If the Common App Essay Is Optional, Should You Do It?

Posted by IPFW Admissions Team on 6/1/17 4:30 PM

You made it through the Common Application’s personal profile section. You survived telling them about your family and your education. You slogged through your test scores and labored over your activities list. 

Then you see it: The Common App essay. The optional one. And it’s standing between you, your college future, and your plans for binging on Netflix tonight.

Hmm … if the essay is optional and many colleges don’t require it (including IPFW), could you just call it a night without writing one? Even if none of the schools on your list require an essay, can you really skip it without any concerns? Will an essay-free application make you look like a weak admissions candidate? Or will including an optional essay seem like overkill to your admissions officer?

Those make great questions, but let’s start with simpler one: Why do they ask for an essay at all?

They Want to Know You

Admissions essays exist for one simple reason: The school wants to know more about you than your GPA or SAT score. They want to peer inside your thoughts, hear your insights, and discover what’s going on in there and how it makes you unique. 

If you decide to let an optional essay slide, it won’t hurt your application. That’s why they call it “optional” in the first place. Your application will go into the digital stack with all of the others. It may be useful to explain some of your background, passions, or interests—but it’s not going to count against you in any way.

 That feels like good news for your Netflix plans, but how does it impact your application? 

How an Essay Helps

You know that the school will get applications from people with similar backgrounds to yours, guaranteed.

Whether you lead the chess club, played in the band, or volunteered for local non-profits (or even all of that combined), someone else out there is your college-bound doppelgänger. It’s just life.

How can you stand out from the rest of the people hoping to get in? The essay can help you do it. If you write an essay and your non-identical twin doesn’t, then your essay could help you stand out a bit. Even if they do write an essay, the fact that you did one as well at least puts you on equal footing with them.

To Write or Write Not?

So in the end, do you write an optional essay or do you skip it? The majority of experts lean toward writing and submitting one. It can only help your cause, provided you do a passable job writing it.

Look over the prompts for this year’s Common App [INSERT “Common App essay prompts” LINK HERE], find something that resonates with you and your life experience, and start writing. You want to do a good job, of course, so read through the essay several times. Have a friend review it as well.

Since there’s no time limit on the Common App essay, you can make as many changes as you want. Just make sure it looks great and sounds like you when you’re done.

Have questions about the Common App? Learn more with our Common App Frequently Asked Questions Guide. Get one here:

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Topics: Applying to College, Common App, Essay Advice


 

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