There isn’t much talk about the Additional Information Section of the Common App, but it’s a significant section. Most students don’t fill it out precisely because they don’t believe it’s important or don’t think deeply about what to write. This guide will help you do a better job.
What is the Additional Information Section on the Common App?
The Common App gives you 650 words to explain anything that you haven’t had the space or opportunity to communicate in the rest of your application. We find that most students have a few valuable things to write in this section, but remember that it’s optional; you definitely do not want to write anything that colleges don’t perceive as valuable. You also shouldn’t fill the whole section up with another essay. If you have something that requires more than 250 words to say, then you should work it into your personal essay or your supplemental essays.
Take note all writing in the Additional Information section should be:
- Organized — bulleted out with the most important points at the top
- Factual — explain what happened. Don’t incorporate deep insights, tell extended stories, or analyze the facts too much.
- Concise — this is not the place to write a beautiful essay. Keep it short and to the point.
Should you even use the Additional Information Section of the Common App?
The Additional Information section of the Common App is purely optional. However, if you have any extraordinary experiences or circumstances during high school, you can use this section to explain them. As a general rule, don’t include any redundant information that has already appeared elsewhere in your Common App. Admissions officers are busy, so re-reading the same information isn’t helpful to them. Suppose you have a topic that you feel strongly deserves all or most of the 650 words of Additional Information. In that case, we highly suggest you rework your application to make this the focus of one of your other essays (Personal or Supplemental). If you’re unsure what counts as Additional Information that you should include, take a look at these categories below.
Finish these first
Before sitting down to write this section, we recommend that you:
- Finish writing the rest of your application. This section aims to fill the gap on anything that the rest of the application didn’t cover. However, you can’t really know that until the rest of the application is complete.
- Develop a Strong Candidacy Story. You should have clarity on how you’re pitching yourself to colleges and therefore how colleges will remember you. See our blog post on this topic to learn more. When considering what to write into this Additional Information section of the Common App, you should only include things that reinforce your story. If it confuses or distracts from this story, then you should leave it out. A great college application is all about smart curation. Being strategic about what you don’t communicate is as equally important as what you do communicate.
- Develop a Prioritized List. Review the categories below and write a preliminary list of all the additional things that you think are important to include in this section. Then prioritize the items on the list with the most important ones at the top. Finally, review them to make sure all the items are essential.
Below are the most typical things that students will include in this Additional Information section of the Common App:
Have you worked on a project or developed a skill that is quite exceptional? Then this section is usually the best place to expand on it! Read this blog post for a more thorough explanation of what we mean by a Spike. The Activities Section of the Common App only gives you 150 characters to describe each activity. This often isn’t enough room to do your Spike justice. Furthermore, personal essays tend to be more focused on creative storytelling that brings a student’s personality to life. They don’t emphasize the more factual elements of your Spike. So, this is a great section to elaborate on (i) your achievements, (ii) your upcoming, anticipated achievements and plans, and (iii) meaningful context. For example, the obstacles you’re proud to have overcome or your reason for doing it in the first place.
Your Spike: Additional Information Example
For example, if you are an accomplished Electric Violin player, then you might write something like this:
Electric Violin (4 years)
- Recorded my first album this past summer called “The Homecoming” and have already sold 10,000+ records.
- Donating all proceeds ($11,500 so far) to benefit victims of Hurricanes and Typhoons.
- Numerous articles written on me and my music in local Taiwanese newspapers. Here is a link (bit.ly/examplelinkthatisnotreal) to a folder with those articles.
- Frequently invited to perform concerts in many locations throughout Taiwan and internationally. My performance schedule and more information is on my website at www.mywebsitethatisnotreal.com.
Other activities for Additional Information on the Common App
You shouldn’t feel limited to only expanding upon your Spike. Suppose there are other activities in your life that you consider important to your candidacy profile to colleges. In that case, this is also the place to provide any additional information on your Common App. We don’t, however, recommend that you expand upon all your activities. Only expand on the most critical ones that are foundational to your identity and only if you haven’t already had the chance to sufficiently explain them in your Activities section or essays. For example, if the hypothetical student above who plays the electric violin also started a Synthetic Biology Club at school, then she might need to use the Additional Info section to explain it.
Major Life Events
Were you fighting a serious illness for much of 10th grade? Did you and your family’s move to the US making your transition to 10th grade very difficult? Suppose a significant circumstance blocked your ability to achieve academically or non-academically. In that case, then you should explain it here — if you haven’t already chosen to write your personal essay about it. Unlike the personal essay, don’t tell a story here Focus on the facts of the situation. Also, focus on the impact it had on you. Be specific about the situation. For example, include how many weeks of school you missed or how you needed to work every day after school and therefore couldn’t participate in school clubs.
Here is a list of the most common types of things that students mention:
- Sickness/health matters,
- Family tragedy/sickness,
- Gender or other identity issues,
- Physical or learning disabilities,
- Moving countries or regions,
- Economic hardship (which forced you to work in high school),
- Abuse and more.
Anything Atypical About Your Schooling System
Use the Additional Information section of the Common App to explain anything that colleges should know about your schooling system. Many students, especially international students, go to alternative or specialized high schools (or are homeschooled). They may have atypical grading systems. Others need to explain why they switched schools or why a certain detail on their transcript looks strange. Don’t assume the college will already know. Even if the counselor is already explaining it to your colleges elsewhere, it’s recommended to explain again in your own words.
Atypical or Exemplar Academics
Use this section to underscore and describe any academic achievements that deserve further mention. For example, if you did a major research paper (i.e. IB Extended Essay) that you’re particularly proud of and that reinforces your candidacy story, then you should mention it here. If you are involved in other academic activities or competitions or even if you took a really high-rigor and fabulous, yet somewhat eccentric class, then you might explain it here. For example, if you took a class in high school called “The History of the iPhone”, an admissions officer might think it sounds like an easy and silly class. To clarify, you could provide a three-sentence explanation summarizing its rigor, some highlights of the readings, and any special projects that give it more credibility to colleges.
Red Flags for Additional Information on the Common App
A red flag is anything that hurts your application or gives admissions officers reason to be concerned. For the most selective colleges, it sometimes takes only one or two red flags to get your otherwise amazing application thrown into the “reject” file. So it’s your job to manage your own application. Preemptively anticipate and mitigate the damage of a potential red flag. Did you get poor grades in 9th grade and need to explain why? Were you missing a grade on your transcript? Did you take a gap year and need to explain why and how you’re making the most of the time? Were you involved in almost zero extracurriculars and need to explain why? Did you drop an important extracurricular activity? Did you get disciplinary action at school and need to explain what really happened? This is a catch-all section for all the things that might unfairly look bad and require further explanation.
In summary, the Additional Information section of the Common App can be very useful, so we encourage you to make use of it. But remember to keep it succinct, organized, and factual. Make sure everything you include is important. It annoys admissions readers when they read things that seem unimportant or redundant.
Other Application Platforms
In the past, our guide to the Additional Information section of the Common App has received a lot of attention. Many students asked about how this advice transfers to other application platforms like the Coalition App and the University of California (UC) App. Below is our advice for both those App Platforms.
Additional Information for the Coalition Application
All open-ended questions (essays, additional questions, and Additional Information) are handled by each individual college in the Coalition Application. Therefore, whether or not they require the essay or even offer an Additional Information section is at each college’s discretion. If schools do offer one, we recommend following the same guidelines outlined in this post.
However, because of the Locker, Coalition gives ample opportunities to express sides of yourself you may not have had opportunities to showcase in your Common App. Your Locker is a place to store any files (documents, graphics, and so on) that you may want to refer to during the college application process. (You can use SlideRoom for these, but it’s not as common). We recommend using the Locker to do much of what you would use the Common App Additional Information section for. Show off your Spike (via photos, videos, news articles, etc), exemplar academics (you can include a copy of a research paper), and any other achievements you’re proud of.
What if you have pieces of your profile that you feel can’t be represented in the Locker? For instance, complications in your school’s grading system or explanations of potential red flags. Or what if a school you’re applying to doesn’t allow you to upload supplementary items from the Locker? Then you should make use of the Additional Information section of the Coalition App.
Additional Comments for the University of California (UC) Application
The UC Application does have an Additional Comments section (capped at 550 words), like the Common App. But before simply copying and pasting, you may find other areas on the UC Application where you should express this information. First off, the Additional Comments section under Academic History gives you an obvious space to put some of this information. This includes academic red flags, exemplary academic work, or unusual circumstances related to your schooling. However, the Academic History section allows up to 550 characters (not words) so stick to the advice we outline in this post and be extremely concise.
Additionally, the UC Application asks you to answer four different Personal Insight questions, which are a great chance to communicate points from your Additional Information in the Common App. Your Spike, major life events, or personal qualities could easily come across in any number of these questions. If none of them seem to fit, then question #8 could be a good time for that. (What do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?)
Unlike the Common App, which gives you few opportunities to express yourself, the UC app practically gives you too many. Only use the Additional Comments section to get across information that you can’t possibly express at any other point in the application (including the Academic History Additional Comments section). And even then, keep it limited, and follow the guidelines outlined in this post.
How can I talk about Covid in the Additional Information Section?
Both the Common App and Coalition offer an optional space for students to write about significant challenges they have faced due to Covid. The Common App allows 250 words. On the Coalition App, it’s 300 words max. But what if you run out of space to explain your circumstances? Make sure you’ve written your Covid essay concisely. Otherwise, consider including your circumstances in other essays, especially if Covid has majorly uprooted your life and forced you to adapt in significant ways. You can also expand on Covid-related hardships in the Additional Information section, but again, keep it factual. Make sure every word counts.
If a certain college doesn’t offer a Covid prompt, then use the Additional Information Section of the Common App, Coalition, or respective UC Additional Comments sections. So far, the UC Application platform doesn’t offer a Covid prompt, but again, you have more opportunities to explain your circumstances on the UC Application compared to the Common App.
Do you need help navigating complex college application systems? Talk to us to learn how our program can help!
This post was updated on Sept 30, 2021. The original was published on Medium on Sept 29, 2017.