Beyond the standard essay questions found on your college applications, you’ll run across two other types of essay questions on the application that you probably aren’t sure how to approach.
The first is the fairly innocuous question usually found at the end of the application that goes something like this: “Do you have anything to add?”
For example, on the Common App, it is labelled Additional Information and is the last question in the Writing Section.
Answering this question is totally optional, so should you answer it or not?
The second is the required explanatory essay or essays that pop up if you have answered some particular questions, with “Yes” on the application.
For example, if your high school education has been interrupted, you’ll often have to provide an explanation for the circumstances. Likewise, if you have a disciplinary or criminal record, you’ll be asked to address it in a required explanatory essay (aka disclosure essay).
1. The Additional Information section is not the place for you to explain any special circumstances you have confronted due to the global pandemic UNLESS there is no other option. Both the Common App and the Coalition App have separate questions for COVID-related circumstances, and other applications are likely to follow suit. But if there is no other option, it is worth explaining your particular situation during the pandemic and its impact on your educational progress and activities. But don’t work on drafting it this week — next week’s post is all about how to handle this issue.
2. Do not use the Additional Information section just because it’s there. More is not more when it comes to your college applications, unless it really adds something. You should only include a supplemental essay if it addresses some ESSENTIAL aspect of your story that is not revealed elsewhere in your application. When would that happen? You might have chosen another topic for your personal essay because you did not want this aspect of yourself to be the focus of that essay, but you nonetheless think it is important that an admissions officer know this other thing about you. For example, Jason’s mother died of a heart attack while exercising in their home gym and Jason was the family member who found her when he was 10. This loss and experience have shaped his character in some essential ways. But Jason did not want to make this the topic of his personal essay, because he had other things that were more recent in his life that were equally important to who he had become. But an admissions officer wouldn’t really be able to understand who Jason was without knowing about this other part of his background, so the perfect solution was a supplemental essay that he included as Additional Information. Consider your story and see if there is any critical component that you feel must be included but that isn’t the topic of your personal essay or another essay. If so, then a supplemental essay is the solution for you, too!
3. Explanatory essays (disclosure essays) should be honest, forthright, and to the point. Don’t belabor things. If you weren’t in school for one semester because you were on a medical leave, say that. It is most important to address why that particular situation that caused an issue in the past is not likely to cause a similar issue in the future. Or if it is ongoing, explain how you are going to manage it in college.
4. You must overcome a disciplinary or criminal record by persuading the admissions officer to give you a second chance. While having either sort of record dramatically reduces your chances for admission to a selective college, admissions officers can and do admit applicants with records. But to persuade an admissions officer to admit you despite your record, you are going to have to present a clear and convincing case that you have earned a second chance. You need to make use of the multiple opportunities you have to make your case (additional essays, supporting documentation, recommendations that address it, and so on). Consult Chapter 13 in our book or the relevant sections in our Inline software for our suggestions about how to build your most persuasive case.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the book How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.