Are supplemental materials read? Do they have an effect on admissions?
Not all the time, but if you don’t send any, they won’t read it, so send stuff to every college, unless they absolutely forbid it!
Coming from a small university, we do read each and every piece of each and every application, and sometimes supplemental materials mean the difference between a yes and a no on your letter. Our college has a very writing intensive curriculum, so if a student is borderline for admission, we will often look at (or request!) a supplemental writing piece. If a student has strong writing, they are more likely to be admitted to the university. So, if you look at the admission requirements for a school and find yourself at the lower end of even slightly below, submitting supplemental materials can strengthen your application. Adding more than the bare minimum can also show your counselor that you are committed to their university, which often makes a difference as well.
Because the application review process varies the impact of supplemental materials does too. The less selective a school, the less extensive the review, and the fewer things that are considered. In contrast, the process at truly selective schools involves multiple layers of review and a greater number of consideration. Consequently, substantive supplemental materials that further illuminate the school’s understanding of an applicant, material that reinforces and strengthens the central components of the picture can be valuable. However, supplemental material that is little more than a list of additional activities, things in which one has only dabbled, can only serve to blur the picture, distract the reviewer, snd detract from the application. Quality over quantity is no small factor in an admissions process that involves the review of literally thousands of applications annually.
Depending on the size of the applicant pool, college admission officers are charged with evaluating thousands of applications. An ideal application will give you everything you need to know without any supplemental materials. Policies vary from college to college on whether the supplemental materials are looked at. If it’s an extra essay, it might not be read, but if it’s a sample of art, it may be sent to the art department for an official evaluation. What that means is that the admissions officer may not see the artwork, but s/he will see the notes from a professor in the art department who would be able to evaluate the quality with a trained eye. Certainly if the evaluation is raving, submitting this supplemental material may have a positive effect on admissions. As a rule of thumb, don’t attach every newspaper clipping or press release. Try to address everything within the application. It’s not worth it to attach supplemental materials just because you think it will look good. There has to be a very specific intention when including anything extra. Call the colleges you are applying to and ask them their policy on supplemental materials specifically as it would relate to what you want to include.
If supplemental materials are not requested, they are generally not even looked at. If a student submits a CD of a piano performance, it might be listened to as background noise while the counselor reads files, but it will not impact the admission decision.
Because of the volume of applications they need to read in such a short amount of time, counselors simply don’t have the time to review supplemental materials. And, because they are not required, it would not be fair to other students, who haven’t submitted anything, to use them in the evaluation process.
IF a college has indicated a willingness to accept additional pieces with the application, then they will be read and included in the admissions decision making process. Some schools just don’t have the time or resources to deal with anything beyond the standard application. If in doubt, check with the admissions office before wasting your time and theirs.
You will rarely know if they have or not read your materials. Sadly, often admissions officers don’t read them — or worse, they aren’t allowed to read them or take them into consideration if they do read them.
Honestly, every institution approaches supplemental materials differently. You can tell a great deal about a college by the way they deal with supplemental materials and the application, i.e., are they personal or bureaucratic, do they view you as a person or tuition dollars.
Some institutions have specific ideologies and they want to make sure that the person you are – outside of a set of numbers – will be an asset to their community. In those cases, yes, they will review your supplemental materials carefully. The fact is, if you are applying to one of those institutions, you had better be very aware of their ideology and be able to make it clear to them (via creative essay, personal statement, etc., or however they request this information from you) that 1) you know all about the college and 2) you would thrive there.
Aside from these exceptions, in general, many admissions offices are under tremendous pressure to function with fewer people and grow enrollment, so they manipulate the use (or non-use) of supplemental materials to meet their needs.
I am aware of a major research university that several years ago not only told their admissions staff to stop reading essays and letters of recommendation, the staff was made to shred all those documents so that staff wouldn’t be tempted to read them. The thought was, if they read the documents, it would slow down the decision-making process.
The type of supplemental materials “requested” by an institution is the result of hours of meetings trying to glean how to manage your attention (indeed, the design of the application and all its parts is intended to manipulate you.) The comments in such meetings may be similar to the following:
1. “If we request an essay from applicants, it will reduce the numbers of applications we receive, because students won’t want to do the essay, instead of applying to us they will apply to schools that don’t require that of them.”
2. “Maybe if we just make it a short personal statement instead of an actual essay, maybe that will encourage more students to apply.”
3. “If we ask them for 2-3 letters of recommendation, that’s more work for the student, so maybe we should just request 1 letter of recommendation – or none.”
4. “We need more applications and a longer wait list, so that we have a deeper pool of students to choose from if we don’t get enough tuition deposits. If we require essays, statements and recommendations, we might not get enough applicants to choose from if we need to admit weaker students to ensure our numbers and tuition revenue.”
5. “But if we don’t require the essay, it sends a message that we aren’t a serious academic institution. If we don’t require the essay, we may end up attracting thousands of weak applications.”
6. “That’s OK because the more applications we bring in, the more students we can deny or place on a wait list, and the more selective we appear, and the higher our ranking.”
7. “We don’t have enough staff to read supplemental materials, so let’s just not accept or ask for them.”
As a result of budgetary cutbacks that reduce staff and increase workload, many institutions have ramped up their reliance upon automation in the application read/review process. This is intended to automatically admit the stronger students and keep the weaker applications separated out for deeper analysis if the institution believes they may not make their enrollment goals with only the top students.
How does this work? There is an algorithm on the backend (crunching the same data that enabled the college to automatically begin communicating with you as soon as your PSAT scores became available) that crunches your numbers – SAT/ACT, GPA, RIC) and decides whether you are in or out. This means that your entire relationship with a college may have been via a machine; no one knows who you are or that you even exist – except as a number the institution can manipulate to its financial advantage.
Now, if the machine says you are “out,” the admissions staff may begin to look more closely at the eliminated applications and admit/deny these students until the admissions department reaches its enrollment goals. At that point, the admissions officers may begin searching for more information about you, such as explanations of grade anomalies. They may find this information in your essay or in your letters or recommendation, or in a letter that you include with your application if they have requested those materials from you.
Here’s an aside: If you are required to submit an essay, the most important point to remember is this: If the institution stresses an essay or a personal statement, pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to what they request of that essay or personal statement.
In other words, if you write a generic essay to send to all your college search choices, and it is clear to the admissions officer reading your essay that you have not paid attention to what they wanted to see in the essay (subject, length, structure, etc.), your application will be denied simply because it is clear that 1) you cannot follow instructions or 2) you didn’t care enough about applying to their institution to follow their instructions. And they will be right on both counts.
For example, if you look at the Purdue application this year, they offer three choices of essay topics, each one carefully considered to allow different types of students to write something that matters to them. This presentation of their essay request shows that they DO value the essay, and if you want to get into Purdue – and especially if your grades and board scores aren’t stellar – then you’d better pay attention to this part of the application.
Other institutions, such as Indiana University-Bloomington, specifically state that they do not want to receive essays – so if you submit an essay, this also shows that you cannot follow directions. Again, the major reason for an institution to not request an essay is that essay-reading slows down the application review process. They don’t want admissions officers reading essays when those officers can simply be crunching through the numbers on applications and making their decisions based solely upon a student’s past successes or challenges
Here is an excerpt from the Indiana University-Bloomington denial email (IU-Bloomington does not accept essays):
“We admit students whose previous academic performance meets the standards and enrollment goals set by our faculty and Board of Trustees. While we also consider documentation of extenuating circumstances, personal statements, recommendations and family history, decisions are made individually and based primarily on overall academic performance, standardized test scores, and the competitiveness of our applicant pool.”
This is why it’s so important to do well in high school from 9th grade through 11th grade. The fact is that most admissions decisions are based on 8th-11th grade trends; they only look to senior grades at the end to ensure that you continued strongly and didn’t get “Senioritis.”
So bottom line, in most cases, it’s kind of a moot question as to whether or not they review your supplemental materials. If they ask for materials, or you simply supply them without being asked, your grades and board scores will be what gets their attention. If they DO request them, make sure you pay very close attention to what they are asking of you and that everything you submit has been carefully written and proofread.
Be very careful when submitting supplemental materials that have not been requested by the school’s supplemental application or do not enhance your application. Supplemental materials may be a valuable addition to schools that have a holistic approach to reading applications. An extra letter of recommendation from a coach, youth group leader or another organization that has come to know you well may support your application. Do not submit a letter unless it can shine light on part of you which has not be demonstrated on your application. The letter needs to detail examples of leadership, character, work ethic or an unusual dedication to an activity.
If you are wondering if you should submit additional information that explains a poor grade, absence from school or other blemish on your high school record you should speak with your school counselor and ask them to help you to address your struggles in a letter directly from your counselor.
Do not submit unsolicited art portfolios or DVDs of a performance etc. unless you have won a distinguished award to accompany the supplemental materials. If you are undecided about submitting extra materials go ahead and reach out to the admissions counselor who is assigned to your geographic region and introduce your self. Ask them for their opinion. You will be showing a demonstrated interest in the school, and they will appreciate your sensitivity to the subject of supplemental materials. A feather in your cap.
Colleges do not always want too many supplemental materials because they take undue resources to go through. However, each target college is generally quite clear about whether it welcomes supplemental materials. For example, some Common Application members will accept arts supplements while others may not. Any student who is considering an arts supplement should check with the college. Another category of supplemental materials are submissions such as research papers or letters from employers. These may be considered if they don’t overburden the application reader. As admissions officers explain, there are many ways to assess candidates, and no one piece of information counts so much over another. Also, most candidates are assessed first and foremost on their transcripts.
Here is my video response to the question.
Not all the time, but if you don’t send any, they won’t read yours, so send stuff to every college, unless they absolutely forbid it!
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