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Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Approach the Common App’s Additional Information Section

What’s Covered:


The “Additional Information” section of the Common Application is perplexing to many. At the tail end of what feels like an exhaustive and painstaking application, this 650-word forum — which is optional and comes with few directions — can seem like a trick. That’s why we’re here to provide a few answers about the Common App section that engenders the most questions.


What’s the Point?


The “Additional Information” essay is intended to gather extra information that isn’t covered anywhere else in your application, but is important for the admissions committee to know. This could be anything from explaining a dip in grades, to disciplinary action on your record, to an activity that truly requires more than 150 words to explain. If you’re struggling with whether to write something in the “Additional Information” section, consider these questions.


  • Were there any extenuating circumstances during your high school career that affected your grades or extracurriculars? Maybe you transferred schools, and your new school did not have a chess club you could participate in. 
  • Is there additional context that you believe is important when considering a dip in grades or departure from activities?
  • Do you have disciplinary action, or another negative facet to your profile that you would like to explain and discuss?
  • Finally, do you have an activity or qualification that will be foreign to the admissions committee that will take extra space to explain? It’s important to emphasize: admissions officers will not appreciate you taking their time to write about something that they are already familiar with, or that could be written about more succinctly in your activities section. These would have to be highly unusual or specific activities or qualifications, as admissions officers are highly informed on the typical activities of high school students.


Is It Really Optional?


Yes, the “Additional Information” section truly is optional! If you answered no to every question above, don’t try to work a story so that it will fit, or come up with a story that isn’t truly reflective of your experience. This essay is not intended to be a general opportunity to show greater interest in your chosen school, nor is it another chance to show off your writing ability, personal attributes, or interesting life stories. 


In fact, choosing to write an essay in this section when you don’t need to may even cause the admissions committee to view your application in a more negative light. This section is only for students with difficult circumstances, negative elements on their profile, or aspects of their application that admissions committees won’t understand or appreciate without significant explanation. If this isn’t you, leaving the “Additional Information” section blank is the right choice, and your application is just as effective and complete without it.


Reasons to Provide “Additional Information”


Now, if you answered yes to one of the questions above, or have a similar story that you believe would truly affect how the admissions team views your application, you absolutely should make use of this space. Universities want to view your application holistically, and that is only possible if you give them all relevant information. 


If you have disciplinary or legal action on your record, this is a great opportunity to give some context to what happened, and demonstrate how you’ve grown. While it could be tempting to say as little on the subject as possible, this is the only opportunity you get to tell the story in your own words. Choosing not to write about something doesn’t mean that the admissions committee will forget about it; it just means you’re losing a valuable opportunity to choose how to frame what is likely a story that matters to understanding who you are. 


For example, perhaps you’d like to explain a dip in grades. Only do this if you have an explanation that is truly relevant. Don’t lie to admissions committees to explain away a lack of focus or interest in schoolwork. On the other hand, if something genuinely challenged your ability to participate or focus in school, like a severe illness or your parents losing their jobs, you should give yourself a fair shot by allowing your colleges to consider that as they review your application. 


Finally, if you have something that doesn’t quite fit under the “Activities” heading, you should consider making use of this space. Keep in mind that the best place for your extracurriculars is always first and foremost the “Activities” section of your application, as that’s where admissions officers are going to look first to get a sense of who you are outside the classroom. 


But if there is something that requires further explanation, or isn’t exactly an activity, but gives a good sense of who you are, you might consider including it in this section. For example, maybe you spent one summer teaching yourself how to do a standing backflip. You don’t want to go into the same detail you would if you wrote your personal statement about this topic, but a quick line or two about what that experience was like can help show admissions officers your quirky side.


How to Write an Effective Response


As just touched on, unlike the Common App essay this section should be as direct and succinct as possible. This is not the place to prove your writing chops, experiment with unusual story structure, or show off your unique voice. The best “Additional Information” essays are brief, factual, and to the point. 


More concretely, don’t rely on metaphor or descriptive language: just tell the admissions officers what they need to know to get the fullest picture of why the thing you’re writing about matters to who you are. This could take 50 words or it could take 600, so don’t rush yourself. But it’s crucial that you don’t frustrate a reader with unnecessary detail in a section that is, by definition, additional to the information they have explicitly asked for in the main Common App. 


If you are writing about a negative aspect of your application, avoid making excuses. Take responsibility for what happened, and explain any mitigating circumstances as factually as possible. The strongest essays will include self-reflection and examples of how you’ve grown since this negative incident occurred, perhaps even in ways that were spurred by the consequences of this situation. 


Overall, the best “additional qualifications” essays are specific, factual, concise, and self-reflective. Examples may be provided if necessary, but if the qualification is self-explanatory, resist the temptation to over-describe.


Words of Caution


The most important thing with this section is that if you use it, you do so wisely. Do not write an essay for this section simply to fill up space, as that could be actively counterproductive. Admissions committees will not appreciate being provided with “additional” information that is actually redundant. Plus, they only have so much time to spend on your application, so you don’t want to take their attention away from your grades, extracurriculars, recommendation letters, and other “gold stars” just to read something that isn’t actually all that important.


A good rule of thumb is that if you have already mentioned something in your personal statement, your activities list, or in another supplemental essay, leave it out of the essay you write for the “Additional Information” section.


One last thing: you should take the time and energy to prepare this section with as much thought and diligence as all the others on your application. Just because it is optional does not mean it is unimportant. If you decide to make use of this valuable forum, you should do so with care. Pay as much attention to crafting and editing the essay you write for the “Additional Info” as you did to your personal statement. You should fill in this section because you need to, not because you think you should, and if you need to, then your essay should reflect that essentiality


Where to Get Your Additional Information Section Reviewed


If you do have additional information you’d like to share, you want to be sure your essay is clear, concise, and to the point. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of this essay, or any other, from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Short Bio
After graduating from Wesleyan University, Francesca Jette is pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at George Washington University. She has been helping high school seniors with college essays for three years now.