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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. Here, a few answers about the Common App section that engenders the most questions.

 

Is it really optional?

In short, yes. There are no tricks here. An application that is submitted without an Additional Information section is just as complete as any other. If for any reason you don’t prepare an essay for this section, don’t fret: You will be judged against all other applicants equally.

 

In fact, many could argue that you need not worry about the Additional Information section precisely for this reason. Unless you are aching to share an aspect of yourself that you haven’t yet discussed in your application, it can seem unnecessary to invest time in preparing yet another essay that is not actually required. Yet we can think of many reasons why you should fill out the Additional Information section.

 

For the latest essay tips and tricks, check out our blog post How to Write the Common Application Essays 2017-2018.

 

In Defense of Providing ‘Additional Information’

Ultimately, the Common App is your best — and sometimes only — chance to introduce yourself to adcoms. While your personal essay should do the work of presenting your interests, voice, and personality to admissions officers, let’s face it: The 650 words you’re allotted for your personal statement often aren’t enough.

 

In light of this, it’s helpful to think of extra space on the Common App not as a burden, point of confusion, or trick, but rather, like gold — rare and valuable! The Additional Information section is just another opportunity to tell admissions officers about yourself. Thus, we encourage you to make use of it.

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Okay, So What Do I Write?

As with everything application-related, there is no one right way to go about using the Additional Information section. At its core, this section is designed to give students the opportunity to discuss aspects of themselves or their application that are vital to understanding the applicant and aren’t presented in their personal statement(s). Thus, for many students, it is quite clear what should go into the Additional Information section.

 

If you are a person with a particular story or history that has defined you or affected you significantly, then the Additional Information section is where you can write about it. Oftentimes, this can be a personal story that did not make it into your personal statement.

 

Another approach to this section is to use it as an opportunity to clarify aspects of your application that you feel need explanation. If, for example, you found that the 150 characters allotted in the activities section was not enough to explain your most time-consuming or important commitment, you can elaborate on that here.

 

Likewise, if you think that some aspect of your application looks unflattering or inconsistent, and that you could be served by providing some sort of explanation of that aspect, the Additional Information section is an apt forum to further explain your situation.

 

If, for example, your grades dropped one semester because of some extenuating circumstances outside of school, or you consistently spent your summers doing something meaningful that you think admissions officers would like to hear about, you can talk about these topics at a bit more length. Bear in mind that while this could be academic or extracurricular in nature, it often won’t be.

 

Indeed, the Harvard initiative Making Caring Common emphasizes that the application process should not be an exercise in desperate over-exaggeration on the part of students who feel the need to posture themselves as overachievers. Instead, it should simply allow applicants to elucidate their personalities and interests for admissions committees. In this light, any summer experience that you may have had that taught you something about your family, yourself, or the world is worth sharing, even if it didn’t come with a hefty price tag.

 

If it made more sense for you to work a job in your hometown rather than travel abroad, the Additional Information section is the perfect place to expound upon this — you surely learned plenty at your job that you couldn’t have learned elsewhere, and adcoms would love to hear about this!

 

Likewise, if you spent your summers watching your younger siblings or caring for an older relative, here is the place to talk about it! Your summer experiences certainly do not have to be expensive to be valuable, and if you haven’t already discussed them in your personal statement or a supplemental essay, the Additional Information section is an apt opportunity to write about them.

 

Words of Caution

Most importantly, you want to make sure that you are using this section wisely. Do not write an essay for this section simply to fill up space. Adcoms will not appreciate being provided with “additional” information that is actually redundant. If you have already mentioned something in your personal statement, the Extracurricular Activities section, or in another supplemental essay, leave it out of the essay you write for the Additional Information section.

 

In addition, you should be careful to prepare this section with as much care 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. Edit and craft the essay you write for the additional info section with as much care as you devoted to your personal statement. You should fill in this section because you need to, not because you think you should.

 

Still have questions about filling out the Common Application? Check out our blog post How to Write the Common Application Essays 2017-2018.

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Lily Calcagnini

Lily Calcagnini

Lily is a History and Literature concentrator at Harvard University who is doing her darnedest to write a thesis about all of her favorite things at once: fashion, contemporary culture, art journalism, and Europe. A passionate learner, she cares deeply about helping high school students navigate the process of college admissions, whether it be through private essay tutoring or sharing advice on the CollegeVine blog.
Lily Calcagnini