Supplemental Materials

As we’ve learned these past few weeks, the college application process can be a complicated one. From essay questions to letters of recommendation and crafting an effective resume, you name it — there are guidelines for it! But there’s one more part of the college application that, while only some students will need to complete it, can add vital information to your application:
supplemental materials.

Supplemental materials, or supplements, are any additional items that a student wants to submit in addition to their main application — often to showcase a talent or interest discussed elsewhere in the application. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Audio recordings
  • Musical scores
  • Art Portfolios
  • Film
  • Dance videos
  • Creative writing samples
  • Academic papers
  • Research abstracts
  • Extra letters of recommendation
  • An extended resume

Supplements are optional (unless required by a school to determine a student’s aptitude for their intended major), and not every student should feel the need to submit them. Today, we cover who should submit supplements, how to determine if a supplement is worthy of submission, how the submission process works, and more!

Which colleges accept supplements?

With the transition from STEM to STEAM (recognizing the importance of artistic endeavors in addition to the traditional focus on STEM fields), colleges are increasingly open to accepting supplemental examples of student work. However, each college has their own requirements when it comes to supplements, so it is imperative to check the policy on supplements for EACH college to which you’ll be applying.

If a college does not accept supplements, DO NOT send any! Doing so indicates that you do not respect their wishes or did not look into their requirements/directions, which could potentially have an adverse effect on the review of your application.

On the other hand, some colleges will only accept supplements if they are related to your intended major — for instance, an architecture portfolio if you are applying to the school’s architecture program. In such cases, be sure to submit ONLY the supplements that are requested from you.

Many colleges on the Common Application utilize Slideroom, while colleges on the Coalition Application often use Locker (both are digital platforms for uploading supplemental materials). Each school’s Slideroom or Locker will be customized to the school’s desires, so read the requirements carefully! Other colleges have their own portal for uploading supplemental materials. In some cases, colleges may charge a small submission fee — particularly if a student wishes to upload more supplements than there are spaces allotted in the portal.

Given the transition to online applications in recent years, it’s likely that your supplements will need to be digitized. If they’re not already in digital form, be sure to check that the formatting retains its integrity in the digitization process.

Who should submit a supplement, and how do I know if mine is competitive enough?

This is one of our most frequently asked questions. It’s tempting to treat the supplemental materials section of the application as a filing cabinet to showcase your proudest accomplishments over the years, but this is not what admissions officers are looking for. As a general rule of thumb, you should only submit a supplement if you can answer YES to the following questions:

1. Will it add VALUE to my application? In other words, will this help them to understand me better as an applicant, and will it provide meaningful insight into my skills, talents, and interests that I have not already demonstrated elsewhere in my application?

  • An extra letter of recommendation from a teacher won’t necessarily tell the admissions officers anything new about you. However, an extra letter from a coach, club advisor or an employer might provide valuable insights.

2. Is it an EXCEPTIONAL example of work? Remember that your supplements will be evaluated against thousands of others, so yours should stand out. This is not the place to submit the short film you created after playing around with iMovie for a day. Later, we’ll discuss some strategies to help you determine whether a supplement is of sufficient quality to provide to colleges.

3. Does it ALIGN with what I’ve said about myself in the rest of my application? Colleges are trying to understand you holistically, so uploading a photography portfolio will not make much sense if you haven’t talked about your passion for photography elsewhere in the application. Likewise, treat your supplements as an opportunity to promote what you are striving for. If you are applying for an engineering program, for instance, it may not be worthwhile to upload a sample of your original poems — talented as you may be at writing them.

Who reviews supplements?

Typically, supplements are passed along to professors or faculty members who are familiar with that subject area, and therefore qualified to comment on your skill level. If you submit a short film for instance, then a professor in the film department will likely review it. This is another reason why you should only submit a supplement if you feel that it is a high quality example of your work.

How do I know if my supplement is competitive enough to submit?

This can be tricky, since creative skill is highly subjective. We suggest sharing your supplement with a few people (preferably not family members) whom you can trust to provide honest, unbiased feedback. Teachers, coaches, advisors, and other professionals well-versed in the subject area of your supplement are an excellent option. You can also search the internet for examples of strong supplements. In some cases, you may even be able to find interviews with admissions officers discussing the components of a successful supplement.

Our professionals at the Admission Masters hail from a wide range of backgrounds including art, journalism, music, athletics, STEM, and debate, and are also qualified to help you determine whether or not your work reaches the competitive standard.

For students interested in art, the Admission Masters Art Institute — led by instructors affiliated with institutions including CalArts, Art Center, and Otis College of Art and Design — is an excellent resource to help you develop an impressive portfolio. We offer free information sessions and portfolio reviews periodically!

“Final thoughts”

If you have talent in a particular area, begin cultivating it early (at the Admission Masters, many of our middle school students are already developing their passions through independent projects). This will give you ample time to hone your craft and demonstrate your growth. At the same time, it’s never too late to start!

Whether you’re just beginning to cultivate examples of your work or are nearing the completion of your portfolio, our team of experts at the Admission Masters is here to guide you through the process of developing an application you can be proud of. To learn more about how we can help, give us a call today!

College Admission Consulting Group, ‘Admission Masters’
[LA, Irvine, Brea, San Marino, Seoul in Korea]

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