By Alexandra Thurmond
Applying to college is an arduous process—from standardized tests to personal statements to financial aid forms, there's a lot to keep track of. And for some, the road may not end there.
Supplemental materials are touted as a way to set yourself apart from the crowd, but do they really make a difference? Colleges have thousands (or even tens of thousands) of applications to assess and a limited amount of time to devote to each applicant. If your file is filled with art projects, certificates, and recommendations from vague acquaintances, your reader may be annoyed rather than impressed. That being said, there are certainly cases when a little something extra can land you squarely in the "accepted" pile.
If you feel you have something that will truly add value to your application and can't be included with the standard forms, read on for our guidelines on how to play the supplement game.
If you have a knack for painting, drawing, sculpture, or photography, you may wish to send in examples of your work, particularly if you plan to major or minor in that discipline. It's recommended you select one or two works that best showcase your talent and distinct point of view—do not mail an entire portfolio. And remember: Any materials submitted to colleges become property of the school, so never give away originals.
Students who excel in music, dance, and theater often put together videos or audio clips capturing their skills. Requirements vary greatly from school to school, so be sure to thoroughly read the instructions for this kind of multimedia supplement. While some colleges allow recorded performances from plays or concerts, others require clips recorded expressly for the application. Also, some performing arts programs require in-person auditions as part of the official admissions process, so definitely check specific institutions' policies!
Since essays tend to be part of the general applying-to-college process, writing supplements can be a little harder to justify. But if you're a prolific poet or an aspiring journalist, you may indeed feel it's necessary to submit additional writing samples showing your depth and range. Whether you decide to send along a short story or a clip from your school paper, it's important to keep in mind the length of your submission. It may be wise to select a riveting excerpt from the text rather than an entire piece if you tend toward longform.
Academic and Scientific Research
If you've assisted with research outside of the classroom, it's generally recommended that you send the abstract from the final report and a brief explanation of your contribution to the project. Conversely, there are some universities that do like to see the entire report, so be sure to check schools' guidelines for this kind of material. It's also worth noting that research supplements in particular are most compelling when they can be related to the field you're hoping to study!
Most schools require one or two letters of recommendation from teachers or guidance counselors, but if you feel there's someone else in your life who can shed more light on your accomplishments, some applications do allow for extra recommendations. These can be from a coach, a boss, or another figure who knows you well and can express your dedication and involvement in a project or activity. This kind of letter should be clearly marked as a supplemental recommendation so as not to be confused with the required ones!
And one final note...
With all submissions, it's extremely important that you include the proper identifying information: your full legal name as stated on your application, the high school you attended, and your date of birth—you wouldnt want to go through all of that extra work just to have it lost in the admissions office! And be sure to check on deadlines for supplementary materials, as they tend to be later than general application dates, but vary from school to school.
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