A Brief Guide to Using the Common App “Additional Info” Section

A Brief Guide to Using the Common App Additional Info Section

Important: this is not a post meant to scare you into feeling like you have to put something in the Additional Info section. Because you do not have to include anything there. I’ll say that a few more times, but I wanted to say it up top here, in italics and bold. See how important?

I’m writing this because students are often baffled by what to do with this section.

So here goes:

First of all, what is the Additional Info section?
It’s a 650-word paste-in section where students can put extra information they want colleges to have. Key words: “can” (you aren’t required) and “information” (not fluff, filler, or even stories).

I’ll say more about how you can screw this up in Part 2 of this post: Ten Important Misuses for the Additional Info Section

So what should you put in the Additional Info section?
What follows are about a dozen possible uses, written with input from some of my wonderful colleagues on both sides of the college admissions desk.

Note that this is a working doc, so if you, dear reader, think of other good uses--or misuses!--please email assistant@collegeessayguy.com.

Also note that these ideas will apply to the UC Additional Info (or UC3) section.


1. Important details about your activities that wouldn’t fit in your Activities List.

I know. You only get 150 characters to explain eight years of eating, sleeping and breathing the santur. And let’s say your 150 characters were mostly used to explain that the santur is a 72-stringed Classical Persian instrument you’ve been playing since the day you gloriously emerged from the womb (wow, that’s a crazy image).

The mighty santur.

The mighty santur.

In this case, your Additional Info entry might read:

Santur (8 years)
- Planning to record an album of classical Persian music this winter and donate proceeds to benefit victims of Alzheimer’s.
- Last summer had profile written on me published in OC Register (local newspaper) on Oct. 10, 2014.
- Will travel with school this Spring for the International Music Festival in Aspen, CO.
- Have performed in dozens of locations, from small cafes for 10 people to concert halls for 3,000 people.

Important notes:

  1. Notice how factual? You’re on borrowed time in the Additional Info section, so give us the TL;DR version. (That’s internet slang--it means “too long didn’t read.”) Pretend your reader is a very important person with a hundred more applications to read before the weekend. Because she is and probably does.

  2. Notice how organized? Really clear.

  3. Notice how details are in descending order of importance? Easy reading.

  4. Notice how there’s no special formatting? It’s a paste-in, so formatting (like bold and italics) sometimes won’t show up. So make sure you’ve got the emphasis you want without those fancy tricks. (Remember that this goes for your main statement too.)


2. To add in AP test scores (or other scores) that didn’t fit in elsewhere in your application.


Additional AP Scores (Make this or something like it your title.)
US History: 4 (May 2013)
Physics: 5 (May 2014)
Psychology: 3 (May 2014)

Just like that? Yup, just list that, nothing more needed.

Why add these in? Because it shows you took a lot of AP classes, and counselor Arun Ponnusamy at CollegeWise points out, “That’s good to know.”

Should you add 4s and 5s? Of course. 3s? Probably. Below that? Ask your counselor.


3. Health stuff.

Did open heart surgery keep you from getting the best grades possible in 11th grade? If so--and if this isn’t already in your main statement--say a few words about it. But here are three tips:

  • Focus on information. Not fluff. Don’t tell a story here.
  • Focus on impact. How did it affect you? Be specific. How many days/weeks/months did you miss? How’d you make up the work? Did your grades go up afterwards? If so, say so. (Example: “Although my grades dipped during this time, one year later I’m happy to report that I was able to receive straight As.”)

  • Mention it even if your counselor is mentioning it. Michelle Rasich, counselor at Rowland Hall Saint Mark's, points out that “Reps have shared that they like reading explanations in the student's own words even if I too am dedicating time to it in my letter.” Again, be brief, factual, informative.


4. Unusual grading systems

One example: Tara Dowling of Choate Rosemary Hall in CT points out that “we have a trimester schedule that is not accommodated by the drop down menus. For example--we have numerous two trimester courses and there are only 10 slots, so....we put in 'fake date' indicating that courses are full year courses, then we explain in the additional info that they are actually two term classes.”

Like, maybe at your school, this stands for "Fantastic!"

Like, maybe at your school, this stands for "Fantastic!"

Another example: counselor Barbara Carletta Chen points out that, “For the students at SYA for their senior year, this space is a perfect place to clarify all the details of the two high schools, two CEEB, and why their official documents will be coming from their sending school. For others with more than two high schools, this space can clarify why there was a switch if it wasn't obvious (say, due to a move).”

Other examples: a performing arts, religious, or trade school with a specialized curriculum.


5. Weird/Awesome classes

In 2012, North High School in Newton, MA started a class called "The Art of the Graphic Novel." If I was an admissions rep I’d be curious to know more (wouldn’t you), so it’s definitely worth a quick 2-3 sentence blurb on what that class entailed (course objective, highlights of the reading list, special projects if any).

For more weird/awesome classes, check out this link on HuffPo.


6. IB Extended Essay Topics

Parke Muth, counselor and former associate dean at the Univ. of Virginia writes, “I suggest that people doing an IB extended essay share the topic and title of the essay and maybe a little more info. So few students do projects like this in secondary school and the topics themselves often say something good about the students.” Example from my little brother’s actual college application:

For my IB extended essay requirement, I wrote a 4,000 word thesis arguing that French art film director Gaspar Noé breaks the conventions of classical narrative structure as defined by story theorist, Robert McKee. My close reading of Noé's film Irreversible (2002) seeks to prove that Noé defies McKee's principles of the inciting incident, law of diminishing returns, and balance of high and low pace scenes by Noé's manipulation of the Russian Formalist elements of fabula and syuzhet at play in this film.



7. Activities whose awesomeness isn’t being fully communicated in the Activities List.

To be fair, this is pretty much the same as use #1, but I wanted to say it in a slightly different way to get you about your application in a different way and make you weren’t leaving money on the table.

Don't do it.

Don't do it.

Let’s say you did a really cool fundraiser that made a huge impact on not only the people overseas you were donating to, but also your local community. Let’s say you decided not to write an extracurricular on this (either because you wrote on something else or the school didn’t request an extracurricular blurb) and you look at your 150-character description feel it’s really not expressing how incredibly awesome this experience was for everyone. How can you better communicate the awesomeness? Quick tips:

  • Again, focus on impact. In this case: how much money did you raise? Whom did it help? How? Be specific. And brief.

Example: Raised $3,500 to benefit victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; proceeds provided disaster housing for displaced persons whose residences were heavily damaged or destroyed. Event also galvanized local community, leading to a second fundraiser, “Hillsboro High for Haiti,” to take place next month.

Please: don’t obsess over this. Believe it or not, you can actually do a lot in 150-characters and we don’t need a paragraph explaining your one-day volunteering event. (Unless we do.)


8. Any potential "red flags" on application

What’s a red flag? Something that might make that record-scratching noise in the mind of the admissions reader like: that C- you got in Physics, the fact that you dropped both water polo and cross country after sophomore year, the fact that you switched schools twice.

How should your tone sound? Like an explanation rather than an excuse.


9. Basic info that won’t fit on other parts of the Common App

Kate Coddaire at Cheverus HS for example reports, “I have students with so many siblings they cannot fit them all on the Family page of CommonApp.”

These kids will probably want to use the Additional Info section.

These kids will probably want to use the Additional Info section.

What else might go here?

  • Acronyms. You may know what the NC MAC Conference is, but I don’t. Make it easy for me.

  • Special Awards or Certifications. You may know how ridiculously hard you worked to earn a Level 8 Certification in Violin, but if you don’t explain it to me, I won’t have a clue.

What else?

You tell me. Anything that may give the reader a more full understanding of who you are. 


10. Stuff that’s made it hard for you to get more involved in extracurriculars.

I have students, for example, who take two buses, plus the Metro to get to school, commuting almost 2 hrs each way. Others have their parents drive them that far. This means extracurriculars have been tougher for them than for others. But how would the colleges know that unless you told them? In the additional info section.

Additional Reasons
My thanks to counselor and former UC Berkeley reader, Randolf Arguelles, for reminding me of the next three:

11. Any physical or learning disabilities

Note: These should be diagnosed by a health professional. Specify what and how long.

12. Parents’ disability or unemployment

Again, specify what and how long.

13. Significant work hours while in HS

Note that this is particularly important if you contributed to family income to help pay bills and (see #10) it impacted your ability to be more involved with extracurriculars.

The following details are important to include in your application somewhere, but I’d recommend trying to work them (and their impact on you) into your main essay:

  • Single-parent household

  • Low income family or large family with many dependents, straining family income

  • If the language spoken at home is other than English

  • If you will be the first generation in your family to attend college

14. ambiguous Acronyms, awards and any missing grades

Don't just write "Active Member, AMBT" or "Treasurer, CMBE Club" in your Activities List without explaining what those acronyms mean. 

Don't just write "Recognition in Biology" or "Commendation for Writing" in your awards section without giving some context: how many given, out of how many students? In short: what does your award mean? If there's not room in your Awards section, this is a good place to explain.

My math grade for second semester of 10th grade is missing because I enrolled in an online course when the class was discontinued at my school.

In short, don’t be afraid to use this section!

Finally, what if I feel like I’m struggling to come up with stuff to add?

It’s your call, but if it starts to feel like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with your Activities (stuff you kinda’ did, or just did once), stop. Take a breath. Remember what I said at the start: you do not have to use the Additional Info section. In fact, see if you can be really succinct and fit all your information into the areas provided by the Common App. It’s possible! And your college reps will thank you.

Click here for How to Write Your Common App Activities List.

Click here for How to Write Your UC Activities List.