Common App - Additional Info Section - Substance Abuse Parent

I’m helping my nephew with his college application process and I’ve searched a lot in CC forums and on the web regarding advice about whether or not to mention the substance abuse of a parent anywhere in the common app. He’s not writing about it in his personal essay so he’s wondering whether or not to include it in the additional information.

His past 12 months he has faced the pandemic this spring/summer/fall; this summer before school started a natural disaster hit our community and knocked out power/internet for a week and caused significant damage to community and delayed start of school by a couple of weeks; and last fall one of his parent went to another state for substance abuse inpatient treatment and then relapsed during pandemic and has been drinking again since February.

In spite of the challenges my nephew faced, he’s still succeeded academically and with extracurriculars so he isn’t trying to say this is an extenuating circumstance that has made impact on his grades/ECs. But it has definitely shaped his life and likely is one of the reasons for his strong drive/hard work ethic and being very resilient for his age.

  1. Any advice about whether or not to include this in additional info section (and pros/cons as to why/why not)? Or he could mention it in covid section.

  2. And if he includes, what is the best way to write about it?

Any advice/perspectives are appreciated.

In case it is helpful to anyone else who may read this, I called 20 different universities today (4 Ivys, 6 public tier I research universities, and 10 LACs) and each suggested that it is helpful and important context for them to know IF the student felt comfortable sharing.

They suggested two ways to convey this context:

  1. Ask a teacher or guidance counselor to mention it in their LOR.

  2. Mention it in additional information or if very important to student’s story, in the main essay (but they were clear it didn’t need to be in main essay). So in the additional information part, they said it was important to provide:

  • some context for how the situation was a challenge/obstacle (especially regarding impact upon studying and academic life)
  • how you overcame or adapted to the challenge/obstacle
  • what you learned from it/how it has informed your life and next steps.
    They said it is important that it is written with as much care and attention as the main essay in terms of grammar, use of language, punctuation, etc. Length is up to student, but be judicious.

Good job dogging this.

It’s not just overcoming/adapting or what one learned. Kids tend to interpret that as just saying that their goals became clearer or their resolve stronger.

A better view is: how did he “triumph, despite” these challenges. How he moved past them, grew, and made some relevant contributions, did some good. It’s part of, “Show, not just tell.” And not just with respect to academics.