Dec. 5, 2013
There’s more to filling out the Common Application than just doing the essay, answering the questions, and completing those nasty supplements that seem to be a sadistic add-on by many colleges these days. If you have taken the time to ponder your life, as it relates to “marketing” yourself to colleges, you may have noted some things about yourself that haven’t made their way into the Common App, because there are no prompts concerning those things. Even if you’re applying to a school that doesn’t use the Common App, you can still enhance your overall profile by conjuring some “additional information” that could very well pique the interest of the admissions staff.
The purpose of the Common App’s Additional Information (AI) section is to capture aspects about yourself that aren’t found elsewhere on your application. In the case of a non-Common App application, you may add this additional data on a separate piece of paper or even by an email. However, being the conservative person that I am, I lean more toward a piece of paper mailed to the admissions office rather than sending an electronic missive that may well end up floating, lost forever, in cyberspace. Of course, you could always use the Department of Redundancy Department’s method of sending both, which should assure success.
But, back to the Common App. What kinds of information about yourself might you include in this section? Well, You are allowed 650 words’ worth of text. That’s a lot, so I would caution you here not to wax aimlessly about something that’s really not all that important. From my own family’s experience, I recall my son’s “additional information.” He wrote about his sense of humor. If I remember correctly, his introduction to some anecdotes about how he likes to have fun included words something like, “I hope that you can see from the rest of my application that I take my academics seriously. However, I want you to know [here comes some important “additional information”] that I am not one of those annoying over-achievers who has his nose stuck in a book all the time. I like to have fun and enjoy a good laugh now and then. I’d like to tell you about my sense of humor …”
This is the kind of information that helps to fill out your profile. You have to remember that the admissions committee can’t “hear” you speak these extra words. You have to write them. Giving them as much information as possible about who you are and how you think can go a long way in pushing your application into the “Admit” pile. What other kinds of information might you care to inform your colleges about? Let’s take a look at those possibilities.
Most admission officials will tell you that students who provide unnecessary information are annoying. The admission folks don’t want to see your toilet-training certificates from pre-school; they don’t need newspaper clippings from every lacrosse game you ever played; and they certainly don’t need to read your “Additional Information” if you truly have nothing meaningful to impart.
The Additional Information section, which you’ll find on the Common Application and many others, can be a handy, catch-all place to explain the sorts of things that the rest of the forms may not cover. Are there irregularities on your transcript, such as a repeated class–or a skipped one–that require clarification? Did your parents go through a nasty divorce that torpedoed your sophomore grades? Did you win a highly competitive curling competition that is virtually unknown to anyone but avid curlers? The Additional Information space might be just the spot to provide insight into such anomalies …
… Don’t, however, confuse optional additional information with the optional essays, which some Common App supplements (or other applications) include. In most cases, an optional essay isn’t really optional unless the college is treating it much like the “Additional Information” section. (In other words, if the instructions tell you to write it ONLY if you have critical extra information to share.) …
One ATD inquisitor asks:
>>I have 17 extracurriculars, but there aren’t enough spaces for them in the “activities” section of the “Common App.” Can I use the “Additional Info” space to list the rest of them?<<
If a student has more than 10 meaningful activities, then it’s fine to use the “Additional Information” section for the overflow, provided it’s not being used for other more critical reasons (e.g., serious illness, foster care, frequent moves) or even to report some less dire anomalies (strange schedule choices, a confusing school profile …)
But … and it’s a big “BUT” … many of the teenagers I’ve known over three decades who are itching to submit more than 10 activities are not focusing on the most meaningful ones, and sometimes the significant endeavors can get lost in the shuffle when an applicant tries to include pretty much EVERYTHING he or she has done outside of the classroom since stepping off the bus on the first day of high school. So I repeatedly warn students to be thoughtful when pruning their lists.
I also urge students to submit what I call an “Annotated Activities List,” which is basically a résumé on steroids. It provides a brief explanation of any entry that requires it. (This could be because the activity itself is uncommon or because the student’s role in an otherwise familiar activity is actually atypical.) It can also add occasional, judicious (and often much-needed) doses of humor (“Promoted from second flute to first–and only–piccolo player by desperate director of world’s worst high school band.”) But, like the application itself, the Activity List should be carefully edited to include only the more meaningful undertakings.
The Activities List can be snail-mailed to colleges or copied and pasted in the Additional Info section (if it’s not already full and if the student is willing to deal with some inevitable formatting snafus).
Note that a handful of colleges specifically forbid résumés, so students should check each college’s instructions carefully. Others, however, actually provide room in their supplement’s “Writing” section and specifically invite a résumé. Thus, as with most aspects of this crazy process, expect inconsistencies.
Bottom line: It’s often fine to use the Additional Information section for overflow activities, but students should be careful not to drown out their biggest commitments with nonessential ones.
These are very practical and useful ideas for using the AI section. The point to keep in mind is that you are trying to reveal as much positive and unique information about yourself that isn’t revealed in other places on your application. One specific example from a previous counseling client of mine involves a special motivation. This young man was fascinated by all things American Civil War. His passion was collecting Civil War-related model-soldier figurines. Apparently, there is a hidden market out there for cast-lead Civil War soldiers, kind of a metal forerunner of those GI Joe toys.
Anyway, this high school senior chose to use his AI section to tell about his method for collecting these unusual pieces. He explained how he worked several part-time, minimum-wage jobs to earn enough gas money to drive across his region in search of these tiny soldiers at flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. He had been doing this since he was in middle school (collecting, not driving all over the place) and he had amassed quite a formidable set of armies. In fact, he was featured in some specialty magazine articles, which garnered him national exposure. He included some clippings from those published interviews.
Ultimately, he was admitted to several Ivy League schools and a few other elite institutions. He enrolled at Yale.
So, you can see how it pays to think about your life and try to identify something significant about which you can write in the AI section, assuming, of course, that nothing pertaining to this information appears elsewhere on your application. Avoid redundancy at all costs. Repeating information is not only a waste of time, it annoys the admissions staff. They’re the last people on earth you want to annoy.
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.
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