Should I write optional essays?
I'm in the process of applying to Penn State. they have an optional essay that says "Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records."
I looked it up and found that you should not write optional essays if you don't actually have anything substantial to write. I don't have anything to write that hasn't been written in my common app essay or on the rest of the application. Should I write the essay regardless? I submitted my test score and it is pretty good for the branch I'm applying to. I'm not sure if that could be a deciding factor.
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As you said, you are never compelled to write but it is highly recommended. Do you feel as if Penn State would know all about you through your application or your Common App Essay? If so, then you don't have to write but if not, then you should use the opportunity to say something again about yourself. Infact, that's why they asked because they want to give you the opportunity to say something out of your application. Most times, this is highly prioritized by the University because they love to see who the student is outside of academics. You could write anything outside of academics. That could even include something as little as, cooking, drawing, skating or anything that you do outside of the school life then simply say how that helps you succeed.
I would recommend that you look for something in your life that you really care about and that is substantial enough to be worth writing about. While the optional essays aren't required and you could still get accepted without them, the fact that you had nothing interesting enough in your life to write about in that section might be something the admissions committee considers as well.
Universities, especially top-notch ones like Penn State, are looking for students with full lives, fresh perspectives, and unique experiences. I find it hard to believe that you don't have anything substantial to write about, as anything in your life, from hobbies and sports to your cultural background and your upbringing are things that Penn State wants to hear about. In applying to colleges, it is important to take any chance you can get to show your admissions counselors who you are and expose different facets of your personality and the various assets you could bring to their college.
In light of all of this, though, you should also remember not to simply write nonsense just for the sake of submitting something. Really think about what in your life makes you a great candidate for Penn State and what experiences have equipped you to succeed there. Try to think about what made you a better student, a better roommate, a better club member, a better leader, a better person, etc. Even if you find just one really interesting part of yourself or one important asset that Penn State should consider, write about that.
My final advice would be not to pressure yourself with the word count and make sure that the essay really means something. If you feel like there isn't much to write about, the word count you're "supposed" to hit can be a bit daunting for some. Just keep in mind that they provided a maximum, not a minimum. This essay could really just be one very well-thought-out paragraph if you do it right.
I hope this was helpful, and I'm wishing you good luck!