We've all been exposed to teachers who urge the class to complete optional assignments for extra practice, or just for "fun." We laughed at the suggestion, understanding we would most likely receive A's regardless if we put in the extra work or not. The students who accepted this challenge, just didn't seem to understand how much you can get away with in high school. They were often teacher's pets, or overachievers, or both. Still, you knew that with general smarts, you could pass upcoming tests. Each time exams were passed back, you and your friends exchanged the expected "I didn't even study," while comparing each other's grade to study time to amount I care ratios. Unfortunately, "forgetting" to study is not as highly regarded in college.
Before jumping into a discussion of the college application process, let's look at some real-world examples demonstrating the importance of supplementals (a.k.a. optional assignments for adults). An employer for X company has recently conducted interviews and must decide between the best two candidates. Both individuals attended prestigious schools, exhibit well-roundedness thorough involvement in a wide range of organizations, and possess solid portfolios. However candidate B took advantage of an optional assignment, proposed by the employer, to submit a short 2-page account in which they overcame hardship in the workplace. Candidate A felt confident in the diversity of their portfolio and resume, and felt it superfluous to answer a cliche prompt. Who do you think was chosen for the position?
Assuming candidate B's essay was at least average, we might assume that they were hired over candidate A. Candidate B's attempt at the optional assignment revealed their ambition, meticulousness, and might have even supplied the employer with positive insight into the individual's values, character, and work ethic. Now pretend both candidates were prospective students applying to a university. Being honest with yourself, who would the institution admit?
When colleges receive as many applications as they do, it's easy to unintentionally find duplicates. In my hometown, for example, many students take the same classes, play the same sports, and live in the same region all their lives. Though there is ostensible diversity, in the way we dress, speak, and look, our resumes appear incredibly similar. In attempt to circumvent homogeneity, many colleges offer "optional" essays. While in theory, these essays ARE truly optional, assuming you feel confident in the materials you have already provided an institution, completing an extra assignment cannot hurt your chances of admission. Have you ever heard of students washing out of school for turning in "too much homework?" No. If a university or instructor does not have the time to look over additional pages, they will not. However, they may still take note that you went above and beyond the limitations of the assignment.
Simply put, if you desperately want to attend a certain school, provide them with as much high-quality work as they allow. Worst case scenario, you cannot write to save your life and this is further reinforced by an additional essay submission. But at that point, you could imagine your optional supplemental was not the only point of discussion. Even then, at least admissions boards might note your determination and ambition. Nobody ever fails by being too ambitious. But nobody ever succeeds by doing only what they are told.
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