Law School Admissions Tip #7: The Not So Optional “Optional” Essay

The Top 15 Things Every Law School Applicant Should Know is a series that will teach you the ins and outs of successful law school applications. Stay tuned for the remaining elements. This week we’ll discuss the not so optional “optional” essay.


Almost every law school will ask for a personal statement as part of your admissions application. These personal statements are an integral part of your application, but what about the optional essays? Should you write these or not? After all, they do say “optional.” Here’s the scoop: If they give you another chance to show off your writing skills and endear yourself to the admissions committee, grab it. Not only are you taking advantage of another opportunity to sway the admissions decision in your favor, you are also demonstrating a proactive and determined attitude toward your application. This is something law schools like to see.

Here are a couple of examples of optional essays schools may encourage you to submit:

  • Duke:

“You are welcome to supplement your personal statement with either or both of the following optional essays. Optional Essay I: You may submit an essay providing additional information about why you have chosen to apply to law school in general and Duke in particular. We are interested in the factors that have prompted your interest in a legal career and the ways in which you think Duke can further that interest. Optional Essay II: You may submit an essay that describes how you will enhance the educational environment of the Law School and contribute to the diversity of the student body. Because we believe that diversity enriches the educational experience of all our students, Duke Law School seeks to admit students from a variety of academic, cultural, social, ethnic, economic, and other backgrounds. In this essay, you may tell us more about your particular life experiences with an emphasis on how the perspectives that you have acquired would contribute to the intellectual community of the Law School.”

  • Georgetown:

“In the Office of Admissions, we take great pride in dispelling the myth that the admissions process is strictly a numbers game. While numbers are important, the Admissions Committee would like to give you the opportunity to express yourself, and us to get to know you, in another way. If you would like to provide us with additional information about yourself which the Admissions Committee will consider in evaluating your application, please feel free to choose one of the following five optional responses. Your response should be limited to 250 words. Please be advised that the Committee will in no way hold it against you if you choose not to submit an optional response.

  1. Tell us about a time when you failed and what you learned.
  2. What is the best advice you ever received and have you followed it?
  3. Describe your perfect day. Ever have one?
  4. How would your friends describe you? Did they miss anything?
  5. Prepare a one-minute video that says something about you. Upload it to an easily accessible website and provide us the URL. (If you are using YouTube, we strongly suggest that you make your video unlisted so it will not appear in any of YouTube’s public spaces.) What you do or say is entirely up to you. Please note that we are unable to watch videos that come in any form other than a URL link.”


Note that in the case of Duke, one of their suggestions is specifically about diversity. Many schools will offer this up as one of their optional essays. The reality is that most everyone is diverse in one way or the other, so get creative and demonstrate how you are different from every other face in the crowd. After all, their description of diverse is, “… a variety of academic, cultural, social, ethnic, economic, and other backgrounds.” That’s a fairly wide range of experiences, so give it some thought.

For Georgetown, they offer applicants an opportunity to write both a diversity statement as well as one of the five optional essays above. Take advantage of the opportunity and write both. Just think about it from an admissions officer’s point of view. If you have two applicants, and one has written only the personal statement, and the second, equally qualified applicant, has gone above and beyond and put together two supplementary, well thought out and articulated essays, which applicant are you more likely to endorse? We know it’s a lot of writing, and we know it is easier to submit only the personal statement, but if you were looking for easy, you wouldn’t be applying to law school! Consider the extra writing good preparation for the years ahead.

By Catherine Cook, an admissions consultant, published author and former Duke Law admissions officer., the premier admissions consultancy and essay editing company, has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to over 450+ top schools since 1994.

This blog post originally appeared on Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog. ~ Helping You Write Your Best