Written by Kari Calvario, Associate Director, Masters Admissions, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
As a former English teacher, I appreciate a well-written essay. Yes, proper grammar and punctuation is expected (and often times leads me to do a little happy dance!), but when written effectively, an essay presents a great opportunity to showcase your personality. An essay prompt like the one above provides candidates with a really unique opportunity to give us in the admissions committee more of a view into your background as an applicant.
I understand there are candidates who may not share my enthusiasm for crafting additional essays – especially when you have already completed at least one required essay. To those folks, I hear you. I know that you have spent significant time and energy writing and fine tuning your required essay(s), and I want you to know that for you, that may be all you need to include in your application. However, I’d encourage you to keep reading as I suspect you may want to know more about why some of your peers are submitting this optional essay.
We can tell the amount of time and energy you have spent crafting your essay and refining it to make sure you’ve thoroughly answered the prompt. I’d encourage you to think of the question above as a fantastic chance to proactively anticipate and address any concerns the admissions committee may have while reading your application. Additionally, this essay could highlight any area of your candidacy that you feel warrants some more time.
Before you press THE BUTTON to submit your application, I would recommend that you take a step back and put yourself in our shoes. If you were a member of the admissions committee, would you have any concerns? Is there anything you’d want to know more about? Would you love to know why there is a gap in employment (maybe you took a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking trip!), why one semester’s grades are considerably lower than the rest (were you working to support yourself financially?), or that you are up for a promotion in the next few months and it can’t yet be reflected on your resume (go, you!)? Take the opportunity to really examine your profile, but don’t use the essay to make excuses or tell us unnecessary facts. If you can hold your breath under water for seven minutes (can anyone?), that may not be relevant to your candidacy. Make sure you think about why you’d like me to know that as part of your application! You can use this essay to acknowledge any anticipated concerns, provide the necessary context and discuss how you have learned or grown from that time in your life – this will showcase more depth and assist us in making a more informed decision on your candidacy.
Your essay should focus on the goal of providing clarity and explanation, but you should also feel free to address multiple areas in this space. Even though the English teacher in me can’t shake my love for thesis statements and bold imagery, this essay medium is more for succinct sharing of specific areas. Remember, in most cases, this truly is optional – not “optional”. This means, if you have taken that step back and feel confident that your candidacy is transparently articulated without the use of this essay, then you are all set. We don’t have our fingers crossed behind our backs when we tell you it is truly your choice to submit this to us – I promise!
I do hope you will take this opportunity to see the essay prompt above as an opportunity, and I also hope that I have provided some effective strategies for approaching this questions a bit more confidently!