Admissions

Don't Ignore Your Application's Additional Information Section

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Here we are. It's the middle of December. How did we get here so fast?

Most of this year's Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) applicants have their decisions by now or will get them this week. From what I've seen so far on the College Confidential discussion forum, the results look very similar to years past, with deferrals leading the pack, followed by acceptances, with outright rejections (more appropriately termed "denials") in last place.


For those who were deferred and denied, and even for some of those EA applicants who were accepted, more applications loom before the ominous early New Year deadlines. Of course, that means a lot of work over the holiday break, which begins within days. Adding insult to injury for those who will be toiling with more applications are teachers who will assign homework over the holidays.

Are You Acquainted With the "Additional Information" Section?

One of the more misunderstood aspects of the Common Application is the Additional Information section. This is a kind of wildcard opportunity for applicants to enhance their applications' profile points. Too many overlook the chance to add some meaningful information here. I'd like to give you some insights about how to take advantage of that section.

For those of you who have not experienced it yet, there's more to filling out the Common Application than just doing the essay, answering the questions and completing those nasty supplements that seem to be a sadistic add-on by many colleges these days. If you have taken the time to ponder your life, as it relates to "marketing" yourself to colleges, you may have noted some things about yourself that haven't made their way into the Common App because there are no prompts concerning those things. Even if you're applying to a school that doesn't use the Common App, you can still enhance your overall profile by conjuring some "additional information" that could very well pique the interest of the admissions staff.

The purpose of the Additional Information section is to capture aspects about yourself that aren't found elsewhere on your application. In the case of a non-Common App application, you may add this additional data on a separate piece of paper or even in an email. However, in cases like that, I lean more toward a piece of paper mailed to the admissions office rather than sending an electronic missive that may well end up floating, lost forever, in cyberspace. Of course, you could always send both, which should ensure success.

Getting back to the Common App, though, you may be wondering what kinds of information about yourself you might include in this section. You're allowed 650 words' worth of text. That's a lot, so I would caution you not to type on aimlessly about something that's not important. From my own family's experience, I recall my son's "additional information." He wrote about his sense of humor. If I remember correctly, his introduction to some anecdotes about how he likes to have fun went something like this:

"I hope that you can see from the rest of my application that I take my academics seriously. However, I want you to know [here comes some important "additional information"] that I am not one of those annoying overachievers who has his nose stuck in a book all the time. I like to have fun and enjoy a good laugh now and then. I'd like to tell you about my sense of humor …"

This is the kind of information that helps to fill out your profile. You have to remember that the admissions committee can't "hear" you speak these extra words. You have to write them. Giving them as much information as possible about who you are and how you think can go a long way in pushing your application into the "Admit" pile. What other kinds of information might you care to inform your colleges about? Let's take a look at some of those possibilities.

Consider This Advice on Additional Information

My College Confidential colleague, Sally Rubenstone, has offered her sage advice on this topic a number of times over the years in her Ask The Dean column. Here's a response of hers that's one of my favorites:

Most admission officials will tell you that students who provide unnecessary information are annoying. 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.

The Additional Information section, which you'll find on the Common Application and many others, can be a handy, catch-all place to explain the sorts of things that the rest of the forms may not cover. Are there irregularities on your transcript, such as a repeated class–or a skipped one–that require clarification? Did your parents go through a nasty divorce that torpedoed your sophomore grades? Did you win a highly competitive curling competition that is virtually unknown to anyone but avid curlers? The Additional Information space might be just the spot to provide insight into such anomalies …

… Don't, however, confuse optional additional information with the optional essays, which some Common App supplements (or other applications) include. In most cases, an optional essay isn't really optional unless the college is treating it much like the "Additional Information" section. (In other words, if the instructions tell you to write it ONLY if you have critical extra information to share.) …

In addition to Sally's suggestions, I found these from Alexis Schaitkin, in her article 7 Tips for the Additional Information Section of the Common App:

Do use the Additional Information section if …

1. You had a significant medical or personal situation that affected your academic performance: The emphasis here is on significant. If this describes you, explain the situation in a couple of short, professional sentences. For example, "You'll notice a dip in my grades in the spring of my sophomore year. I had bacterial pneumonia which caused me to be hospitalized for two weeks and miss a month of school."

2. You have significant accomplishments that would benefit from further explanation: Again, emphasis on significant. An Intel semifinalist should spend a few sentences explaining the research project. An artist who painted a series of murals in her urban neighborhood should describe this unconventional work.

3. You have a truly complex educational history: All of your transcripts will be included in your application, but transcripts are often confusing. If you have an intricate educational history (beyond simply transferring schools or taking a community college class), it is helpful to outline it. For example, a rural student who maxed out of her school's offerings in tenth grade, then took a mix of independent studies, community college classes, and online courses, should outline her course of study here.

Don't use the Additional Information section if …

4. You have a disappointing grade you'd like to explain: This isn't the space to justify your transcript. Got a fluky low grade in English and you think it's because the teacher didn't like your outspokenness? You'll appear more mature to admissions readers if you don't attempt to explain the grade. If you're upset about something like this, you might mention it to your college counselor; they will be able to frame it positively in their letter.

5. You only have three activities but want to make sure colleges understand your commitment to them: This will already be reflected in the hours you list for these activities. Be proud of the way you took action in the arenas you care about most; let your experience speak for itself.

6. You have more than ten activities to list: If it's not one of your ten most important activities, it's probably not important enough to you to mention in the application.

7. You wrote another essay that you'd like to include: If you wrote multiple college essays, bravo! The one you chose as your main essay is probably a powerful piece that captures who you are. While it can be tempting to use Additional Info as a space for other essays, understand that colleges are deliberate about the number of essays they ask you to include. Respect that and don't add another one here ...

These are very practical and useful ideas for using the AI section. The point to keep in mind is that you are trying to reveal as much positive and unique information about yourself that isn't revealed in other places on your application. One specific example from a previous counseling client of mine involves a special motivation. This young man was fascinated by all things American Civil War. His passion was collecting Civil War-related model-soldier figurines. Apparently, there is a hidden market out there for cast-lead Civil War soldiers, kind of a metal forerunner of those GI Joe toys.

Anyway, this high school senior chose to use his AI section to tell about his method for collecting these unusual pieces. He explained how he worked several part-time, minimum-wage jobs to earn enough gas money to drive across his region in search of these tiny soldiers at flea markets, antique shops and private collections. He had been doing this since he was in middle school (collecting, not driving) and he had amassed quite a formidable set of armies. In fact, he was featured in some specialty magazine articles, which garnered him national exposure. He included some clippings from those published interviews.

Ultimately, he was admitted to several Ivy League schools and a few other elite institutions. He enrolled at Yale.

So you can see how it pays to think about your life and try to identify something significant about which you can write in the AI section. Avoid redundancy at all costs. Repeating information is not only a waste of time, it annoys the admissions staff. They're the last people on earth you want to annoy!