A handful of law schools offer students the opportunity to write so-called “optional” essays. For example, Northeastern University School of Law “encourages” (but does not require) you to answer one of the following questions:
A) The School of Law’s Co-op Program incorporates practice directly into the curriculum. What field(s) of law would you like to pursue on co-op and why?
B) The School of Law is a nationally recognized leader in public interest law. What does public interest mean to you?
C) What life experiences have brought you to apply to law school?
It should be clear that these essays are not in fact “optional,” unless of course you don’t actually want to attend the school in question. As an admissions official at one of the “optional essay” schools once told a gathering of UMass pre-law students, “You know what we think of applicants who don’t complete the optional essays? We think they’re lazy, and we don’t admit lazy students to our school.”
Think of the optional essay as an additional opportunity to market yourself to the admissions committee. Choose a topic that will allow you to expand about a part of you that would not otherwise be evident to the readers. Make sure it complements rather than duplicates your personal statement, resume and other addenda. And then pay attention to any additional requirements or suggestions the school offers—page length, for example, or further clarifications of the essay question. If you have any questions whatsoever about the nature of the question and whether your topic “fits,” don’t hesitate to contact the admissions staff. They sincerely want to evaluate based your best work, not the result of a misunderstanding. And, of course, always feel free to run a draft by the pre-law advisor.