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Applying to College: Supplementary Materials

Jul 03, 2009

As if filling out Common App forms, writing essays, taking standardized tests, and of course, maintaining good grades were not enough work, you also have the option of sending supplementary materials. "What are supplementary materials? " you ask. Supplementary materials can consist of examples or physical proof of a student's work and are completely optional as I have said above. The students who usually send such supplementary materials have a distinguished talent in a certain extracurricular discipline. So do not just draw stick figures and send pictures of them because that would be a waste of postage and time for you and the admissions officer. Here are some examples of the types of people who send supplementary materials:

1. Musicians: Students who have studied music for years, especially those who have received private instruction, usually go to a recording studio to record their musical talent and create audio CDs of their best work. They can also send DVDs of them playing a solo at a recital. Whoever is listening or viewing will want variety and breadth.

2. Visual artists: Visual artists may choose to take a similar route by compiling a portfolio consisting of about 15-20 pieces. The numbers vary with each college or university, so I would check the institution's website for supplementary material instructions. That goes for all supplementary materials. The websites of each school also seem to vary in clarity and organization, so I would not wait until the last minute to research the information because the instructions are usually there, just sometimes well-hidden. Presentation of the portfolio can either be in the form of 35 mm slides or a CD with digital images or a powerpoint with digital images. Again, the preferences differ with each institution.

3. Performing Arts: Those who have extensive dance or theatre experience may send DVDs of a performance, such as monologues or dance solos.

4. Athletes: Some schools even accept DVDs with video clips of athletes playing individual or team sports, if the schools have not already recruited the athletes. This is probably not so common among those who play team sports or the major popular sports, such as football or soccer, because recruiters often come and seek them first. However, if you play a lesser-known sport or perhaps if your school does not have a billiards team but you play professionally, for example, then that may be worth filming, making copies, and sending.

5. Scientists: Some students have exhibited prowess in the discipline of the sciences or mathematics. Any significant lab work or research, such as with adult researchers for an internship, would probably be worth sharing, especially if the student plans to major in a similar field.

6. Writers: If a student feels that his or her writing exemplifies an outstanding piece of literature, he or she can choose to send samples of such works. Of course the selection is up to the discretion of the student, but I would not recommend sending analytical essays unless such pieces are required, a fact that is true of certain colleges. If the admissions counsel even has the time to read extra paperwork, they would most likely want to see something along the lines of poetry, short stories, or a sample of a novel because they are already getting a sample of every student's writing: the Common App and supplemental essays! The bottom line is, they want something creative and different from the normal (required) materials, although applicants should feel free to be creative and go all out on all aspects of their applications. After all, writers should be creative. They can handle it, no?

And now, I will share some more some general tips. For sending the supplemental materials, make sure they will not get easily broken or damaged in the mail. You would be surprised how many admissions offices receive DVDs or CDs that broke in the mail, or worse yet, never even worked in the first place. So make sure to test the DVDs and CDs to see if they work. And creating the DVDs and CDs takes a lot of time to prepare. Do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete the process. Really. Let me say that again. Do not underestimate the amount of time. The whole process can include countless hours of practicing, perfecting, writing, last-minute touch-ups (especially for visual artists), taking pictures or filming, editing, and miscellaneous labeling and paperwork. And make sure that you know where to send your supplemental materials. Some schools will ask that you send the materials to the corresponding department (ie. art slides to the art department) instead of directly to the admissions office.

A quick word to visual artists: I would not be surprised if there will still be those annoying schools that ask for the 35 mm slides. Not all places will be able to develop 35 mm slides, so I suggest a camera shop, like The Camera Shop, because they have special machines for slides, in case you did not know. Additionally, the slide-developing machine at the camera shop where I went could only be run for a limited number of hours in the day, so I would ask when your slides can be developed and how soon you can expect them to be ready.

You do not have to major in the disciplines to send related supplementary materials. Maybe you intend to be an international relations major but have spent a significant amount of time drawing, painting, and creating visual art in general. If you feel that your supplementary materials really show an extra side of you, then go for it. If you have honestly spent a lot of time and effort in something, it shows, and people tend to be impressed. Lastly, you may have heard that some admissions officers do not even look at your supplementary materials. I will not deny you of the truth; some officers simply do not have the time to see every bit of your materials thoroughly, so do not send a million things. They do seem to at least try to glimpse at every supplementary material because after all, the supplementary materials are optional. However, this should not discourage you from sending anything at all because you want to share all aspects of yourself. After all, you never know when your supplementary materials could become the selling point.

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