Our Optional Essay

The most common question we receive about our optional essay is whether it is truly optional. Sure you don’t have to submit it, applicants wonder, but it looks bad if you don’t, right? Wrong. Optional means just that: Optional. We’re perfectly happy to review your application without the optional essay, and there’s absolutely no penalty attached to not having provided one.

So why write 500 more words that will have to be proofread by a friend, family member, professor and/or trusted confidante who may very well be rapidly losing interest?  Put succinctly, it’s another opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Since adding this essay to our application, we’ve found the responses to be among the more memorable parts of many files. Part of the reason is the nature of the topic: writing about an ethical dilemma forces an applicant to tell a story, and the story centers on a compelling set of facts. The topic also challenges the writer to describe a personal response to a difficult situation – it’s nearly impossible to provide your analysis, your eventual choice and your take on it without conveying a sense of just who you are. If your personal statement didn’t wow us, your optional essay can save the day.

In addition, the topic of the essay raises issues central to legal education and the practice of law (not to mention our law school – given the Honor System’s central role in shaping campus life), and writing about such questions showcases the sensibility you’ll bring to your studies. What’s the right result? Which consequences are fair and which aren’t? When personal integrity and formal rules come into conflict, which should govern?  Applicants who take the opportunity to submit this essay put their reasoning skills on display, and it’s almost always to their benefit to have done so.

Many applicants often puzzle over the subject of this essay. What sorts of things do applicants typically discuss? Well, given our general reluctance to influence the content of your submission too much, I will restrain myself from answering this question in any great specificity. However, I will say most essays describe truly difficult choices; challenging character-driven decisions made amidst a swirl of competing (and often significant) pressures, and the personal growth invariably wrought by the crucible of such tough action.

We encourage you to consider writing an optional essay. It’s likely to be easier to write than your personal statement, and it has the potential to shed a whole new light on your file. In our book, that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

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