Most business school applications will have either an essay or a short answer question where you can provide optional/additional information to help shed more light on your candidacy. It’s important to read the directions carefully, as most schools will make it clear that this space should only be used to clarify or explain things in your candidacy that you may not have been able to do so anywhere else in your application. Many candidates believe that they should be utilizing this space regardless of whether or not they really have something additional to add, but it is absolutely fine to leave this section blank if everything is being covered in your application. Below are a few cases where you should be utilizing the optional/additional information section.
Explaining choice of recommenders
The optional/additional information section should be used to explain your choice of recommenders if you are unable to ask a direct supervisor to write a recommendation letter on your behalf (which is what most MBA programs are looking for). Not being able to ask a direct supervisor to write a recommendation letter is actually more common than many think for a couple of reasons such as the following: 1) you may have concerns that if he/she knows that you are applying to business school, then that will impact your employment at your company, or 2) perhaps you started a new role or were assigned a new supervisor whom you have only been working with for a short period of time. Regardless of the reason, if you are unable to provide a recommendation letter from a direct supervisor, then the optional/additional information section is the right place to address that.
Explaining a weak GPA and/or weak GMAT/GRE score
If you have a weak GPA and/or GMAT/GRE score (particularly a weak quantitative score), then it is helpful to tell the Admissions Committee why this is the case so that they can understand your background better. The most important aspect here is not to provide excuses; you should acknowledge what happened and how you have grown from the experience. Part of demonstrating that growth is to show why you feel you can handle the academic rigor of the curriculum. In other words, what can you point to in order to give the Admissions Committee confidence that you will thrive in the classroom?
Explaining a professional gap
If you have gap(s) in your professional history, that should be explained as well. If a school does not have a separate section just for this (you’ll need to check each application), then you can use this space to briefly explain why there is a gap in your professional history and what you did during that time. Having a professional gap is not necessarily a negative; what is most important is providing an explanation as to why that gap exists and how that time was utilized.
Providing clarification on any other aspect of your candidacy
If there are any other parts of your candidacy where it would be helpful to shed some light and clarity, then the optional/additional information section is the right place to do so. For instance, I have had some international clients use this space to clarify the grading systems at their universities to avoid any confusion as Admissions Committees evaluate their transcripts. Others have used this space to provide more color on different aspects of their compensation. You’ll need to use your judgment to assess if there are aspects of your application that need clarity.
As laid out above, the optional/additional information space is an extremely useful opportunity to make sure that the Admissions Committee has a holistic and clear picture of your candidacy.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.
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