Director of Communications
Commonwealth School in Boston, MA
On the one hand, we strongly advocate differentiating yourself with your college application (which can be accomplished with a standout application essay). We’re quick to remind students that they shouldn’t send supplemental items not specifically asked for on the application, like copies of awards received. Though it may seem a little convoluted, I think that advice still stands. Long story short: don’t worry. Applications are quite specific when it comes to directions, including when it’s okay to send supplemental materials, where to include them on the application, and what those materials might be. As so often in life, all you really need to do is follow the directions, and you’ll be okay.
It’s also a matter of common sense and not losing sight of what the college application is all about. Admission committees are trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for their institution—if the school is the right place for you to thrive. They want to get to know you, your personality, your academic strengths and goals, and what’s important to you. Supplemental application materials can definitely be a means to that end. For example, if you're a poet, it’s usually fine to include a few examples of your work. Nontraditional applications like videos are gaining in popularity too. But that doesn’t mean you should send a week’s worth of video diaries; one to five minutes will suffice. And when it comes to performing and visual arts application supplements, you’ll be given specific instructions as to how many pieces and what kind of work to include in your portfolio, as well as how many and how long any taped performance examples should be (if you can’t audition in person). That’s why it’s also important to be straightforward—but as detailed as possible—when describing your activities. Admission counselors almost always prefer a list of accomplishments over a stack of certificates. And don’t underestimate the benefit of sharing your applications with someone you trust.
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