Every college application has a section where you have the opportunity to provide additional information. Often times, it is a question about “special circumstances” or additional honors, but what should you really write in this section?
I advise students to use this opportunity to highlight information that is not presented anywhere else in the application. Of course you should use this section to explain any extenuating circumstances that created a negative impact in your grades. When doing so, it is not only important to highlight the situation that affected your grades, but to also describe how you improved your grades. Taking responsibility for a grade drop is significant, however you should also show that you are motivated to over come the challenges that you have faced.
Lately, I have also advised students to use this section to explain any issues with course selection that they faced. With many schools enduring budget cuts, students have not been able to take all of the AP courses they wanted to because they are not being offered as often. If you were not able to take precalculus because it conflicted with your AP Bio course, let colleges know.
Some “special circumstances” covered in this section may be deeply personal. You may need to discuss a medical condition or a family situation. Keep in mind that while revealing this information may be difficult, it is important for colleges to know what affects your life. Maybe you have to watch a younger sibling after school, so you have not been able to obtain a job or play a sport. Maybe you tragically lost a relative and the loss briefly affected your grades. Whatever the situation, know that college admissions officers need to be able to see a complete picture of who you are.
If the colleges you are applying to are truly taking a “holistic” approach to reviewing applications, then providing this information is just one piece of the puzzle they are trying to put together to picture who you are. If you leave out this piece of information, then the picture will not be complete and they won’t have all of the information they need to make a decision.