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When to Use the Additional Information Section on Common App

The space looks so inviting. The word limit of 650 words opens up a world of possibilities. More is better, right? 

Not when it comes to the "Additional Information" section of the application. Most institutional specific applications and the Common Application provide an extra space for students to use. But few know when and how to use it.

With admissions officers being asked to read applications in less than five minutes, they need to focus on what is required. For most selective colleges, the transcript, test scores, letters of recommendation, activities, and essays matter. Anything extra often doesn't get read, especially if it's viewed as unnecessary by admissions officers. I was once an admissions officer and I remember the pressure (and frustration) I felt when a student went overboard and provided information that wasn't asked for. That is why I am incredibly hesitant to recommend that students submit extra materials or add information that distracts the admissions officer.
But sometimes students need to explain things. And that is when the "Additional Information" section comes in handy. As long as the student keeps their comments straightforward and brief, this section can contextualize unique circumstances about the student and/or their high school experience.
Below are the instances when I give a student my blessing to use the "Additional Information" section:
  • If there was a scheduling conflict and you weren't able to take a core academic class.
  • An important class was canceled due to low enrollment or a teacher shortage.
  • A discrepancy between what is listed on the school profile and what is available to the student. For example, if the school profile indicates that certain AP classes are offered but they aren't, you could make a note.
  • When the transcript or school profile is not clear about a class, special program the student is a part of, or unusual sequencing like skipping a certain math class.
  • When the high school does not have a school profile or it's not up-to-date and the transcript needs to be explained further.
  • A major medical or personal issue impacting the student in some way.
  • The title and subject matter of the student's International Baccalaureate Extended Essay. 
  • A job or internship associated with a class on the transcript. 
Some students fill that space with other information, though. It can quickly become overflow for the activities list or honors section. But if an activity or honor is so important, it should be included in the activities list or honors section. The "Additional Information" section is not a space for an extended list of activities, honors, or even an additional essay. More is not better, remember. 

READ MORE: My Daughter Wrote Her College Essay! Here's How We Picked the Prompt

If a student needs to use the "Additional Information" section, it should be used sparingly. A short, neutral, brief statement goes a long way. This can be especially important with students who are applying to colleges that do not permit a letter of recommendation from a counselor or if their counselor is not able to provide a detailed letter on their behalf.
Ultimately, this section is not required so it gets a lot less attention than other pieces of the application. Only use this section if you really need to. And remember how quickly admissions officers want to get through an application. Keep things short and sweet when it comes to the "Additional Information" section. You'll thank me later for it (and so will those admissions officers).