The Optional College Essay Dilemma: Insights from a Reddit Thread

The college application process can be a nerve-wracking experience for many high school students. One aspect that often generates debate is the optional essay, and whether or not choosing to submit one can negatively impact a student’s admission chances.

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A recent Reddit thread delved into this topic, with users sharing their thoughts and experiences. In this article, we will explore some of the most upvoted comments and what they reveal about the significance of optional essays in college applications.

The Risk-Taker (username: NoEssayNoProblem)

One user, NoEssayNoProblem, recounted their decision not to submit an optional essay when applying to college. Despite this choice, they received acceptance letters from multiple prestigious universities. This example suggests that opting out of the optional essay does not necessarily result in a significant disadvantage, provided the rest of the application is strong.

The Essay Advocate (username: WriteYourWayIn)

Another user, WriteYourWayIn, argued in favor of submitting the optional essay. They claimed that the essay provides an additional opportunity for applicants to showcase their personality, writing skills, and unique experiences. By choosing not to submit an optional essay, a student may miss out on the chance to further distinguish themselves from other applicants.

The Admissions Perspective (username: AdmissionsGuru)

A former admissions officer, AdmissionsGuru, provided valuable insight into how colleges evaluate optional essays. They explained that while not submitting an optional essay would not automatically disqualify an applicant, it could potentially put them at a disadvantage compared to others who do. Admissions committees appreciate applicants who take the initiative to provide additional information, as it demonstrates their genuine interest in the school and their commitment to the application process.

The Balanced Approach (username: RealisticApplicant)

RealisticApplicant took a more balanced stance on the issue, suggesting that the decision to submit an optional essay should be made on a case-by-case basis. They argued that if an applicant feels they have something unique or valuable to add to their application through the optional essay, they should definitely submit it. However, if the essay would simply rehash information already provided elsewhere in the application, it may not be worth the effort.

To submit or not to submit?

The impact of not submitting an optional college essay can vary depending on the individual applicant and the strength of their overall application. While choosing not to submit an optional essay does not guarantee a negative outcome, it could potentially put a student at a disadvantage compared to others who take advantage of the opportunity. Ultimately, the decision to submit an optional essay should be based on whether it will meaningfully enhance the application and provide admissions committees with a more comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s story.

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Bonus point. Interesting to Know: Admission Essay Facts

  • Unusual essay prompts: Some colleges are known for their quirky and creative essay prompts. For example, the University of Chicago is famous for its offbeat essay questions, such as “What’s so odd about odd numbers?” or “If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs, or aliens, who would you pick and why?” You can find examples of the University of Chicago’s creative essay prompts on their official website
  • Short and sweet: While many college essays have a word limit of around 500-650 words, some schools like Columbia University have “micro-essay” questions with a maximum word count of 150 words. This forces students to be concise and creative in their responses. Information about Columbia University’s “micro-essay” questions can be found on their undergraduate admissions page
  • The Costco essay: One high school student made headlines in 2016 when her college essay about her love for Costco went viral. The essay, which detailed her experiences exploring the wholesale store, ultimately helped her gain admission to five Ivy League schools and Stanford University. The Costco essay story was widely reported, and you can read about it in this article from Business Insider
  • Celebrities who shared their essays: Several celebrities have made their college essays public, offering a glimpse into their early writing and thought processes. For example, Tina Fey’s essay for her application to the University of Virginia discussed her love for comedy and impersonating political figures, while Lena Dunham’s essay for Oberlin College focused on her obsession with the 1960s. You can read about Tina Fey’s and Lena Dunham’s college essays in this article from The New York Times
  • Rejection turned success: One student was initially rejected by her top-choice school, Johns Hopkins University, due to a clerical error. After discovering the mistake, she wrote an eloquent and persuasive email to the admissions office, ultimately securing her place at the university. This example highlights the power of well-crafted writing, even in non-traditional contexts. The story of the student who was initially rejected by Johns Hopkins University due to a clerical error is detailed in this article from The Baltimore Sun.

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