by Amy Alexander, former admissions officer at Yale University
It’s the time of year that most seniors are starting to complete their Common Application, and if you’ve signed up for an account, you’re probably already aware that you must submit an essay of 250 to 650 words in response to one of seven prompts. In addition to the personal statement, many colleges also require you to write responses to supplemental essays or questions. While these writing assignments are relatively clear and straightforward, there is also an Additional Information section offered on the bottom of the app’s writing page that creates confusion and uncertainty among many college applicants. What exactly do you use this space for?
On its face, the Additional Information essay is a response to the following prompt:
Please provide an answer below if you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application. You may enter up to 650 words.
Seems pretty wide open, doesn’t it? That’s part of the challenge of this section of the application. Many students believe it is smart to utilize all the space given on the application, and so they try to come up with something to write in this space even if they’re not sure what fits there. If there is nothing additional to add, explain, or address, then we recommend you leave this section blank—this particular space does not have to be completed, and in fact most students leave it blank. If, however, there is an extenuating circumstance, an interruption in school, an unusual or sudden change in your life, a disciplinary issue, or a learning disability that admissions officers ought to know about, then this section is exactly the place for you to write about it. Please note: This year’s Common App includes a separate, optional question that is specifically about how COVID has affected you.
I always tell students to think long and hard about what they share here, and to ask themselves if it is truly critical that they share this information. Will it help the admissions officer get to know the student better? Will it be received positively? Ultimately, will it be beneficial to the student’s candidacy? Before submitting anything in this particular section, I advise the student to seek counsel from a teacher, guidance counselor, or advisor. What you share and how you reveal it are equally important factors—the attitude you portray in your writing says as much about you as the disclosure itself. It is important to discuss even your greatest challenges with positive forward thinking and an open mind.
Despite misconceptions, Additional Information is not where you should showcase an achievement or award that you’ve already mentioned elsewhere on the application, justify a bad grade in a single class, whine about anything out of your control, be negative or boastful, or complain about a teacher or event. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to share something that does not fit anywhere else on the application. Typical examples include a death in the immediate family, a serious illness, a lengthy interruption in school, a disciplinary issue, a learning disability, and other major life events.
Like the main Common Application essay, your Additional Information must be substantive, personal, and inform the admissions officer of the lessons you’ve learned about yourself from the experience, how it shaped you, or how it changed you. What will you do with this new knowledge about yourself? How will you use the learned information or behavior in college and beyond to be a more productive, positive, active and engaged member of the community? In the end, your Additional Information should answer more questions than it creates, and you want to be sure you answer all questions that might arise about the past, present, and future. This section of the application can be a terrific asset for the right student, so consider whether it makes sense for you to use this space on your own application.