Coalition Application
College Admission
What The…?!

What The…?!

Listen to the audio version here!

Young kids are like productivity’s kryptonite. A good day is two steps forward, one step back. I’m not saying they aren’t cute. I’m not warning you not to have them in the future. I am saying any adult who manages to keep these young beings alive, while also accomplishing more than the most mundane, perfunctory tasks, deserves to be praised, exalted, and cheered in the city square.

Just when you think you’ve washed all the dishes, you turn around to see an abandoned half glass of milk and two casually nibbled carrots on the counter top. And what is this in your periphery vision? Why it’s a lone striped sock, discarded by someone next to the fireplace. Mowing the lawn now involves an extra 30 minutes of post-cut clean up because of the 23 Nerf bullets shredded into hundreds of tiny pink, green, and orange pieces and sprayed all over the walkway and bushes.

If I’m being honest, in these moments I really have to watch my temper, tone, and tongue (a different three T’s than discussed a few weeks ago). Typically, I exhale deeply, close my eyes, and slowly bow and shake my head. Sometimes the sage words of Jimmy Buffett assuage my frustration, “If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.” But in most cases, amidst a swirling combination of confusion, exasperation, and uncertainty, all I can utter is, “What the…?!”

Here are a few recent examples:

I admit this could be called progress after the peeing in the vent story from a few years ago. That, however was more like no steps forward and $1200 back.

Yesterday, I received this Facebook memory of my kids. Looks innocent enough, right? Creating a work of art out of old cereal boxes on the surface may look like a commitment to sustainability and artistic expression. No. This was a mandated “project” that resulted after finding bins of wrappers, boxes, cartons and other trash our son had been hoarding in his room for months. Bins—plural! What the…?!

Just before bed one night last week, my wife asked me, “What is that goo on the floor in the kitchen? It’s an odd green color and seems to be spreading.”

I don’t know. Where? You didn’t smell it or try to clean it up?

“I wasn’t touching that. Could not tell what it was.”

Stumbling downstairs, I saw the substance in question. It was a brownish-green puddle a few inches in diameter. Food? Human discharge of some kind? Melted Play-Doh? A combination of all three? What the…?!

And today, I went to the refrigerator in the morning for some yogurt only to find a few mechanical candles randomly placed on the shelves. Not destructive, but again, “What the…?!”

On The Road

It’s recruitment season, and while traveling to high schools recently I have had a disproportionate number of questions about the open-ended section of the application called “Additional Information” or “Special Circumstances.”

“Is it going to hurt me if I don’t answer that question?”

“Can I include one of the essays I could not fit anywhere else here?”

“I’m a poet and was thinking about including…”

“Would you call filling this section out demonstrated interest?”

I get it. Most of the college application is straightforward. Name: check. Address: got it. School information: no problem. Activities, Essays… all of it makes sense.

Then there’s this: “Do you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application?” If you select yes, you have a free form box that allows up to 650 words. No additional instructions. No examples. No guidance.

Most applicants neither use nor need this section. In other words, unlike the unidentifiable goo on the floor, you can just leave it be. For those that do complete it, these are the three big bucket reasons:

Significant life events.

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context.

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities.

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you– and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else– not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”

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