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The Common App has greatly streamlined the application process for applicants looking to apply to multiple schools for college.
It allows applicants to complete one common application, hence the name “Common App,” when applying to universities.
That said, the Common App is a part of the admissions process that needs to be filled out with precision and care.
Presenting why you are the perfect student for an incoming class to an admissions committee of complete strangers is no easy feat.
When trying to figure out the best possible strategy for the Common App, particularly the Additional Information section, consider the information below:
How Many Parts Are There on the Common App?
The Common App is essentially a standard form that allows an applicant to input basic information, which will then go directly to university admissions.
Some sections of the Common App are standard to all schools.
Other sections are specific to particular schools, should they have additional requirements such as writing samples or additional information.
For a first-year college applicant, sections are divided into:
- Profile: This section includes basic information like name, address, and phone number. You will also be asked information about demographics and geography, such as your birthplace, citizenship, and race/ethnicity (optional).
- Family: This section has a place to list parents or guardians and their education level and occupation, as well as siblings.
- Education: In this section, you will list all schools attended with contact information and academic information, such as GPA, class rank, and honors received.
- Testing: This section includes your standardized test scores, including ACT or SAT, TOEFL (if required for non-native English speakers), and AP, IB, or SAT subject tests.
- Activities: In this section, you are able to list up to 10 extracurricular activities and how you were involved. This includes how many years you participated, how often, and any leadership positions held.
- Writing: This is the all-important personal essay. You will write a 650-word essay from 1 of 7 prompts. You will also have the chance to explain any disciplinary history on your record. The Additional Information section is located here.
- Courses & Grades: In this section, you will enter in your courses and grades received. This is required for some colleges.
- College-Specific Questions: Some schools choose to ask additional questions, which will be listed in this section. These questions vary and often cover things like your academic interest or program, your state of residence, or preferences about school housing.
- College Writing Supplements: If your schools require additional essays or writing samples, you will complete them in this section.
What Is the Additional Information Section? And Why Is It Important?
The whole Common App seems pretty comprehensive, right?
There is a place to list every class, activity, and personal reason that you are a great fit for a particular school.
So what is the Additional Information section for and why is it important?
- The Additional Information section is located in the Writing portion of the Common App as an optional place to add relevant situations and/or qualifications that are not mentioned elsewhere in the application.
These are often more personal in nature but should not be confused with the personal essay.
- Using the Additional Information section is not required and should only be done when you have something to highlight or explain that makes your overall application stronger.
Deciding to use this section is something that should be carefully considered and based on the individual applicant’s life circumstances.
There is a 650-word limit on this section if the applicant decides to use it as a relevant part of their Common App.
What Should You Put in the Additional Information Section?
The Additional Information section is designed to include relevant factors to your application that would otherwise be missed.
The key with this section is to have a balance in what you are putting.
- You may want to highlight a prestigious award or research project you were dedicated to while in high school, as it could add a strength to your application.
It can also be an opportunity to describe an experience or volunteer project that really influenced your work in the classroom or other organizations listed on your application.
- If you had an unusual high school experience, such as homeschooling while traveling abroad or attending a specialized school, you can explain why your transcript may not look like what the admissions committee is expecting to see.
This does not include an explanation for bad grades because you didn’t study or work hard.
- Rather, it is the chance to explain why the grading system used is atypical.
If you have a legitimate personal reason for bad grades, such as missed days of school due to a family emergency or illness, the Additional Information section may be the place to list it.
A good Additional Information entry may look something like this:
I felt that the curriculum offered at Josano Main High School did not challenge me to achieve my true potential. For this reason, I applied to the Kansas Science and Tech Academy during my freshman year. KSTA offers a magnet curriculum, only featuring classes that are at or above AP/Honors level. Although it was challenging to become accustomed to the residential and academic environment at KSTA, I developed efficient time management strategies to meet the demands of the rigorous coursework.
The opportunity to study advanced courses like Number Theory, Linear Algebra, Multi-Variable Calculus, and Computational Science has enabled me to challenge myself academically. The ability to perform research with a university professor to solve a real-world problem through the BHG department at KSTA was a program that was too good to pass up. These opportunities would not have been available to me at my home high school.
Or something like this:
The residential requirements of KSTA limited my voluntary and employment hours to a few weekends per month and over the summer. However, I found opportunities to serve within the KSTA community by volunteering as a peer tutor and serving on the Student Computing Support Team. I was also able to take advantage of social media platforms to create fundraising drives for Ananda Sagara, an orphanage and charitable organization I work with in Bangalore, India.
This passage is also a great example:
Additionally, I will be publishing papers in the Journal of Robotics during the spring semester of my senior year. The publishing date has not been established, but I have confirmed that my work on propulsion applications in rocket robotics has been vetted and approved for publishing.
In this example, the applicant wrote factual information about the KSTA program and how it impacted them academically and in extracurricular activities.
They did highlight the volunteer efforts they were able to do and an upcoming professional paper they will have published.
Here are some more examples.
This example is about the passing of a parent:
My mother passed away in Spring 2018. It led to financial hardship for my family and a drop in my grades. Since then, I have strived to better my grades by attending after-school peer-to-peer tutoring.
This student describes the sacrifices her family made:
I attend a school 35 minutes from my home. It is located in a school district that my family favors. I leave extra early in the morning and get home at 7 pm, once my parents are off from work and can pick me up.
An example is from a student who wrote a strong IB essay:
My IB essay was about media commentators, journalists, politicians, and prominent news anchors and their effects on stock prices after discussing political economy and markets on television shows.
Finally, this last student discusses her health issues:
I suffered from a string of concussions in my sophomore and junior years. As such, I needed to leave school for days at a time, as acute headaches impaired my vision and ability to walk in school. While my grades dropped during this time, I kept up with all my courses, scored well on the SATs, and became captain of the softball team.
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What Should You NOT Put in the Additional Information Section?
Just as important as knowing how to use this section of the Common App effectively is knowing what not to include.
Anything you add should be genuine and important.
- For example, if you tell a sad story just to gain sympathy that is not genuine, it will reflect poorly on your application.
- The Additional Information section is not a place to continue or expand on your personal essay.
- Make sure that anything you add is distinctly different from the topics you covered in other writing portions of the Common App.
Some applicants want to explain poor academic performance or records in the Additional Information section.
This may be a good place to do so, but it may also come across as making excuses.
- First, make sure that you have a legitimate explanation for your poor performance, such as prolonged illness or missed school days due to a family move.
- If that’s the case, keep your explanation short and to-the-point.
- This is not the place to weave an emotional story of overcoming hardship.
- If you feel that your story is better told that way, consider making it the subject of your personal essay, but only if it is the best way to answer the prompt.
The key to determining if you should use the Additional Information section is if the information you plan to include adds value to your application.
If it does, and it’s not already included in another section, go ahead and add it. If not, it’s best to leave it off and spend your time polishing the rest of your application.
Do’s and Don’ts When Writing the Additional Information Section
Below are some examples of things to include, as well as things NOT to include, on the Additional Information section of the Common App.
- Relevant Details About Published Work
If you have participated in an impressive research study or have been published, absolutely mention your accomplishments if they are not mentioned elsewhere in your application.
If your short story won a prize on a national level or you placed highly in a competitive science competition, these items are important to mention.
This is particularly true if the achievement is related to your potential long-term career path or major of study.
Remember, consistency in portraying who you are as an individual is key with telling your own personal story on the Common App.
- Explaining Extenuating Circumstances That Affected Your Academic/Standardized Test Performance
This is the most delicate of the entries on this section and has to be handled with care.
If you had an immediate family member ill or you were ill yourself, this is worth mentioning.
Other commons circumstances that can be explained in the Additional Information section include family emergencies and tragedy, struggles with gender or identity that affected academic performance, a relocation that caused missed days of school, or economic hardship that required you to work during high school.
The point with this is to keep the writing brief and direct to explain what happened and what period of time it affected in your life.
You should also make a point to highlight how you overcame that obstacle and grew from the experience.
- Explaining Different School Systems or Extra Curricular Requirements
If your school did not have traditional marking systems or you went to school abroad for high school, be sure to mention the difference in requirements so that the admissions committee has a clear picture of your high school experience.
- Consider How This Additional Information Is Enhancing Your Existing Application
Before filling out the Additional Information section, take a look at the big picture of your application. Make a list of goals of what key points you would like to get across to the admissions committee.
By doing this, you will be able to see what holes there are in the application. Utilize the Additional Information section to fill in any missing information that will be beneficial to your application.
- Highlighting Relevant Leadership Experience
Leadership experience is important to highlight on your Common App.
When considering whether to include it in the Additional Information section, make sure you were involved in the activity for at least one year and are able to demonstrate growth from the experience.
Keep in mind that you are able to list and briefly describe leadership you held within activities in the Activities portion of your application.
The experience should go above and beyond what is considered normal to include it in Additional Information.
- Consider Mentioning Overcoming a Valuable & Difficult Life Obstacle
If genuine personal hardships did impact your academic performance, and you overcame them, be sure to mention this.
An example would be a parent passing away or you recovering from a serious illness that impacted the grades of one semester or year of high school.
If your GPA does reflect this pattern, be sure to explain it. If you did exceptionally well after the incident occurred, that is something to be proud of and it will also show the admissions committee that you had difficult circumstances, worked hard, and did well in the end.
- Cultural Experiences Can Be Relevant Here
If you spent time in France for one year and became fluent in French or your parents had your family move to Africa while they worked for the Red Cross, you should mention this.
Because it shows unique life experiences and positive contributions that you will bring to a university’s classroom.
International experiences count if they are more than a short trip and if they provided you with a new skill or exceptional personal growth.
- Add Many More Extracurricular Activities
The Additional Information section is not intended for more extra-curricular activities to be listed than allotted for in the principal Activities/Work Section.
Make sure you are not using this section to fit in more information.
The reality is that doing so will reflect negatively on your overall application because it will show that you joined too many activities and did not follow the application instructions.
- Including Family Photos or Certificates of Completion
In general, do not include personal family photos or certificates of completion in your application.
Many times, this will reflect poorly on your application because it is not what the admissions committee asked for.
For applicants applying to Performing Arts or Arts schools, this rule is different in that you will be required to submit a visual portfolio; however, for other applicants, images in general need to be avoided unless specifically asked for by the school.
- Do Not Extend an Existing Essay
Admissions officers do not enjoy applicants that write more than is asked for or that do not follow the application’s instructions.
If you extend a prior essay in the Additional Information section, the admissions officer will not have time to read it and will see that you disregarded their instructions.
This may overshadow other impressive parts of your application.
- Do Not Make Excuses
Granted, there are many difficult situations that happen in life that do impact academic and exam performance.
Many applicants try to make excuses for poor performance by using life events to their advantage on college applications. Think carefully before you mention a hardship in this section.
For example, if you received a 3.7 GPA and write something about a close family member’s illness negatively impacting your GPA, this is not usually going to be seen well.
Balance carefully when writing about complicating life situations.
- Skip the Basic Volunteer Trip
It is a common mistake to include a small volunteer trip to show commitment to community service.
Admissions officers will not view this well. Include volunteer experience if it is prolonged and shows a genuine commitment.
Additionally, make that volunteer experience unique and related to perhaps your cultural background or local community.
This will show that you are not a “joiner,” but rather, an authentic contributor to a community service organization.
If you have legitimate volunteer experience for an extended period of time, it may be relevant to include in the Additional Information section; however, make sure to avoid including short volunteer experiences that did not significantly impact your life’s story.
Conclusion: How to Write the Common App Additional Info Section
When filling out the Common App, it is vital to take a step back from the application and look at your own personal situation.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your goals?
What must be included to show the admissions committee who you really are and what you will bring to their school?
By asking these questions, you will be able to know what information can be put into the more generic sections of the Common App and what information needs to be highlighted for extra special consideration in the Additional Information section.
Remember, being authentic, unique, and honest is where the Additional Information section will be a strong asset to you in your Common App.