Briskly thrumming along, you are about to put the finishing touches on your application when you notice that your Common App additional information section is blank. You move on – after all, additional information can’t be all that important, can it? It’s “additional” for a reason, and surely you aren’t required to fill it out.
Come to think of it, you don’t actually know what you’re supposed to put in the additional information section; this has never been clear to you. You might need a college advisor, or to avail yourself of some college admissions consulting to put all of this together.
If any of this sounds familiar at all, if you can relate to it, then this article is for you. We will walk you through the steps of the Common App additional information section. For a start, what is it? Then, we’ll talk about various potential uses for the additional information section, things to avoid putting in the section, and whether you should just ignore the section altogether.
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What is the Additional Information Section?
The Common App is thorough and anticipates most of what you will be using to apply to any given post-secondary educational institution. However, although it is possible to predict what a student will need to include – transcripts, high school resume, and personal statement or Common App essays – there might be something extra which doesn’t quite fit into the rest of the application.
Let’s consider an example: say you are applying to a visual arts program. How are you going to communicate your work to the application committee? With a well-written personal statement? With a letter of recommendation? With a CV? Those might help – particularly the letter of recommendation, which can vouch for your artistic ability – but visual art is a medium which has a je ne sais quoi that will not be easily discerned simply by reading a resume. Does it even go on your resume? Could you talk about it in the Common App activities section?
This is where the additional information section becomes useful. You might include links to your work – a portfolio, website, article, or sharing folder – that will let the committee see and appreciate your abilities outside of a say-so and a letter grade in an art course.
That’s a perfect example of something that you can put in your additional information section: it doesn’t fit anywhere else in the application, and it is integral to your success as an applicant.
In other words, fill in the additional information section when you satisfy these criteria:
A. You must communicate something to the committee – something that will greatly increase your chances of success if included, and may seriously hurt your application if excluded.
B. This material, whatever it may be, which will affect your chances of success in a positive or negative way, cannot be included in other areas of the Common Application.
Having checked off both of these boxes, you may proceed.
So, why fill out this section? Why not just leave it blank? Simply because you can improve your application with careful use of the section. Therefore, if you can possibly make use of the section, you should, because failing to utilize the additional information component takes that potential boost to your application’s “score” and throws it away. This is not to say that your application is receiving a letter grade, but it is being judged – evaluated and given a verdict – by the admissions committee.
Give yourself every edge, advantage, and opportunity you can; this includes filling out the additional information section if it at all applies to you.
But what if you don’t know exactly what can go in this section? You need some clear examples of categories that you can use. Or if you do know what you want to include, maybe you need some tips on how you would go about formatting this additional information so that it looks professional and appealing to a reader. Good news! Using this guide, you should have a good idea of what you can put in this section and how to present it.
Check out this infographic:
What to Put In the Additional Information Section
The key to selecting items for your Common App additional information section is to be brief – as you have but 650 words to use – and to keep to anything that hasn’t been covered, indeed, cannot be covered, elsewhere in your application. Here are some suggestions for the types of materials you will want to include.
Just because we know you’re curious, yes, you can include more than one of these in the additional information section. Just make sure to differentiate between the different sections.
Links to Pertinent Materials
We have already used artwork links as an example, so let’s start there. No need to re-hash the above argument; artwork is necessary for certain programs and cannot be condensed into an essay – unless your visual art piece is titled Photograph of My Personal Statement for the Common App. It’s probably not, though.
When providing materials, like visual art, these files might be included in the additional information section as a link. You could link to a file-sharing account, or an online gallery, or some such similar way to view the artwork.
Along with the links, include brief descriptions of what the committee will be viewing. You might say, “Here is a link to my art portfolio,” for instance. You don’t need to describe each piece or what your symbolism is. You should, in fact, avoid being overly verbose. Identify the link and provide the link. Simpler is better.
This same principle can be applied to any domain. For example, if you have a long list of published articles or websites you have built, mentioning them here might be more appropriate than including them elsewhere in the application.
Deal with Any Red Flags
Sometimes, students have had unusual, debilitating circumstances in their lives that held them back. Everybody encounters obstacles in life, and yours might have leaked over into your academic life. When circumstances have conspired against you, the fallout can leave troubling fingerprints on your academic transcripts.
Perhaps there is, in your application, a large gap in your studies, a failing grade, or a lack of certain typical experiences for your program. Any of these would be red flags. Others might be disciplinary action or a frequent switching of subjects, seeming to indicate a fickleness of character or lack of focus.
If you have these, or other red flags, you can take some space in the Common App additional information section to lower them.
Potential red flag: a lack of experience in your field
Consider, again, that you are applying to a visual arts program, and you have only one- or two-line items in your resume or academic history that relate to visual arts. This might appear as a red flag to an admissions committee member. As mentioned, the solution lies in the additional information section, as you can provide links to your artwork, even if it does not constitute “formal” experience, and assuage any doubts that the admissions committee has.
Potential red flag: a low grade in one course, or several low grades during a particularly difficult year.
You might have a deficiency in grades at one or two points in your academic history, but those low scores alone don’t tell the whole story. Perhaps you were dealing with family difficulties at the time or had yet to have your ADHD diagnosed. Maybe you simply had inefficient study habits that you have since corrected.
Use the additional information section to explain this. Detailing the difficulties of your family, speaking of your neurodivergent state, or talking about how your change of study habits has completely changed your academic trajectory will show the committee that these hiccups are not ultimately a major problem.
With any red flag, be sure to give the admissions committee a full picture: the problem, the difficulties, and your solution. Show how this is not a pattern of low academic standing that will ever be repeated – show that you have learned how to cope with difficult circumstances or how past deficiencies are entirely in your past.
Accomplishments That Didn’t Fit Other Sections
It’s easy to fit academics and work into an application, but perhaps you have unusual accomplishments which make you interesting as a candidate, even if they don’t fit on other forms.
You might give a brief line explaining your many hobbies, for example. Do you juggle? Have you set a world record, or come close? Do you have an unusual interest? It might not seem like these things will make a difference, but details will paint a full picture of who you are. It’s easy for your application to become camouflaged against the “backdrop” of other applications. You can stand out by putting your full character and personality on display, which means using the additional information section to add some raw humanity to your application.
Personal Circumstances – Especially Challenges
Everybody experiences hardships in life, but you might have gone through some particularly difficult times. The admissions committee will want to hear about this. You aren’t telling a sob story here but rather, explaining to the committee where you are coming from.
Explaining these challenges will help them understand who you are as a person and give them a reason to strongly consider you for your perseverance and strength of character in the face of adversity. Showing how you have come through hard times is an excellent way to demonstrate personal growth and resilience or adaptivity.
Even if your personal circumstances aren’t all that harrowing, you still become more human, understandable, and relatable by discussing where you are coming from as a person. However, please note that you should not be using the additional information section as a second personal statement essay, or as an “extension” of your personal statement.
Things to Avoid Putting in the Additional Information Section
Just as there are cunning and expert ways to use the additional information section well, there are ways to misuse the section that will shoot yourself in the foot. Avoid these at all costs.
Summaries of Other Sections
Don’t write another essay that could have been your personal statement. Don’t just rehash your academic transcript. Don’t take information that exists elsewhere in your application, reword it, and plug it into the additional information section.
At best, this will be non-beneficial, simply re-iterating what is already known. At worst, it will be annoying or perceived as a timewaster. You can’t afford for an admissions committee member to find such redundancies obnoxious; this will cost you in the evaluation.
Make sure that anything you are putting into the additional information section belongs there. That means it should not fit elsewhere and should not just be going over already-stated information.
If you have something in your application which you consider to be particularly noteworthy, you might be tempted to underline that in the additional information section, going into detail about how fantastic your accomplishment is.
If what you created or achieved is as monumental as you think, it will stand out on its own, without additional help. You do not want to come off as arrogant or a braggart. Regardless of what you have accomplished, trust that it is impressive on its own.
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Making excuses is the negative version of dealing with red flags. If you had low grades because you blew off a lot of classes, don’t blame sleeping in on an alarm clock or your parents or teachers not motivating you enough. If you have a reasonable explanation that provides context for bad grades, you should explain yourself and help the committee understand why that red flag isn’t actually a problem. But if you were the problem, don’t shift blame or complain. It will come off as whiny, ungrateful, or foolish.
The Common App additional information section offers you the opportunity to use every advantage you are given and leave no stone unturned as you create the perfect application for your dream school. Your application’s success or failure is determined by each decision you make and will dictate the start of your future. You will have to live in your future someday, so make it the best one you can.
1. What is the Common Application?
The Common Application, like the Coalition Application, is a centralized system used to apply to multiple institutions with one application. This allows students to minimize the amount of time they must spend uploading and submitting universally required aspects of applications – such as transcripts of grades and personal statements – so that they need not be re-submitted for each institution applied to.
2. What are the differences between the Common App and the Coalition Application?
These two systems are very similar in many respects. The Common App is used by more institutions – hundreds of them globally – than the Coalition Application. The list of which schools use the Common App is long. Although the Coalition Application is not accepted by as many schools as the Common App, it is still used by over 100 schools in the US.
The Coalition Application is geared toward underrepresented populations and has features that will appeal to students from ethnic or religious minorities, international students, and prospective students from lower income areas – just to name a few of the populations that can benefit from the Coalition Application.
3. Does the Coalition Application have an additional information section as well?
Yes, and you would fill out that application’s additional information section in very much the same way as you would that of the Common App application.
Any centralized application system will include something like the additional information section. You will fill them all out in a similar manner.
4. What about any institution which does not use either the Common or Coalition Application?
Most institutions allow or require submission through one of these centralized application systems. Schools which do not use either the Coalition or Common Application and require different application methods might or might not have an additional information section.
5. What is the required length – in terms of character limits or otherwise – that I can expect in the additional information section?
The word limit might vary from year to year, but it has had a 650-word cap in recent years.
6. If I don’t fill out the additional information section, will I be penalized?
No. While you might make your application more appealing through clever, prudent, and judicious use of the additional information section, there is certainly no penalty for not filling it out.
7. Can I revise the additional information section, or submit more material, after I have already submitted my application?
No. Once submitted, the institution you have applied to has your application in full, and alteration is not directly possible.
With that said, should you decide that you need to make an addition or alteration, you could try contacting the institution applied to and ask if you can make the necessary changes.
The obvious solution here is preventive, rather than curative. In other words: carefully go over each and every aspect of your application so that you need not worry after submission. This includes triple-checking spelling and grammar, and of course, making sure you have maximally utilized the Common App additional information section.
8. Should I always fill out the additional information section? What if I’m not sure?
As stated elsewhere: yes. If at all possible, fill out the additional information section. You are almost guaranteed to have a good reason to fill out that section, which will give your application an edge. Whether linking to material, explaining other aspects of your application, or any of the other uses outlined above, the additional information section can upgrade you from a prospective student to an accepted one.
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