Any time I get asked a college admissions-related question more than once, it occurs to me that it’s probably article-worthy. If one student is asking the question, then that means there are others who are also wondering. And in the last week, I have been asked twice about the Common App “Additional Info” section. It causes lots of confusions for students.
The Common Application (“Common App”) remains the most popular application tool for students applying to colleges. And, the “Additional Information” section of the Common App is meant for students to convey information that they just could not capture adequately anywhere in the rest of their application. Students are given 650 extra words here to address any important, substantial aspects of their high school experience that they could not convey elsewhere.
But, what counts as important additional information?
That’s the difficult question. Sally Rubenstone of College Confidential’s “Ask the Dean” says that, “The admission folks don’t want to see your toilet-training certificates from pre-school; they don’t need newspaper clippings from every lacrosse game you ever played; and they certainly don’t need to read your Additional Information if you truly have nothing meaningful to impart.” That sums it up pretty well. Basically, I tell students that they need to be judicious in the information that they include here. It’s for information that is significant.
A wise use of this section is to explain an anomaly in the application. Did the student have a bad semester that looks out of place on the transcript, due to a medical issue? Sometimes this is best addressed by the guidance counselor in their letter. But, sometimes it’s appropriate to address it in Additional Information.
Was the student unable to participate in many extracurriculars due to having to care for a younger sibling after their parents’ divorce? While that childcare can be listed under the activities section, it may warrant further explanation in the Additional Info section.
I recently advised a student that they could use the Additional Information section to expand further on an activity that they had already listed in their Activities section. The activity was personally meaningful to them and it was difficult to convey the substance of the activity in 150 characters. Though participation in clubs is often very meaningful to students, more common activities that many students participate in usually are not unique enough to require more explanation. This activity was a self-designed internship and was not a typical student activity.
I had one Senior that was concerned because they were unable to take an Advanced Placement course in a subject related to their intended major. The reason they were unable to take it is because it was only offered at the same time as another Advanced Placement course related to their intended major. (They chose to take the class considered to be more rigorous.) So, in the Additional Information section, they noted that the two classes conflicted with each other and that’s the reason they had not taken both.
Maybe the student is passionate about stamp collecting and their collection is so extensive that it has been featured in a stamp collectors magazine. If the student didn’t discuss that in their personal essay, then the Additional Information section may be the place to expand on that hobby. But, the student needs to be careful about how they present the information. How is that hobby personally meaningful to them? If they can’t convey that, there is a risk that an Admissions officer won’t be all that impressed.
What does NOT count as important additional information?
The Additional Info section of the Common App is not meant to just be an overflow basket for all the things that a student could not fit elsewhere in their application. That means if a student has 14 extracurricular activities, when the application itself only has room for ten, Additional Information is not the place to list those last four. Remember, that Activities section is meant to be a place to list meaningful activities. It’s a rare high school student that participates meaningfully in more than ten activities.
It is NOT the place to write an additional personal essay. If the application is well done, the admissions officers should be able to get a sense of who the student is from the rest of the application. Remember, they often only have a matter of minutes to initially screen applications. They just don’t have time to read all the smallest details.
Do not include any redundant information in this section. If the information was already conveyed in Activities, or on the transcript, or in the essay, it does not belong in Additional Information, unless it is there for clarification.
While my advice above is general, it is hard to generalize how to use the Common App Additional Information section. Every applicant is unique, which usually means it needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
It’s very important that all applicants understand that this section is not a requirement. In fact, unless there is some unusual circumstance or the rest of the application just did not tell the complete story, it’s better to leave it empty. And if a student does choose to use it, they should strive to be as succinct as possible.
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