The Dos and Don’ts of Writing an Optional Essay

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When it comes to writing an optional essay for your college or job application, making the right choices can significantly impact the outcome of your candidacy. While this essay may not be required, it provides a valuable opportunity to enhance your application and leave a lasting impression on admissions officers or employers. To help you make the most of this chance, we have compiled a comprehensive guide of the dos and don’ts of writing an optional essay. By following these guidelines, you can craft a compelling essay that strengthens your application and sets you apart from other candidates.


The Dos of Optional Essay:


Do Understand the Purpose:

Before diving into writing your optional essay, it’s crucial to understand the purpose behind it. Consider why the option is given and how it can benefit your application. Reflect on how you can leverage this essay to provide additional context, highlight unique experiences, address weaknesses, or showcase your fit and interest in the opportunity at hand. Understanding the purpose will guide your writing and help you create a focused and impactful essay.


Do Tailor Your Essay:

Just like any other component of your application, your optional essay should be tailored to the specific program or company you are applying to. Research the institution or organization to gain insight into their values, mission, and expectations. Then, align your essay with these aspects by showcasing how your background, skills, and goals align with what they are looking for. Tailoring your essay demonstrates your genuine interest and increases your chances of standing out among other applicants.


Do Provide Value-Adding Information:

Use the optional essay as an opportunity to provide value-adding information that complements the rest of your application. Instead of reiterating what can already be found elsewhere, focus on offering insights, perspectives, or experiences that have not been adequately covered. Share personal anecdotes, unique projects, leadership roles, or challenges you’ve overcome that can enhance the reader’s understanding of your abilities and character. The goal is to present new and compelling information that strengthens your overall profile.

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Do Show Reflective Thinking:

Demonstrate your reflective thinking by discussing the significance of your experiences and how they have shaped your personal and professional development. Rather than simply listing achievements, delve deeper into the lessons learned, the skills acquired, and the growth you’ve undergone. Reflective thinking shows maturity, self-awareness, and the ability to learn from past experiences. It also allows the reader to understand the context behind your achievements and gain insight into your potential for future success.


Do Showcase Your Writing Skills:

The optional essay provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your writing skills. Take the time to carefully craft your essay, paying attention to structure, grammar, and clarity. Use persuasive language, varied sentence structures, and vivid descriptions to engage the reader. Strong writing skills leave a lasting impression and demonstrate your ability to effectively communicate ideas and arguments. Proofread your essay multiple times to ensure it is error-free and polished.


Do Be Honest and Authentic:

Authenticity is key when writing your optional essay. Be honest about your experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. Avoid embellishing or exaggerating your accomplishments, as it can be easily detected by admissions officers or employers. Instead, focus on highlighting genuine qualities and experiences that make you a unique and valuable candidate. Admissions officers and employers appreciate authenticity and are more likely to connect with applicants who are true to themselves.


The Don’ts:


Don’t Submit a Generic Essay:

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is submitting a generic essay that could be applied to any application. Avoid using generic statements or anecdotes that lack personalization. The optional essay is an opportunity to stand out, so make sure your essay is tailored to the specific context and adds value to your application.


Don’t UseClichés and Generic Language:

Steer clear of using clichés, buzzwords, or generic language in your optional essay. These can make your essay appear unoriginal and lackluster. Instead, strive for specificity, using concrete examples and vivid language to make your essay memorable and engaging. Show the reader who you truly are through your unique voice and personal experiences.


Don’t Repeat Information:

Avoid repeating information that is already covered in other parts of your application. The optional essay should offer new insights and complement the rest of your application rather than rehashing the same details. Make the most of this opportunity to provide fresh perspectives or address aspects that have not been adequately discussed elsewhere.


Don’t Neglect Proofreading:

A poorly proofread essay can leave a negative impression on the reader, regardless of the quality of your content. Carefully review your essay for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. It’s beneficial to have someone else proofread your work as well, as they may catch mistakes that you may have missed. A polished essay reflects your attention to detail and professionalism.


Don’t Exceed the Recommended Length:

While it’s important to provide enough information in your optional essay, it’s equally important to respect the given guidelines, especially regarding word count or page limit. Exceeding the recommended length can indicate a lack of adherence to instructions or an inability to communicate concisely. Demonstrate your ability to convey your thoughts effectively within the specified parameters.


Don’t Rush the Writing Process:

Writing an optional essay requires time and thoughtfulness. Avoid rushing through the process or leaving it until the last minute. Start early, allowing yourself enough time to brainstorm, outline, write multiple drafts, and revise your essay. Taking a deliberate and measured approach ensures that your essay is well-crafted and effectively conveys your message.



Writing an optional essay is an opportunity to enhance your application and present a more comprehensive picture of who you are as a candidate. By following the dos and don’ts outlined in this guide, you can maximize the impact of your essay and increase your chances of standing out among other applicants. Remember to tailor your essay, provide value-adding information, showcase reflective thinking, highlight your writing skills, and remain honest and authentic throughout the process. With careful attention to these guidelines, your optional essay can elevate your application and leave a lasting impression on admissions officers or employers.

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