Step back and take a look at the information you’ve already included in your application. What’s missing? What might not make sense and need an explanation? You may need help seeing what’s missing. Ask someone who knows you (and, ideally, knows the college process) well to get their input.
In general, use the Additional Comments section to add everything non-academic that you want the readers to know about you, and use the Academic History section for things that are related to, well, academics.
Note: If you aren’t sure where to put something, there’s no need to be super obsessive about what goes where; the reader will read your whole application. Just do your best and be clear.
What follows are about a dozen possibilities for items you might include, written with input from some of my wonderful colleagues on both sides of the college admission desk.
1. Important details about your activities that wouldn’t fit in your Activities List.
Let’s say you were a part of a wild biology internship at the botanical gardens. And let’s say you decided not to write an extracurricular essay on this, either because you wrote on something else or the school didn’t request an extracurricular essay. When you look at your Activities List description, however, it doesn’t capture how incredibly awesome this experience was for everyone. So you might write a short bullet point description in your Additional Comments section that looks like this example:
“Stand for Haiti” Fundraiser
Raised $3,500 to benefit victims of the recent 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
Quick tips for writing activity descriptions in your Additional Info section:
Be brief. You’re on borrowed time in the Additional Info section, so give us the condensed version. Imagine your reader is a very important person with a hundred more applications to read before Friday. Because they are and probably do.
Be specific and focus on impact. In this case, how much money did you raise? Whom did it help? How?
Put your details in descending order of importance. The most important stuff should go at the top, since the reader may be skimming.
Avoid special formatting. Formatting like bold and italics may not show up, so make sure you’ve emphasized the information you want without those fancy tricks. This goes for your personal statement too.
Or let’s say you did write a 150-200 word extracurricular essay for a particular school and you really want other schools to know more about that activity even though they haven’t asked for a 150-200 word essay… While you could paste your whole short essay into the additional information section for those other schools, I wouldn’t recommend including essays the school didn’t request. Instead, create a bullet point version of your essay so the reader can get the information more quickly. How?
You can turn this (short extracurricular essay version):
The Durham Youth Commission is a teen-led faction of the Durham County government that was created to provide youth input in local politics. To get into the Commission, applicants must submit a thorough description of their extracurricular and academic interests as well as answer questions about what they would like to see accomplished during their time in office. Out of 100 applicants, I was selected to serve on the commission two years in a row along with about 25 other high schoolers attending school in Durham. Along with promoting efforts to combat gun violence during my time serving in the DYC, we also pursued advocacy projects to address mental health challenges and food insecurities. The Commission was regularly updated by various city officials about the nature of their work, including the Mayor of Durham. The DYC also attended several conferences hosted by other city youth councils to build leadership and communication skills as well as encourage active community involvement. I volunteered over 60 hours each term I served on this commission for organizations like Mobile Market, Peace Toys for War Toys, Habitat for Humanity, and Kids Voting. (187 words)
…into this (shorter, bullet point version):
The Durham Youth Commission (DYC) is a teen-led faction of the Durham government created to provide youth input in local politics.
Out of 100 applicants, I was selected to serve on the commission two years in a row along with about 25 other Durham high schoolers
Promoted efforts to combat gun violence, mental health challenges, and food insecurities.
Regularly updated by city officials and Durham Mayor about the nature of their work.
Attended several conferences hosted by other city youth councils to build leadership skills and encourage active community involvement.
Volunteered over 60 hours each term for organizations like Mobile Market, Peace Toys for War Toys, Habitat for Humanity, and Kids Voting. (106 words)
See? The bullet points version is shorter and easier to read.
Important: Please don’t expand on every single activity in your Activities List; make the most of your descriptions using the tips I’ve given.
2. 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.
A few tips:
Focus on information. Not fluff. Don’t tell a story here. Just the facts.
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 afterward? 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, a 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.
If you choose to discuss mental health issues, be sure to run it by your counselor before submitting, as depression and anxiety can often raise more questions than they answer. Admission officers want to make sure their future students have the resources they need on campus. To be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t mention mental health issues; I’m saying that “if” and “how” are important questions to discuss with your counselor. If you do not have a counselor and identify as low-income, you can sign up for one.
Here’s an example:
Health issue: from March-May of 11th grade, I faced a hormone imbalance due to side-effects of a prescription medicine. This led to muscle inflammation and inability to regularly move my fingers, wrists, and legs, impacting my preparation for AP and final exams.
And here’s another example:
Significant shoulder injury (10th grade)
I tore my rotator cuff and was unable to continue playing volleyball and tennis, two sports in which I’ve competed statewide for the past two years.
This injury significantly altered my high school trajectory. Because I had to take 6 months off of playing sports, I had more time to take advanced classes and discovered a deep interest in migration and labor studies through AP Human Geography and a Sociology of Migration class I took at my local community college.
These examples are short and clear, while giving the reader enough context to understand 1) what happened and 2) how it affected them.
3. Any potential “red flags” on your application
What might be a red flag? Something in your application that could raise questions in the mind of the admissions reader (e.g., why you dropped two clubs last year, or don’t have any extracurriculars listed at all).
Note: If you have any red flags that are academic-related (like the fact that you want to major in chemistry but didn’t take chemistry last year), that can go in the Academic History section.
Anticipate questions the reader may have and offer an explanation that provides context. Did you drop the sports to focus on academics, for example? Or maybe you had a complex schedule conflict? If you’re not sure whether you should include something or not, ask your counselor.
In terms of length and tone, be as concise as possible and explain rather than complain. Here’s a successful “explaining”example:
(11th grade) Could not finish wrestling season
Mom and older brother were caught in a car accident
Responsibilities at home stacked up and I was also working at the time to pay bills, so I was unable to stay for practice
4. Circumstances that have made it difficult for you to get more involved in extracurricular activities, such as working to support your family.
I’ve had students, for example, who have to take two buses plus the Metro to get to school, commuting almost two hours each way. Others have their parents drive them that far. This means extracurriculars have been relatively tough to participate in. But colleges can’t know that if you don’t tell them.
(Note that some of this information can be communicated in the counselor recommendation letter, although you aren’t likely to know what’s in that letter (since counselors don’t usually show these to students). If you don’t have a counselor, use this section to advocate for yourself.
Independent counselor Leslie Cohen offers this great advice: “Students need to repeatedly ask themselves: ‘If I was reading this application, am I getting enough information to understand the applicant’s situation and experiences?’ Often students assume what they list is clear, but sometimes it’s not. I’ve had many admissions officers say ‘I wanted to know more.’”
Here’s an example:
My parents didn’t graduate from high school. I am a first generation student.
I currently live with my grandparents who don’t know how to speak English.
I moved to the United States during the summer of 2014 (between 9th and 10th grade). I mostly spent that summer settling myself into a new home, clearing my documentation, enrolling in school, getting electricity and water and other utilities running.
Since I was new to America’s educational systems I didn’t know about AP classes until the middle of my first semester which was too late. I wanted to take more during 11th grade but was limited by requirements and prerequisites. 10th grade was mainly catching up with the rigor of my new school.
My means of transportation is limited to school/public bus and my bike.
A note on the example above: The author here draws attention to the fact that she’s a first generation student. If this is the case for you, consider sharing it in this section if you haven’t already mentioned it in other parts of your application. Why? Most colleges want to build a diverse class and create opportunities for traditionally underserved populations, so it’s important for them to know how you might fit into those overarching goals as a potential student. It also helps admissions officers understand what kind of education, financial, or social resources may have been available to you and how that may have impacted your grades, activities, or interests.
5. Physical or learning disabilities or differences
Physical disabilities should be diagnosed by a health professional. You may consider specifying the diagnosis, when you received it, and how long you’ve navigated the effects overall.
If you have a diagnosed Learning Disability, you might include a bit of context to help clarify and describe the learning challenge. How has the disability impacted your academic performance and what steps have taken to navigate your disability? If you are dyslexic, for example, do you use audio books as a work around? Indicate when the disability was diagnosed and what you have accomplished or navigated since the diagnosis. Here’s an example:
I was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of ninth grade, which helped me understand some of the academic difficulties I’d faced in middle school. Pharmacological treatment, however, led to a complete change in academic performance. Although it sometimes takes me three times as long to comprehend reading material, I’ve become extremely motivated and self-disciplined and I believe my academic record reflects this. Unfortunately, I do not believe that standardized tests reflect my ability, especially as someone with ADHD, as having more time on a test can be difficult when focusing is the issue.
Important: Not everyone has to disclose. Ask your counselor what makes sense for your application.
6. Family member disability or parent unemployment
If a family member is disabled or has been unable to work and this has had an impact on your life or academics, consider including a few sentences of context. Here’s an example:
In 2018 my father suffered a series of strokes which left him partially paralyzed and with severe cognitive impairment. He was obviously unable to continue his career as a professor at the local university. With the help of many therapists and medical professionals my father has slowly gained back some of his faculties, but it is rare that he is left at home alone. My mother and my brother and I are typically by his side making sure he has what he needs and that he is safe. For the first half of last year while my father’s condition was critical my mother was unable to work at all.
My mother is a beautiful, warm, and passionate person. Sadly, she also suffers from schizophrenia which she allows to be treated only periodically with medication. She is rarely able to hold a job for more than a few months at a time, and our family depends on my father’s job driving heavy equipment for the city for income as well as insurance. Dad isn’t able to take time off on those days or long periods of time when mom needs extra attention. My sister and I have taken over household chores and bill paying to fill in some of the gaps.
7. Unusual grading systems
We have a trimester schedule that is not accommodated by the drop-down menus,” notes veteran counselor Tara Dowling. “For example–we have numerous two-trimester courses and there are only 10 slots. So our students put in ‘fake date’ indicating that courses are full-year courses. Then they explain in the additional info that the classes actually two-terms long.
Would the admission officer know that if you didn’t tell them? Perhaps not.
Another example: counselor Barbara Carletta Chen points out, “For 12th grade students who attend School Year Abroad [a high school study abroad program], 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.
8. Unusual classes or Online courses
What do I mean by unusual classes? North High School in Newton, MA, once had 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? You might include a 2-3 sentence blurb on what that class entailed (course objective, highlights of the reading list, and any special projects). Other weird/awesome high school classes I wish I could’ve taken include: “Great Books,” where students read books like Ulysses and (my favorite) The Brothers Karamazov; and the “Wise Individualized Senior Experience,” in which seniors can avoid senioritis by designing their own 10-week curriculum.
In terms of online courses, not all online classes are created equal. That’s why it’s important to add context to help the admission officer get an accurate picture. Was it a one-week course that required just a few hours work? Or a rigorous eight-week course that required 10+ hrs of reading and group work per week, culminating in a final project that you had to sing in front of 300+ people and oh-by-the-way here’s a link? Also, maybe say why you took the course(s). Was it because the class wasn’t offered at your school? Or did you take it to make room for another class you really wanted to fit into your schedule? Show the reader you were thoughtful in your decision to learn online.
9. IB Extended Essay Topics
Parke Muth, counselor and former associate dean at the University 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 student.”
Here’s an example from my younger 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.
10. Other information that simply won’t fit on other parts of the UC App
Kate Coddaire at Cheverus HS reports, “I have students with so many siblings they cannot fit them all on the Family page of the UC App.”
What else might go here?
Acronyms. You might know what the NCMAC Conference is or what it means to be MSRTP Certified, but your reader may not. Make it easy for them.
Special Awards or Certifications. You might know how ridiculously hard you worked to earn a Level 8 Certification in violin, but if you don’t explain it to the reader, they may not. Also, when possible, quantify. Tell us you were one of 8 chosen out of 500, if it’s true.
What else might go here? Anything that may give the reader a more full understanding of who you are and what you’ll contribute on a college campus and beyond.
Note: 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 personal statement or other parts of the application:
Low-income family or large family with many dependents, straining family income
Language spoken at home is other than English
You’ll be the first generation in your family to attend college
How do you know if you should put something in the personal statement or Additional Info section? The personal statement describes who you are and what you value; your Additional Info often describes external things that have happened to you. (Hat tip to my colleague Hollis Bischoff for this distinction.)
Having said all this, don’t misuse this section. What do I mean?