A common misconception among students is that the word optional on a college application literally means optional. Actually optional means "you don't really have to do this if you don't want to go to this college."
Common Application supplements often contain short answer and longer essay questions. Students are inclined not to answer those questions because they think optional means "it does not matter if you answer this question".
Answering an optional question, especially answering the question thoughtfully and well, says good things about a student, such as:
- cares enough to do extra work
- goes the extra mile
- likely a conscientious person
- takes application seriously
- really wants to go here
- not afraid to write a short or long essay
Most students want those things said about themselves. Optional means the same thing as the Nike swoosh tagline: Just do it.