After about a decade of working for US colleges and universities, I have found that one aspect of the application process never fails to confuse even the most prepared minds: the Additional Information section.

While the Personal Essay and Activities sections are the source of substantial anxiety for college going populations, they come with explicit directions. So what does one do with a completely open ended, 650 word section with no clear guidelines for content?

Before we can answer that question, we have to first understand what the Common Application is and how its read by admissions offices. To simply put it, the Common App serves as an indication for college readiness, and signals universities to your many interests and abilities. Essentially it is a long winded resume. That being said, it is NOT meant to be a comprehensive, autobiographical work, that details every accomplishment and action of significance since birth. Some discretion is needed.

Remember, schools spend a considerable amount of time crafting their applications. On top of that, the Common App also puts a great deal of effort into studying their application and its effectiveness. With all that time and energy spent on evaluation, if a section does not appear on the application, or you run out of room, there is probably a good reason as to why. And so, it is important to recognize that the Additional Information section is not intended to be a catch-all. It’s not a place to get the last word in when you overshot a previous section, it’s not the appropriate to add a resume there, and it is definitely not a place for you to submit a second personal essay.

So what do you include?

Information that cannot possibly be included anywhere else on your application! Most commonly, this section is used to explain gaps in one’s academic trajectory, an off grade, a move, or other out-of-the-ordinary experiences. While it is open ended, you must think critically about why you need to use that space, when thousands of students are accepted every year without it. A general rule of thumb is that a light application is a good one. Tons of supplemental components, large Additional Information sections, and exhaustive Portfolios only bog down the admissions process. Not every student will use this section, and frankly most should not.

Here are some practical examples of what to do and not to do with this section:

Dos

Don’ts

Explain gaps in your educational trajectory

Submit a resume

Detail moves or other major life changes that influenced your studies

Add additional work experience or extracurricular activities

Provide information on any accommodations you might need from a school

Talk about the specific schools to which you are applying

Give insight into any relevant medical or psychological issues

Make excuses for grades/test scores

Expand on a unique experience that affected your education

Write a second essay

The Additional Information section throws a lot of students and is by far the most widely abused section on the Common App. The single most important thing to know about this section is that it is not a catch-all for any information that you couldn't fit into the rest of the application. It is a place for you to add insight into areas of your life the Common App’s layout doesn't lend itself to naturally. Intentionality is key!

Want to learn more? Check out Signet's Guide to College Admissions.