Am I Supposed to Fill In the "Additional Information" Section on My College Applications?

Question: As I was looking over the Common Application, in preparation for next year, I found the "Additional Information" section.

On the College Confidential forum, I've noticed a few people say that it's absolutely necessary to fill up this entire section, while most people don't pay much attention to it.

So what's the answer? Should you only fill up the space if you have a really pressing issue? Or should it be filled out regardless, and, if so, what type of information do you suggest filling it with?

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.

The guidance counselor reference can also be a good place to spell out unusual situations. If you self-studied Spanish 2 over the summer so you could jump ahead to Spanish 3, your counselor can note that in the recommendation. Family problems, as well, can be appropriate fodder for these letters. So if you have any information that you want your counselor to pass along to admission committees, don't be shy about telling him or her. Some explanations that can seem whiny or unreliable in the "Additional Information" section (i.e., "My calculus teacher is a nut job and his grading was extremely erratic" or "My mom has a drug problem and I have become the primary parent to my two young sisters" ) can have more credibility if they come from the counselor--instead of (or in addition to) just from you.

Many students also use the Additional Information section to upload resumes, research abstracts, etc. This is perfectly appropriate, although a small handful of schools (e.g., Stanford) clearly ask that candidates NOT submit unsolicited materials. So read instructions carefully.

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.)

But definitely DON'T feel as if you MUST fill that Additional Info space. If you ramble on unnecessarily, it can only work against you and--as with many things in life --- often "less is more."