In addition to the Common App essay and Activities List, the Common Application has an additional space where you have the opportunity to provide information about your life in and outside of the classroom. This section is called the “Additional Information” section, and it provides the following prompt:
“You may use the space below to provide any additional information you would like to share.”
Unlike college-specific supplements which are occasionally optional but always strongly recommended, the additional information section truly is optional. If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not you to fill it out, or if you’re wondering what you would write if you did fill it out, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Does this information add necessary context to my application?
You should include things like sickness, disabilities, injuries, and deaths of loved ones that had an important effect on your academic performance or extracurriculars. For example, quitting a sport might make admissions officers think that you don’t stay committed to communities that count on your involvement. But if the reason you quit your sport is because you tore your ACL and physically couldn’t continue to play, then you should let your admissions officer know! This can justify that decision and even allow them to empathize with you. A sudden drop in grades or a lack of test scores could be a red flag, but if that was a consequence of you grieving the loss of a family member or experiencing complications of a chronic illness, your application won’t be at a disadvantage when compared to straight A students who had it easy all of high school. Other things to include here are changes in your family dynamics (like a divorce or moving to live with a different parent), transferring schools, language barriers, and any other aspect of your personal life that had a significant effect on your student life.
Can you describe what you plan to write about elsewhere?
Could you write about this in the awards and honors section, activities list, coronavirus supplement, or school specific supplements? There are plenty of spaces in your application to describe your accomplishments, personality, and activities. This year, there is even a specific supplement where you can write about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected you or your family. If there isn’t space in any of those sections, or if it doesn’t make sense to include the detail in those areas, that’s when you should consider the additional information section. You should think of the additional information section as a place to include information there if it doesn’t fit in any of the required sections. It’s a useful extra tool, and should be thought of as such.
How can I make this more efficient or engaging for my reader?
There are two ways to approach this essay: writing only the essential information in the most efficient way possible, or taking risks and writing something really engaging for your reader. If you choose to get right to the point, your essay should be well under 650 words. It can be as short as a sentence, a list of bullet points about your activities that weren’t included in your Activities List, or a paragraph. Alternatively, you can take this as a space to really set yourself apart from the other candidates and write an essay that’s both informative and entertaining.
Is there a special or unusual grading system at your school that most admissions officers won’t be familiar with?
This is something your counselor should address in your school report, but in case they don’t, you can explain your grade’s special grading system (even if it is simply that they don’t have grades).
Do other aspects of your application provide enough insight into your intellectual or academic life?
Even with the activities list and supplements, you may feel like there is an important part of you missing, which could shed more light onto you as a student. If that is the case, you can mention other examples of your intellectual curiosity here, such as your IB extended essay topic or an in description of your lab work. You should only include these topics if you are truly passionate about them and they will help your admissions officer picture you on campus.