From the adcom’s perspective, if you do not provide additional context to this situation, they are free to assume the worst. A low GPA could be a result of an illness, family emergency, distraction due to an entrepreneurial venture, focus on another extracurricular pursuit or simply a personal failure (which may have been covered in another essay) etc. A low GPA combined with the reason #2 below definitely warrants an optional essay.
#3. A Low GMAT Score
By design, the optional essay gives the MBA candidates a chance to address signs of academic weakness in their applications, since other essays do not generally touch upon the subject. This would be your opportunity to explain an unbalanced or a low GMAT score. You can offer counter-evidence with your past academic performance or additional courses that you may have excelled at.
#4. Lack of Reference
Lack of references in general or more particularly a missing reference from a current employer are important to address in an optional essay. Let’s be clear, a reference from your direct supervisor carries a lot of weight. References from colleagues/seniors other than your direct supervisor also help, however if you have no references at all from your current employer, it raises some red flags. However, it is understandable that you may not want to reveal to your current employer that you are planning to leave soon. MBA Optional Essay is a perfect chance to provide additional context around this matter and address any red flags.
#5. Gaps: Employment or Education Gap
MBA applicants must use the Optional Essay to explain a gap in their employment or education. The reasons could include situations such as getting fired or laid off, traveling the world for new experiences, working for a non-profit, soul searching and taking care of a family member. Whatever be the reason, make sure you include the facts and if you have already addressed the gaps in another essay, do not repeat yourself here. Even if the reasons are the worst things one can possibly imagine, you can talk about what you have learnt and how you have grown as a person.
Please note: Hiding an employment gap by moving the join/end dates with different employers could result in admission being rescinded during the “background check” phase. So its better to be genuine and address the issue here.
#6. Criminal record
It is customary for the business schools to do a background check of all the admitted students through third party agencies. The background checks include any criminal record you may have. While, it would be tough to explain serious crimes that would question your judgment, but the Optional Essay is the opportunity to mention any DUIs (Driving Under Influence), and other criminal judgements/fines that did not lead to a serious offense.
The criminal records are accessible through Govt. database including DMV and other national crime bureaus; most of which are available online. It is always a good idea to come clean with your records, instead of finding out later that you have received admission to a premier MBA program, but disqualified due to lack of disclosure.
#7. Lack of experience
Most top Business Schools take applicants with 3-7 years of experience. For applicants with less than 2-Years of experience, this is a chance to include their competency despite less experience. Include achievements that are at the college level (internships, leadership positions etc) and related to academics.
#8. Another / Second MBA
First MBA from a less reputed school? Want to career switch again? Career trajectory hit by a bad job market? You could have many reasons why you feel a second MBA from a reputed school is the way to go. First, make sure your school entertains a second MBA degree. Second, make sure that you fully explain your reasons for pursuing a second MBA.
#9. Job Hopping
Job hopping has become a common trend among millennials, who hop jobs to find the right fit with with their financial, creative, and aspirational needs. However, if you have switched job very often in past few years of your career it may seem odd and give the impression that you either don’t get along with others or you haven’t been able to find what you are looking for (so why would an MBA be a fit?). If this is the case, including the reasons for the frequent shifts may be a good idea. Be open about the reason – unreasonable boss, too much pressure, creative differences or something else. Also, be careful about the tone of the essay, state the facts, and avoid getting emotional or overly critical of a previous employer.
If you are writing an optional MBA essay, you should keep it as short and to the point as humanly possible. It is perfectly fine if it does not feel like an essay at all. It is preferable to take two or five sentences to get your point across. Do not make the mistake of thinking it’s too short; it’s not. Where needed, you should focus on explaining what you learned from the experience and how it shaped you as a human being or a business leader.