By Indhika, IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselor
Similar to undergraduate applications, graduate applications usually have a prompt to submit additional information or an optional statement. Applicants often wonder if and how they should use the ‘optional’ prompt and whether it is tacitly required. The short answer is – no.
Additional information and optional statement prompts are truly optional, and if there is nothing further that will enhance or clarify your application, then you should leave this section blank. That said, the prompts do present an opportunity to add context for certain situations or a meaningful layer to your overall application narrative. If utilized effectively, they can be a valuable part of your profile.
6 Top Optional Statement Tips
Keep It Short
Many graduate schools will provide a word limit (around 250 words) for Additional Information/Optional Statement prompts. I recommend that graduate applicants be mindful of this limit. Admissions Committees are reading through a lot of essays. While they want to develop a full picture of each applicant, lengthy statements can negatively impact the review of your application. Aim for one or two short, impactful paragraphs.
Present New & Relevant Information
Use this section to spotlight additional information not covered elsewhere in your application. This can include a unique aspect of your background, a meaningful leadership or community engagement experience, or a deeply engaged hobby or personal project. Make sure whatever additional information you share connects to the overall applicant profile you are creating. How does this background/experience/hobby/project inform your perspectives on the field you are pursuing? How has it impacted your professional goals and values?
Do not rehash anything that is included elsewhere in your application, and do not extend your main essay. A repetitive statement will diminish rather than affirm your other application components. In addition, do not share miscellaneous personal qualities that, while important to you, are distracting in your application.
Explain Complex Education Histories or Nuanced Non-US Education Systems
Some graduate applicants submit transcripts from multiple institutions for their undergraduate degree and/or have multiple degrees. If there is an aspect of your education history that is confusing or requires further explanation, you can include a short note about it in the Additional Information/Optional Statement prompt.
In addition, while most admissions committees are familiar with international education systems, if your institution has a nuanced grading structure or other feature you would like to clarify, you can address this here.
Explain Career Changes
If your graduate application is part of a broader career change or if your work history includes a significant career change AND your personal statement does not fully capture this, you can use the Additional Information/Optional Statement prompt to provide further context.
Include details on your career change that are not covered elsewhere and add to your overall applicant profile. What factors drove this change? Are there skills and perspectives from your first career that inform the second? Are you pursuing a graduate degree and/or a different career path that combines your prior work experiences?
Explain Extenuating Circumstances
In some cases, there are extenuating circumstances that result in longer undergraduate study periods, breaks in work history, and other resume gaps. Family or personal circumstances, finances, and health can all impact your academic and work history. If there has been a situation or circumstance in your life that explains an aspect of your application, it is valuable to share it with the admissions committee.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between explaining a circumstance and adopting a tone of blame. Admissions committees will understand the significance of your circumstances and how they have impacted your life. Focus on your accountability and growth in the face of these challenges, as well as the perspective and aspirations they have inspired.
Address Weaknesses in Your Application
Some applicants think admissions committees will not notice that one bad grade on their transcript or the one-year gap in their resume. They will. Admissions committees will want to know about any grade of a C or below on your transcript and any gap of one year or more on your resume.
If your application has an academic or professional ‘red flag,’ you can use this section to address it. If poor grades or a gap in your resume are not clearly explained by a specific circumstance, this is the space where you can frame the weaker aspects of your application in a more positive light. If you took a while to gain your academic footing as an undergraduate or struggled to find a job in your field of interest, take time to address what you learned from these challenges, how you have grown since then, and what you are doing to proactively improve your academic and professional paths.
Again, tone here is very important. Do not make excuses or blame others. Instead, be honest and accountable. If immaturity or a lack of direction resulted in poor grades, it is better to state this directly and emphasize your growth since that point.
In a graduate counseling program, IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselors will work with you to put together compelling, thorough applications that highlight your best-self to admissions committees. That includes guidance on whether to utilize the Additional Information/Optional Statement portion of your application. For more information on how we can guide you through the graduate admissions process, contact us today.