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Getting the Most Out of the Common App’s Additional Info Section

Common Application
Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller
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There’s a secret to the Common App Additional Info section. And since we’re college essay coaches who want you to do great, we’re giving it to you right at the top.

The secret is: write the Additional Info section last → use it for anything at all that could explain a negative or add a positive to your total package.

Think of the reader. Our College Essay Help Center advises doing your applications college by college (not essay by essay) because that’s how admissions officers read them. They actually grade your personality and potential based on the whole thing, not by adding up essay scores. 

The Additional Info section is your chance to think about how your application will look to someone reading it for the first time. Is anything missing? Is there anything that might confuse them? Is there anything impressive that didn’t fit anywhere else? … Or did you pretty much say it all?

Add that thing in; explain that confusion away; fit in one more impressive item. … Or leave it blank.

A word on style: write short;Adding to your application: 6 ways to expand on your Activities List or Transcript;Explaining your application: 3 ways to explain potential issues;Explaining your application: 2 ways to clarify potential confusion;What not to do: 3 ways to screw it up
A word on style: write short;Adding to your application: 6 ways to expand on your Activities List or Transcript;Explaining your application: 3 ways to explain potential issues;Explaining your application: 2 ways to clarify potential confusion;What not to do: 3 ways to screw it up

    A word on style: write short  

    While the Additional Info section gives you a whopping 650 words, don’t get expansive here. 

    Again, think of your reader. They think they’re at the end of your application. They’re about to go on a coffee break, but no-oooooo-oooo. You decided to write one more thing in your Additional Info section.

    If you don’t make this section meaningful … If you don’t make this section snappy … If you don’t make this section add that missing piece to your application … Well. Your admissions reader is going to be mad at you for making them late to their coffee break, that’s what. 

    This isn’t a section for essays — those things with hooks, intros, paragraphs, and conclusions. It’s a section for bullet points. Short sentences, or even phrases. Write short.

    Adding to your application: 6 ways to expand on your Activities List or Transcript

    #1 — Expand on an amazing item from your activities list.

    As we mentioned before, sometimes, an activity is too big and exciting for a 150 character-limited box. If so, you can use the Additional Info box to expand on that one activity. 

    Tech note: In your Activities List, be sure to let the reader know they can find more in the Additional Info section. First, write up the item as you normally would. Then, at the end of that space, write “See Add’l Info” to show your reader that there is more in that section. Finally, in the Additional Info section, use resume-like bullets to expand on what you achieved.

    For example — 

    Wrote a series of newspaper articles on City-teacher Covid closure negotiations.

    • 5 of 6 articles were our top-clicked articles; 1 was top-clicked for a record 4 weeks.
    • The Springfield Gazette cited one article [bitlink]; The Springfield Sun cited another [bitlink].
    • Attended all 8 School Committee meetings in the 2020-2021 school year; interviewed all 6 School Committee members, including the Mayor who heads the Committee.
    • School newspaper advisor created a new award - the Spotlight Award - to recognize the impact of my reporting in this series.  

    The item you expand on can be anything at all. The only limitation, again, is that it not be “filler.” It should add to the reader’s overall sense of your potential

    #2 — Bullet point a supplemental essay you couldn’t include

    Similar to expanding on the Activities List, you can use this section to include information from an essay you wrote for another school — for example, a supplemental essay on an extracurricular.

    Two points here:

    1. Add meaningfully: To repeat ourselves, only add in this information if it works with the overall application you’re submitting to the particular school. In particular, make sure you’re not being redundant - you didn’t get this point across elsewhere.
    2. Boil it down: Although you have the space to copy/paste the other school supplemental essay, don’t do it. Not just because of the stuff we wrote above on your reader’s mindset (craving a coffee break). But also because this college didn’t ask for the essay that the other college did. Don’t give them something they didn’t ask for (an essay); give them what they did ask for (additional information). 

    For example — say you wrote a 200-word essay on your part-time job at a local diner. You could boil it down here, using the same short, resume-style we showcased above. 

    Server at the Donut Diner (Tuesday nights, Sunday Brunch)

    • Began as a dishwasher in March 2021; promoted to server in June 2021.
    • Developed customer services skills: tips increased about 50% (average of about 14% in June; to about 21% today). 
    • Started Instagram account for the owner; trained her in how to use the service; @[handle] has gained 2000 followers in 4 months; owner says it has increased sales.
    • Job has helped me overcome self-consciousness. Today, I feel much more confident speaking with people who are older than me, whether they are customers, co-workers, or even my boss. 

    Technical note: To pull this trick off, you need to be sure that you submit the right Common App Additional Info answer to the right school. 

    Most of the time, applicants write just one Additional Info section that goes to all schools (or leave it blank). But if you repurpose an essay like this, you just need to make sure that you submit a blank Additional Info section to the school for which you wrote the full essay and this bulleted answer in the Additional Info for the school that you want to see this extra info.   

    Luckily, Prompt suggests writing each and submitting each application school-by-school. If you follow that method, this should be easy. 

    #3 — Describe impressive research or other academic projects

    Similarly, if you’ve done anything particularly impressive academically, you could use this space to describe it briefly. 

    For example, if you’ve done an IB extended essay, you could share the topic, essay title, and a few words explaining your thesis. Same applies if you’ve done scientific research, written a research paper, or something of that caliber.

    #4 — Describe impressive outside projects

    If you’re a creative or a maker, this is a great space to provide a word of explanation and a link to an:

    • Etsy shop, 
    • YouTube video of your video essays or music, 
    • blogs, or 
    • anything else you’ve created. 

    However, don’t assume they will click on the link. They might. They might not. Be sure to explain what they’ll find at the link, in case they skip it for that cup of coffee.

    #5 — Give context on unusual classes or online/outside courses

    If you’ve taken an unusual class, you can give the college a little context on what it involved. For example, if you got to design your own Senior Spring curriculum, you might briefly describe the program, your project, your reading list, and how it went. 

    If you took a course online or outside of school (at the local community college, for example), describe the rigor of the course, how much work and time was required, and maybe why you decided to take that online or outside class. 

    #6 — Acronyms or context

    If you used any acronyms in your Activities List and didn’t have space to spell out what it stands for, you can use this space to do so. Again, if you can, note that you’ll be doing this in the Activities List using the phrase “see add’l info.”

    Explaining your application: 3 ways to explain potential issues

    #1 — Explaining serious health issues

    If you’ve faced a serious health issue as a high school student, it can be worth sharing those facts with the admissions team to show them what you’ve overcome and potentially explain some lower grades or a gap in extracurriculars.

    A few bullets you could include if you choose to share are:

    • Describe the health issue itself — ex: underwent major leg surgery on 10/5/21.
    • Say how long your recovery was + how much class time you missed — Couldn’t walk for a week; missed two weeks of school; continue to attend hour-long physical therapy sessions twice a week. 
    • Say how you made up your work — Worked with all of my subject teachers on a plan for each class. I began catching up by working independently a week after the surgery and relied on teachers (and friends) to catch up with each class. 
    • Describe some of the impacts — I had to give up playing the lead in the school play. Despite being disappointed to miss the experience, I look forward to seeing the show on opening night. 
    • If you’ve improved your grades, mention that — I initially struggled in all of my classes, particularly Physics. However, after an intensive catch-up weekend, I got an A on my last Physics test. 
    • Note on grades: if your grades suffered because of the surgery, there’s no need to say so. You’ve provided the context that will help the admissions team understand why your grades dipped.  

    Note on counselors: Even if your college counselor will also be writing about your health challenge, it’s still a good idea to put it in your own words.

    Note on mental health and learning disabilities. These issues can be trickier to describe. Try to get your counselor to help you write and edit this piece, or ideally an essay coach who can work on the nuances of explaining a challenge, showing its impact, without raising more questions than you answer.

    #2 — Explain any difficult family circumstances that have impacted your schoolwork or extracurriculars

    There are so many obstacles that you may have confronted as a student. This is a good place to describe them to the admissions team.

    Examples include:

    • Long commutes to school, limiting extracurricular participation
    • Family circumstances that pushed you to take on a job 
    • A family member who is disabled or requires care
    • Family circumstances that pushed you to take on extensive domestic and/or childcare responsibilities

    Try to describe the situation as straightforwardly as possible. 

    For example — 

    My little sister was born with the extremely rare condition Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation. This has meant that my family has had to devote considerable money and time to her health care, and trips to the doctor. She cannot be left alone, for example, and we work with her daily on an extensive physical therapy regimen. 

    Note on the Common App’s Covid-19 essay. The Covid essay is only for major life disruptions as a result of Covid-19 or a natural disaster. If those circumstances apply to you, put your answer in the Covid-19 prompt, not Additional Info. 

    We show you exactly how to write a great Covid-19 answer in our article, How and when to write the Covid-19 Question

    #3 — Explain any potential red flags in your application

    Looking at the totality of what you’ve given the admissions team, are there any issues they might have questions about. 

    Examples might include:

    • A bad grade
    • Dropped sports or activities
    • A class you didn’t take (ex: you want to be a doctor but didn’t take AP Bio)

    In a case like that, provide the explanation in a concise, matter-of-fact description. 

    For example — 

    After acting in the school plays every year of high school, I had to drop out unexpectedly this semester for major leg surgery. I also dropped an optional English course I was taking, Modern American Playwrights. These decisions allowed me to focus on my recovery — including missing two weeks of school and continuing weekly physical therapy — without getting behind on school work and college applications. Missing the play was particularly disappointing, but I can’t wait to be in the audience on opening night.

    Tricky balance: This is another place where we suggest asking your college counselor or a college essay coach for guidance, as it’s hard to strike the right balance between explaining a situation without seeming to make excuses. Try to have someone look it over with that question in mind.

    Review the application first: Some college applications offer specific spaces for you to explain potential “red flags” like a bad grade or a gap in schooling. Make sure to look over the school’s application for these optional sections before you add this information to your Additional Info section.

    Explaining your application: 2 ways to clarify potential confusion

    #1 — Explaining something unusual about your high school

    Is there anything you could say so that the admissions team better understands where you’re coming from?

    For example —

    • You’re the first student applying to a US college or university from your school
    • Your school doesn’t have a college guidance counselor
    • Your high school is new, and you’re in its first graduating class

    #2 — Explaining something unusual about the grades you’re submitting

    If your school (or combination of schools) has an unusual grading system, this is also a great thing to explain for colleges. 

    For example —

    • Your courses are full-year or trimester-length — you can explain how it works in this space.
    • You attended School Year Abroad or another unusual program — you can explain the details of your two high schools.
    • You switched high school — you can explain the reason (a move, for example), and any other context that would be helpful to counselors. 
    • Your school has a specialized curriculum (performing arts, religious, trade) — you can explain how the specialized piece works in conjunction with your regular classes.

    What not to do: 3 ways to screw it up

    #1 — Don’t write another essay

    We already covered this. But “additional information” doesn’t mean “essay.” 

    #2 — Don’t “explain” that B on your transcript

    Worrying about minor imperfections will make it seem like you don’t have a sense of perspective.

    #3 — Making excuses

    In this article, we’ve discussed:

    • Using a matter-of-fact tone,
    • Sticking to the facts, and
    • Having someone you trust closely review tricky topics.

    That’s because explaining an issue will boost your application. Excusing it will hurt your application. And the line between the two isn’t always obvious. 

    Make certain you’ve walked that fine line because this is likely the last thing your reader will learn about you and it’s important that it’s a good one. 

    More articles on Prompt.com’s admissions-boosting methods:

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