We receive several emails and calls from applicants asking for advice about the optional essay, so here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to submit the optional essay as part of your application.
First, what is the optional essay?
As taken from our Application Checklist, the prompt for the optional essay is:
This optional essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays. Please share any additional information about yourself that you believe would be of interest to the Admissions Committee. Please focus on information that is not already reflected in the other parts of your application or might not be clear in the information submitted.
Is it a requirement?
Nope! We aren’t trying to play a mind game with you, it really is optional! There is no formal interview process for your application to SIPA, so applicants often take advantage of the optional essay to address topics that might typically come up in an interview. If you don’t think you need to write anything, then don’t feel obligated to do it.
What is the word limit?
There isn’t one! This is one of the most common questions we get, but unfortunately we can’t give you an exact number. We do recommend that you use the other essay prompt word limits as a guide (200-400 words). Remember, this essay is only meant to share information that isn’t otherwise made clear in the other components of your application; it shouldn’t be a second personal statement.
What should I write about?
We don’t want to read your senior thesis as your optional essay. The essay is meant to provide added value by explaining any shortcomings you see in your application, expand on something previously mentioned, or to highlight a relevant achievement. For example, maybe due to personal circumstances you had a bad semester at your undergraduate university and your GPA dropped, or you have gaps in your resume. The optional essay can provide a space for you to explain these instances and tell us why that doesn’t reflect your ability to succeed at SIPA.
If you think there are not any shortcomings to explain, you can expand upon something you view as a strength that makes you an ideal candidate; especially if you were unable to mention it elsewhere in the application. This might include something in your resume that you didn’t get a chance to address in your personal statement, such as a volunteer experience, or relevant professional project you excelled at.
Does it have to cover a single topic?
Do not feel obligated to stick to just one topic. The essay doesn’t need to be one continuous narrative. If there are multiple things you would like to address, feel free to devote a paragraph to each.
I hope this information is useful as you finalize your applications for admission. Keep in mind our application deadlines for Fall 2017 are coming up: January 5, 2017 with fellowship consideration, and February 5, 2017 without fellowship consideration.