How to Use the Common App Additional Information Section (Examples Included)

The definitive guide to knowing what to include (and not include)

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Introduction

After finishing your Common App Essay (personal statement) and filling out your Activities section, you may be surprised to come across the mysterious “Additional Information” section and wonder some of the following: 

  • What is this?

  • Do I really have to write another essay?

  • Do I even need to fill this out?

  • What am I supposed to write about?

What is the Additional Information section?

The Additional Information section is a place where you can include extra information that would not fit elsewhere in your Common Application. Like the Common App Essay, the Additional Information has a 650-word limit and will be sent to every school you select on the Common Application. 

Do I have to complete the Additional Information section? 

No, the Additional Information section is truly optional. In fact, adcoms (admissions committee members) look down on students who force unnecessary responses and include redundant information in this section. Therefore, you should avoid repeating information that is readily available in your Common App Essay, your Activities section, or elsewhere in your Common Application. Adcoms are super busy and will appreciate you not asking them to read the same information twice. 

But what if you really do have something else to say? Given how complicated it can be to decide whether to include something in the Additional Information, I wrote this guide to cover pretty much every scenario to help make things easier for you.

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What to include

Category 1: Extenuating circumstances that had an impact on grades, standardized test scores, and the ability to participate in extracurricular activities

Most students will use the Additional Information section to explain how extenuating circumstances caused them to achieve lower grades or lower test scores, or why they were unable to participate in certain extracurricular activities. If your grades, test scores, or participation in extracurricular activities were affected by such things as a disability, financial struggle, family problem, illness, or similar situation (more details on how to cover each of these below), be sure to include for how long this issue impacted you, when it started or was diagnosed and, if applicable, when it ended. 

Low grades

You may be worried about the one B+ you received in AP Chemistry during sophomore year. But this is not the place to try and “explain away” or otherwise get defensive about a lower-than-usual grade here or there. In fact, doing so can hurt your chances of admission. However, if you went from being a straight-A student to getting B’s and C’s one semester, you can briefly explain why a sudden drop in grades occurred (e.g., health problem, family tragedy, moving across the country). Admissions committee members will be sympathetic to such extreme situations. 

Example: “During the second semester of my sophomore year, I was in a car accident. I spent 2 days recovering in the hospital and had to undergo a year of physical therapy to repair my broken left leg. The frequent appointments and physical stress made it difficult to study and complete homework during the end of my sophomore year, which led to lower grades than usual.”

Low test scores

High-stakes standardized tests are always stressful, and extenuating circumstances can further interrupt testing days. Whereas you do not need to explain that you got a 4 on the AP Literature exam because of a cold, you might want to briefly explain that you received a 1 or 2 on your AP Chemistry exam the day after your grandmother died or the week you found out your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. You might also want to note a lower-than-expected test score if you were receiving high marks in the corresponding school course.Keep in mind,however,that certain instructors make AP courses too easy, and students with high grades in the course receive a 1 or 2 on the actual exam. If this is the casefor you, you should not use poor preparation as an excuse for a low score, as it may cause the adcom to wonder about the quality of your courseworkor your effort outside the classroom. 

Example: “Even though I received an A in my AP Calculus BC class, I ended up only getting a 2 on the exam. My grandmother, who lived with our family, passed away from a stroke the day before the exam. The stress of her death made it difficult to sleep the night before the exam and to focus while taking it.”

Financial obstacles

Major financial obstacles related to such things as a parent’s unemployment, food insecurity, and homelessness can have a huge impact on your education, from access to extracurricular activities and test prep materials to the amount of time available to complete homework and study for exams. If the financial difficulties were temporary, include the dates when they occurred, especially if they happen to line up with a semester where your grades dropped or during a high-stakes exam like the SAT or ACT. Moreover, the Additional Information section would be a great place to explain how you had to pick up a part-time job at the local mall or a restaurant to help your family pay rent, purchase food, and so on. If your family has experienced long-term financial challenges, such as food insecurity or homelessness, take a moment to briefly describe those challenges and their impact on your education.   

Example: “My mother lost her job in October 2016, the Fall semester of my junior year. I took a part-time job as a hostess at Apple Bee’s to help pay rent. I still work there, as my mom remains unemployed. The work commitment meant that I needed to quit band and choir.”

Example: “I grew up living in Section 8 housing in Riverside, California. My father was unable to work due to a back injury and my mom left us when I was 6. While government support helped, we often did not have enough money to eat more than one meal a day. We also did not have a car, which made it difficult to get around an area with insufficient public transportation. The moment I turned 16, I spent much of my time working at a cheese factory to help support my family. Nonetheless, I still enrolled in AP and Honors courses and participated in choir during my lunch period.”

Childcare responsibilities

You may have served as a caretaker for younger siblings, nieces, and nephews. Caring for kids can take a toll on your ability to participate in extracurricular activities, study for tests, and finish homework on time.

Example: “My single mother works two jobs. I have spent 6 hours every day caring for my two siblings after school since I was 14. Unfortunately, I am not able to participate in extracurricular activities because I need to leave school early enough to pick up my siblings from the bus stop. Nevertheless, caring for my siblings has helped me become a leader, as I need to make decisions that impact their development and well-being.”  

English as a second language (ESL)

If you have grown up in a household where English is not the primary language, you might want to explain briefly how this impacted your education. 

Example: “I was born in Mexico, where I grew up speaking Spanish with my parents. In fifth grade, we moved to the United States. Because I did not know much English, I struggled throughout middle school to learn vocabulary and grammar, as well as math, science, and social studies. But whereas I continued to struggle and received a C in English during freshman year, I worked hard to improve my writing, grammar, and vocabulary to earn A’s my sophomore and junior years, and also a 4 on the AP Language exam at the end of my junior year.” 

Commuting

Commuting long distances to and from school may have been stressful for you, whether it’s an hour on the subway from Brooklyn to the Bronx or an hour by car in rural Montana. Therefore, you should include a description of a long commute in the Additional Information section to provide adcoms context around why you may have pursued fewer extracurricular activities.

Example: “Commuting to school by bus from central New Jersey to Philadelphia 90 minutes each way, 5 days a week made it difficult to participate in more than 2-3 demanding extracurricular activities.”

Moving/changing schools

Moving to a new city or state orchanging schools in the middle of high school can academically and socially impact your educational experience. Therefore, you should note whether a significant move impacted your grades or the classes you could take. 

Example: “My stepdad’s work required our family to relocate from Illinois to Indiana in October 2017. My grades fell slightly during the Fall 2017 semester as I adjusted to my new school. Moreover, Japanese was not offered at my new school, so I started taking Spanish instead.” 

Physical health problems

From a diagnosed chronic illness to a month-long bout of mononucleosis (mono), health problems can impact your life socially, psychologically, financially, and academically. If you were in the hospital or at home for a long time, make sure to explain for how long and when. 

Example: “In August 2015, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Though I continue to receive treatment, I am often sleep deprived, which makes it difficult to focus in class. I especially struggled with my morning classes during freshman and sophomore year, when I often overslept and arrived late to first period. As a result, my first-period grades those years (biology and chemistry) were noticeably lower than the rest of my grades.”

Example: “I contracted a rare form of cellulitis my junior year and stayed home sick for 3 weeks in October. I had to give up varsity soccer as a result. This was especially difficult for me, as I have been playing soccer since I was 5 years old and was on track to becoming the team captain during senior year.” 

Mental health conditions

While many students experience a single depressive episode or periodic difficulties with anxiety during high school, others struggle with more chronic, recurrent, or severe forms of these conditions and others. If you have been diagnosed with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or any other mental health condition, you might want to take a moment to describe how this impacted your academics and life. That said, there is unfortunately still stigma surrounding many mental health conditions, so I advise you to speak with a college admissions professional about whether and how to include this information on your college application. 

Example: “I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder during Fall of my sophomore year due to somatic (e.g., upset stomach, fatigue) and cognitive symptoms (e.g., difficulty concentrating) I have experienced since eighth grade. However, I have learned to cope with my condition through regular treatment, and my grades have improved dramatically over the past two years as a result.”

Physical, learning, neurological, and developmental disabilities

A diagnosed physical or learning disability is worth explaining in the Additional Information section, especially if it has impacted your education or your ability to participate in certain extracurricular activities. Whereas many students with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations for classes and testing, many do not. If you have not, you should note that here too. 

Example: “In fifth grade, I was diagnosed with surface dyslexia (reading disorder), which impacts such things as my ability to recognize and read words that defy pronunciation rules (e.g., I read “mint” without error but struggle with the word “pint.”). While I read more slowly than most students, I have developed strategies with specialists to overcome my dyslexia and have received A’s in English and Social Studies. However, I still struggle with timed tests, which contributed to my ‘Reading’ score on the SAT being noticeably lower than my ‘Math’ score.” 

Example: “I was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of my freshman year. However, my small school is not equipped to provide accommodations, nor have I received any for standardized tests. These obstacles havetaught me resilience, because now I know that I need to advocate for myself by asking teachers for help or extra time on assignments andexams.While my ADHD continues to challenge me in the classroomand sometimes makes it harder to complete timed tasks, I now know that I am capable of the same success as my peers. In fact, I received straight A’s in the Springsemester of my junior year.” 

Sexual orientation and gender identity

Whether you are in the closet, have recently come out, or are an LGBTQ student in a conservative town or in a liberal city, grappling with your sexual orientation and gender identity may impact your education.

Example: “When I came out as bisexual my junior year, my parents did not receive the information well. They are both devout Mormons and believe that homosexuality is a sin. The stress at home made it difficult for me to focus on my schoolwork. This caused my grades to be lower than normal during the Fall of my junior year. Though my parents have not accepted me fully, I am handling the stress better, and my grades returned to normal during the Spring semester of junior year.”

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Category 2: Concise, factual information and brief descriptions of academic courses and extracurricular activities

The Additional Information section is not the place to list the 20 extracurricular activities you participated in, to describe the argument of every A+ paper you wrote in AP Lit, or to write an additional essay about the school trip you took to Washington, D.C. Any information here should be brief and in no way resemble an essay. Rest assured, however, that admissions readers would learn a lot about you from your Common App Essay and supplemental essaysletters of recommendation, and transcripts. A short sentence or two about a major award not covered in your Activities section will be appreciated by readers, whereas an additional 650-word essay describing your love for tennis might lead your application to the rejection pile.

Information that The Common App (i.e., the application itself) asks for that won’t fit

Sometimes The Common App asks for information that you literally cannot fit into the application’s demographics section, but could be included in the Additional Information section, such as:

  • Family members: Maybe you come from a huge family and all of your siblings won’t fit neatly into the application. The Additional Information section is a great place to include them. Make sure to include the same information requested in the main application, such as their age and educational backgrounds.

  • Academic information: Having trouble fitting all your AP, IB, and SAT Subject Test scores into the application? List the extra exams here, with each test’s name, score, percentile (if applicable), and date taken.

  • Awards: Did you win an award that is not linked to an activity? This is the place to list it, with a brief explanation of the award (as briefly as you would describe an activity in the Activities section).

Example: “I received my school’s best overall student award during junior year.”

Grading systems

Many schools differ from the traditional letter grade system (A-, B+, etc.). While your guidance counselor’s report should address any unusual grading system, you might take a moment to explain that you received narrative reports in place of grades or that your school used a completely different system (e.g., Pass/Fail, High Pass/Pass/Low Pass) 

Example: “My school evaluates students with narrative reports, so we do not have letter grades.”

Unusual curriculums

Some schools do not offer AP or IB courses, whereas others offer only a few. A brief explanation can help readers understand why you only took AP Chemistry and AP Art History, or why you did not take any at all. 

Example: “The only AP classes offered at my school are European History and Calculus AB.”

Discontinuities in your transcript

Due to restraints on course schedules or offerings, many students look elsewhere to take additional classes. Maybe you took Japanese or Calculus at a local community college because they were not offered at your school. Or perhaps you took Algebra II online one summer so that you could start Pre-Calculus a year early. Whatever the situation may be, briefly explaining a gap in your official high school transcript is a great idea. 

Example: “I took Japanese at the local community college for two semesters my junior yearbecausemy school only offered Year-1 and Year-2 Japanese. However, the community college coursesdonot appearon my high school transcript.”

Major achievements and commitments in an extracurricular activity

Sometimes your participation in extracurricular activities warrants more than 150 characters of explanation. Whereas you do not need to explain your duties as student council president or explain how many fashion articles you wrote for the school newspaper, you may wish to briefly explain that you received first place in a statewide math competition or that you play the incredibly rare and challenging contra bassoon in orchestra. Or maybe you need to explain that you spent 30 hours per week for a semester at musical rehearsal because you were the lead in your school’s huge musical during junior year. Briefly elaborating on a major accomplishment can give adcoms a bigger picture of your passions, interests, and commitments.

Example: “During the Fall of my junior year, I was awarded first place in the Wisconsin Mathematics Council State Math Contest. I competed with over 300 qualifying students from across Wisconsin in 6 different categories and received the highest overall score.”

Example: “During my sophomore year, I was the lead in the high school musical ‘Aida.’ Auditions were held in December, and rehearsals began in January. From January to May, I spent at least 5 hours a day rehearsing, singing, and memorizing lines. Though I can sing, I am not a trained vocalist. Therefore, I took extra vocal lessons twice a week for two hours during the duration of the semester.” 

Unique/niche organization

There’s no need to further explain what you did in well-known organizations like Model UN, Robotics Club, National Honor Society, Math Club, Academic Decathlon, Orchestra, Choir, Drama Club, Gay Straight Alliance, etc. But if you were involved in an activity that is unusual or through a largely unknown organization, it makes sense to include a brief explanation. Maybe you founded a student group that volunteers at a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation center in Southern Florida, or perhaps you participated in a club that meets once a week to cook Nepalese food.

Example: “There is a turtle hospital called Loggerhead Marinelife Center in my hometown of Jupiter, Florida. This non-profit organization saves injured turtles from the ocean, provides them with medical services (including surgery), and eventually releases them back into the ocean. The student group I started, “Save the Turtles,” volunteers every Monday after school at the hospital. We help set up exhibitions, clean the tanks, feed the turtles, and sometimes provide free tours to visitors. I started this club because I wanted to share my passion for animal rights with my classmates.” 

Quirky elective classes

Maybe you took a class titled “The History of Human Torture” or an elective where you watched The Wire (a TV show) for an entire semester. While adcoms may know what to expect from an elective class in sociology or creative writing, a brief explanation of what you took, why you took it, and how it enriched your education can provide readers insight into your passions and interests.   

Example: “During the fall semester of my junior year, I took a class called “The History of Human Torture.” It is an interdisciplinary class that combines history, psychology, and literature to explore the concept of torture. We read a slave narrative by Harriet Jacobs, learned about the Stanford Prison Experiment, and studied the Cambodian Genocide from a historical perspective. This class helped me develop my passion for psychology and interest in studying how and why people use torture to control others.”

IB extended essay topics, a thesisor a major research project

If you spent your entire junior or senior year on a major project, you may wish to include the title of the project and a brief explanation. If your major project shows a commitment or an achievement to a specific field, especially one you may pursue academically in college, you may want to further explain the project. In addition, if your project required you to engage in an atypical amount of work or required novel research methods, you may want to mention that as well. For instance, if you want to study English literature, you might briefly describe your thesis that explored “Queer Symbols in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry.” Alternatively, if your project on sleep deprivation included interviews with experts in the field from universities or actual research in a sleep lab, you should feel free to describe how your project went above and beyond what was expected of you to receive a good grade. You might also request a letter of recommendation from the professor who oversaw the project and kindly ask them to discuss it in their letter.

Example: “My IB extended essay topic, ‘Queer Symbols in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,’ explores how Dickinson uses allusions to Shakespeare’s plays and metaphors of motherhood to discuss the role of women in nineteenth-century America. I hope to pursue projects like this as an English Major.

Example: “My junior year research project, ‘Sleep Deprivation and its Effects on Children,’ drew upon interviews from Stanford Professor Dr. William Dement (an expert on sleep) and research in Loyola University Chicago’s sleep lab. I took the subway to the Loyola campus twice a week for a semester to participate in research studies, which were crucial to my project’s conclusions. According to my research, I concluded that children who do not sleep enough are not just affected negatively physically. Sleep deprivation can also impact their ability to socialize with other students at school.”

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What not to include

(Note: the examples below are examples of what not to include in the Additional Information section)

Redundant information

At the risk of sounding redundant myself, please, please do not repeat anything that you cover elsewhere in your application! For instance, if you decide to describe an extracurricular activity, make sure that you do not repeat information from the Activities Section. Similarly, if you wrote about your passion for violin in your Common App Essay, you probably do not need to expand upon your love for playing violin in the Additional Information section. 

Example:

From Activities section: “Student council treasurer: Helped fundraise for prom and other events.”

From Additional Information section: “One of my biggest accomplishments when I was treasurer of student council was fundraising. As treasurer, my job was to manage fundraising endeavors. I helped fundraise for prom, the Halloween dance, and many other events.”

Another essay

Schools will require essays they want you to submit. Therefore, the Additional Information section is not the place to submit another personal-statement-type or even supplemental essay. By requiring students to write the same number of essays, colleges ensure a fairer evaluation system. In fact,adcoms will look down on applicants who think that adding extra information/essays will maximize their odds of acceptance.

Why you left an extracurricular activity for another academic commitment or extracurricular activity

Many students quit extracurricular activities over the course of their high school career for a variety of reasons, from scheduling conflicts to the development of new passions and hobbiesYou do not need to explain why you left student council or what caused you to give up playing the oboe. It’s normal to leave certain activities for academic and personal reasons. In fact, adcoms probably won’t even notice that you left the cheerleading squad to conduct biology research at a local university. 

Example: “After playing the oboe for 9 years, I decided to quit at the end of my junior year. Though I really wanted to continue pursuing my passion for the oboe, my commitments to varsity hockey, 6 AP classes, choir, volunteering, academic decathlon, and the many other things I participate in made it difficult to take band.”

A defense of why you did something/received a certain grade

We are all imperfect. Unfortunately, many students are often quick to look back at their freshman (or sophomore or junior) selves and criticize something they could have done better. That said, it is important to maintain an objective tone in the Additional Information section. Be factual and concise. If you are a straight-A student who received a B- in chemistry sophomore year because you happened to perform poorly on a few exams or happened to receive a low grade on an important lab report, I recommend leaving those details out. One-time grade drops happen and will not jeopardize your admissions odds. And most importantly, there is no need to explain what “lesson was learned” from receiving a B- in chemistry.

Example: “Due to the stress associated with 5 honors classes and varsity football, I performed poorly on a few exams in chemistry during the Fall of my sophomore year. Even though I got a B-, I learned a lot about myself from the process. I now know how to persevere, as well as what it takes to succeed academically while balancing all of my commitments.” 

Freshman year grades

Let’s face it: every student struggles in some way while they adjust to high school, whether it’s academically, socially, or psychologically. If your freshman year grades were lower than your sophomore and junior year grades, you do not need to explain that here. Adcoms will notice “upward trends” in grades during your later years. Why unnecessarily draw additional attention to a negative?

Example: “I struggled to adjust to high school my freshman year because the curriculum in my middle school was not rigorous enough to prepare me for the demands of high-school-level work. I did have some B’s and C’s, but by the end of high school I was only receiving grades above a B+.”

An 11th (or 12th, or 13th) extracurricular activity

Many students feel pressure to include everything that they have ever done in their Activities section, from a weekend spent volunteering at the library to teaching yoga lessons once a year at the local park. Showcasing your ten most meaningful activities in your Activities section helps adcoms understand what you are truly passionate about. If an activity didn’t make the cut for your main ten, it probably doesn’t warrant inclusion in your application.

A slightly lower test score than expected

Standardized tests are by no means perfect measures of your abilities, and you may have sometimes scored slightly lower than you had hoped. If you received a 3 on your AP Language exam but expected a 5, or if your SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test score was 700 but you had been scoring an 800 on practice tests, there is no need to explain why you scored slightly lower than you had expected. In addition, there is no need to explain how you struggled to maintain a B in AP Calculus BC and expectedly received a 2 on the AP exam. One low score won’t sink your application, and adcoms will appreciate not having to read excuses.

Example: “I did not do as well on the AP Language exam because I was really stressed that week. Though my teacher expected that I would receive a 4 or a 5, I got a 3 because of additional stress that morning from running late to school.”

An elaboration of every extracurricular activity

Whereas you should highlight major extracurricular accomplishments and achievements or explain unusual and niche activities, you do not need to explain conventional activities, especially if they were not the most important during your high school career. Adcoms do not want to know every play you acted in, every song you sang in choir, a detailed explanation of every office position you held in Model UN, or every race you won in cross country. 

Example: “In freshman year, I acted in 2 plays, including ‘Steel Magnolias’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ In sophomore year I acted and sang in 2 musicals: one was called ‘Aida’ and the other was called ‘Forty-Second Street.’ In junior year I was the supporting actress in a play called ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ and a character actor in ‘Dear David.’ I will participate in two more plays before graduation, including one by Arthur Miller.”

An explanation for the sake of explaining something

You may fall into the trap of telling adcoms everything you have ever done in hopes of impressing them. It’s OK (and highly recommended) to leave out some information about your life. If a hobby or an interest is important to you, include it in your Activities section or discuss it in an essay.

Example: “Last summer, I read 6 novels by Charles Dickens for fun. I learned a lot about my passion for literature reading these novels.”

Example: “In my free time, I love to read about politics. In fact, I have read a few books in the past month about how the Democratic Party in the United States embraced aspects of socialism in the 1990s and 2000s.”

Example: “I received an A on my term paper on The Scarlet Letter. Here is a brief abstract about the paper…” 

Example: “I sometimes paint on Saturdays to clear my mind.”

Example: “My cousin is a drug addict. This has been very difficult for my family, even though it has not impacted my academics or home life.” 

Example: “I am gay, which will make me a great addition to my future school’s community because I will bring an additional perspective.”

Example: “Even though I am a high-achieving student, I am also imperfect and can handle adversity. ”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I am worried that the admissions committee will not have a full picture of me without additional supplemental essays. Should I include an extra essay I wrote?

Answer: It’s easy to worry that the admissions committee won’t have a full picture of you with only one or two short supplemental essays. That said, they will have plenty to learn about you from your Common App Essay, Activities section, letters of recommendation, and supplemental essays. But, if a school does ask for an optional additional essay in their supplemental section (as Harvard does), be sure to submit one! 

Question: How do I decide whether I should include information about an extracurricular activity or an academic interest in my Common App Essay, supplemental essays, the Activities section, or in the Additional Information section?

Answer: If the activity or interest is not represented in your Common App Essay, Activities section, transcript, or supplemental essays, you probably do not need to include it in the Additional Information section. That said, if you feel that a certain activity or interest was the most important to you or that the lessons you learned from it are qualities you want to showcase in your application (e.g., leadership, creativity, ingenuity, and commitment), it may be worthwhile to write about that topic for your Common App Essay or various supplemental essays. On the other hand, if you have other topics you wish to pursue in your Common App Essay or supplemental essays (e.g., family histories, a meaningful travel experience, a particular obstacle you overcame, an important event) but still want to highlight your commitment to a particular activity or interest (especially if it is something you might pursue in college), you should feel free to include a brief description in the Additional Information section. 

Question: Can I write about two or more of the above categories in the Additional Information section? 

Answer: Yes, you can! If you need to explain two unrelated topics, you can include two or more separate topics or entries. Write the two entries and separate them with a line break. For example, if you want to talk about a discontinuity in your transcript and include an additional test score, you could write:

“I took Japanese at the local community college for two semesters my junior year.

AP Art History Exam (6/5/2017): 5.”

Question: I really love art, travel, literature and learning about other students through cultural exchanges. Should I explain that here? 

Answer: Discussing your interests and hobbies might seem exciting, but you do not need to get into these topics in the Additional Information section. If additional interests are important to you, consider including them in your Common App Essay, your supplemental essays, or your Activities section. In fact, including these details in the Additional Information section can actually harm your application, as it may come off as you trying to “show off” everything that you have done. If the hobby or interest did not make it into another part of your application, it probably does not need to be included in your application. 

Question: My mother/father is not originally from the United States and has different rules and traditions that they follow from other parents. Should I explain that this is why they did not allow me to participate in many extracurricular activities?

Answer: If these cultural differences really stopped you from participating in extracurricular activities, make it known. Either way, these differences can make for an interesting essay topic. Maybe your parents were immigrants or refugees who reluctantly let you participate in theater, because they thought you should focus on math, science, or academics in general. This detail could serve as the foundation for a great essay on how expectations in American high schools can clash with other cultures’ expectations. But if your parents were immigrants or refugees who struggled to understand why extracurricular activities were important and thus would not pay for music lessons or let you stay after school (because they thought you were hanging out with your friends), you might briefly explain an absence of activities in the Additional Information section. You might say, “My mother emigrated from Vietnam. Because of the cultural barrier, she did not understand the importance of extracurricular activities and demanded that we come home after school to focus on our studies and to be with the family. However, I did manage to volunteer by tutoring younger students during my lunch period and pursue my passion in visual art through elective courses.” 

Question: My family member suffered from mental illness and drug addiction. This did not affect my grades or test scores, but it taught me a lot about compassion and responsibility. Should I include this? 

Answer: No. Unless your grades or academics were affected, you can talk about topics like this in essays or during interviews. 

Question: I took German/Spanish/etc., my freshman and sophomore year, but could not take a foreign language my junior or senior year because of scheduling conflicts. Can I explain this, especially since many colleges recommend three years of Foreign Language?

Answer: Yes! You might say, “Because of a scheduling conflict with AP Calculus BC during junior year, I could not continue taking German class.” In these cases, you should also ask your guidance counselor to make a note in their letter, as it will sound especially convincing coming from both of you. 

Question: Could I use the Additional Information section to talk about a whole different side of myself that I feel is important (e.g., sharing more about my personality) but could not address in the rest of my application?

Answer: The short answer is no. While this might not turn into a full-length Common App Essay, an explanation like this can feel like an attempt to include an additional supplemental essay, even if it is just a paragraph. It’s impossible to show adcoms every aspect of your personality and history, so you need to select the qualities, stories, and information that best represent you, not add more information. 

Question: Should I include links in the Additional Information section showcasing videos of me playing an instrument, acting, or singing? Should I include links to my poetry, fiction, or artwork?

Answer: While a school may ask for links in the supplemental section to artist portfolios or videos of musical performances, you should not include links in the Additional Information section. Adcoms are under immense pressure to read countless applications and will probably not click on the link, anyway. 

Question: My older sister has a severe disability, and I am her primary caretaker at home. I understand that I can explain this in the Additional Information section, but should I include this information elsewhere in my application, like in the Activities section?

Answer: Yes, you can definitely include this information in the Activities section. You might also consider writing your Common App Essay about this experience. That way, you can talk about how you have changed or grown from this experience, and what qualities you have developed from taking care of your older sister.

Question: There is a serious disciplinary action on my academic record (e.g., caught cheating on an exam)thattaught me a lot about the type of person I want to be. Should I add an extra explanation about this in the Additional Information section?Should I write an essay about this?

Answer: The Common Application will ask you toexplain any disciplinaryhistory (academic dishonesty, plagiarism, cheating, suspensions, etc.) in a separate section. In that section,you should explain the incident factually and what you learned from it in concise terms. Expanding upon this information in the Additional Information section will only draw more attention to the negative experience. Adcoms know that mistakes happen, butadding an extra explanation or a defense may harm your application.

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