Within the common application is an additional information section allowing you to share relevant information about yourself that is not captured elsewhere.
Most applicants do not need to add anything to the additional comments section of the common application (or the UC application for that matter). Leaving it empty does not in any way imply that the application is half finished, incomplete or less appealing. Eighty percent of the applicants I’ve worked with don’t touch this section, which is as it should be.
Yet if necessary, applicants are allotted 650 words to explain whatever it is couldn’t be explained in the main common application essay, in the supplements, or in what might have been shared in the recommendations from the counselor and teachers.
The single best piece of advice for adding information to the additional comments is to candidly ask yourself if there is something pertinent to your application that the admissions readers cannot glean from anywhere else on the application. If so, place that information in the additional information section clearly and concisely.
Keep in mind the likely mindset of the admissions readers. Most are reading 30-40 applications a day, and if they’ve read your application, they’ve already been subjected to your main application essay, the supplements, your counselor recommendation, and a teacher recommendation. So, if they were to open your additional comments section and find a 500-word essay on the Bose Einstein Condensate, which had been a hit with your physics teacher, the reception might be lukewarm or worse.
Don’t throw anything into the additional comments section unless it’s well introduced, and the connection between the item and your candidacy is crystal clear.
Brevity is prized. Stick to the facts. Keep it well-organized. Give your most important information first, and don’t use special formatting as you never know how a document might look on another computer.
What should be placed in the additional information section?
1. Health issues suffered by you or your family that might have affected your performance need to be mentioned. On the common application this might be best explained by the counselor in the counselor recommendation, but if it’s important, best for both to cover the situation. Stay focused on the information, not the emotions, placing a particular emphasis on the impact of the health condition.
2. Unusual grading systems often need explanations. Some secondary schools are on the trimester system, or on the block system, which means they’re not easily handled by the common application’s drop down menus.
3. Unusual classes such as MOOCs (Coursera or EDx) that made an impression or changed your academic direction —i nto, say, astronomy or geology —warrant mentioning. Though note, the Harvard application allows a listing of up to five online courses taken with certification.
4. Substantial writing projects — IB Extended Essays, Concord Review submissions, published pieces in newspapers or magazines might be included: though Harvard, for instance, has an applicant status portal for submission of “Scholarly articles, research, creative writing or other documents of which you are the primary author.”
5. Potential red flags that might affect your application: attending more than three high schools, unusually low grades one semester, and dropping all your extracurricular activities after sophomore year need explanation, but avoid making any excuses, just stick to the facts.
6. Family issues, such as a nasty divorce that impacted performance or prevented participation in favorite activities, need to be aired.
Before you use the additional information section, check out the application supplements for the schools of interest. Many already have space for uploading resumes — Brown lets you do it under its activity section — or for uploading research abstracts — Columbia and Harvard, as mentioned, already allow for this in the body of their supplements.
Trust your own good judgment when adding additional information. The point of the application exercise is for the college to better understand who you are and thus properly assess your candidacy. Sometimes, but not often, that might require additional information.
Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC (www.ivycollegeprep.net) and a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last 12 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 80.