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, and 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.
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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