How to Take Advantage of an Arts Supplement for College Applications

Padya Paramita

How to Take Advantage of an Arts Supplement for College Applications

If you’ve been dancing since you could walk or you’ve toured the country with your choir group, when it’s time to apply to college you’re probably wondering how to convey your talent and success beyond the limited space in the Common Application. Plus, if you haven’t had the opportunity to participate in competitions, you can’t just write “I’m a talented artist/actor/musician” without anything to show for it and expect admissions officers to believe you. Anybody could make such claims. This is why colleges have an option for you to submit an arts supplement.

Most colleges - including all of the Ivy League Schools, along with Duke, MIT, Stanford, and the top liberal arts colleges - allow you to submit an optional arts supplement as an additional component to your college application. Your submission could be a reel of your theater performances, a portfolio of your artwork, or audio recordings of your piano recitals. However, an arts supplement is not for everyone. If you are not too confident in your artistic abilities, don’t risk it. To help guide you through how to take advantage of an arts supplement in the college application process, I’ve outlined what constitutes an arts supplement, when you should submit one, exactly how much of a boost it can provide in your application, and how to go about submitting an arts supplement.

What Constitutes an Arts Supplement?

The arts supplement, sometimes known as the “arts portfolio” or an “additional arts form,” is a chance for students who’ve excelled in a creative or performance art, such as visual art, music, dance, theater, architecture, and creative writing, to submit an organized sample of their work. Colleges want their classes to be made up of students with a wide variety of interests and talents. The optional arts supplement, which is evaluated by professors in the relevant department, helps admissions officers get a sense of exactly how talented a student is, alongside reading about it on paper. Awards for artistic ability among students of different backgrounds often cannot be compared, as the criteria might be different, or the admissions officer doesn’t know enough about the award. In this case, an arts supplement can be used to further understand a student’s artistic capabilities.

The work on display in your arts supplement should reflect the same style of art you have passionately pursued throughout high school, as admissions officers appreciate continuity in the submissions. For example, if you’re a hip-hop dancer, don’t submit 6 clips of hip-hop dance, and one clip of you in a ballet from middle school. Stick to samples that you’ve created in high school - preferably in the last couple of years since that should be your best work and reflect your current ability.

Along with the files containing your work, your arts supplement should also present any recognitions you’ve received, such as magazines your work has been published in, play festivals where you’ve performed, and of course awards you’ve won. Plus, you should include a recommendation from the person who knows your work the best - your drama teacher or your piano instructor, for example.

Spend time compiling your best material and making a video or cover page introducing your work to the college. Keep in mind that admissions officers have a lot of applications to go through. Don’t share 8-10 minutes of audio or video, or 10 pages of writing or artwork. They will not have the time or patience to go through them all.

Your arts supplement acts as proof of your talent and reflects your dedication and commitment towards a field you are passionate about. If it can capture your abilities, you should definitely take advantage of it.

When Should You Submit an Arts Supplement?

So a question on your mind might be, exactly in which cases should you submit an arts supplement? Obviously, if you believe you’re talented and want to add your work to positively impact your application, you should submit your arts supplement. Here are some cases where you should definitely submit an arts supplement:

  • If you’re planning to major in the subject. If you’ve selected Music, Theater, Visual Art, Film, Dance, etc. as your major in your college application, submitting an arts supplement can help professors and admissions officers gain an idea of your work, and how well you’d fit into the program. Plus, if you’re planning to major in the field, let’s hope you’re very good at it too.
  • If your counselor or instructor encourages you. If you’re unsure whether the arts supplement option is for you, why not ask your high school college counselor or the instructor who knows your work best? This also gives you another set of eyes to take a look and offer feedback, and help choose which samples to submit. Having a professional verify and affirm your talent can be a great boost for your confidence.
  • If you attended an arts intensive high school. If you’ve gone to a high school which is known for its strong visual arts, theatre, dance, or music program, you’ve probably spent years honing your skills. Your performance scores should give you an idea of where you stand among your peers. If you’re one of the top students in your class, definitely submit an arts supplement.
  • If you’ve been taking lessons or significantly practicing for years. It’s one thing to be passionate about an art form. It’s another to have spent hours, days, and years, learning and improving in it. If you believe that your art, music, dance, or acting lessons have proven useful and you are one of the best, then why not submit an arts supplement?
  • If you’ve been featured, published, or recognized on a big stage. If your writing has been published in print or online magazines, if your movie has performed well at a statewide film festival, or your song has thousands of hits on YouTube, you’ve got nothing to lose in submitting an arts supplement. Accolades such as these act as a great indicator of your talent.

I cannot emphasize this enough: an arts supplement is not for everyone. Instead of helping you, a mediocre or poor quality submission can definitely end up reflecting negatively on your application and your abilities. Don’t submit an arts supplement if any of the following cases apply to you.

  • If you’re average in your field. This requires you to be brutally honest with yourself. You’ll be going up against some of the best artists and performers your age. Don’t submit an arts supplement if you think your work is not as good as your peers! If you’ve received a few awards for your work from low-stakes competitions, but don’t feel that they’re up to the mark or as other students, it’s better not to submit your work. Instead, mention the awards on your application.
  • If you no longer practice it. If you discontinued drawing or playing an instrument a few years ago and don’t plan to continue it in college, do not submit an arts supplement. It’s no longer relevant to your application.
  • If you’ve only just begun. Arts supplements serve to portray your commitment and dedication to an area of interest. If you’ve only been acting or drawing for six months or so, don’t submit an arts supplement unless you’re an absolute prodigy and your work is near perfect.
  • If you’ve used an enhancement tool. Your work will not be considered original or authentic if you’ve edited it with exterior tools. If you’re a singer and all your samples have been Autotuned, don’t send it. If you’ve used Photoshop to tweak all your artwork, experts can probably catch it.
  • If you’re reading from a script. Admissions officers will not be impressed if you don’t know the lines to a play or the lyrics to a song. If you stop mid-performance to look at the lyrics in all your clips or you’re reading from a script the whole time, don’t submit it.
  • If the submission format is low quality. Colleges want to see professionalism in your application, and the creative side of you should be no different. If your mp3 quality is full of static noises or your video is in 240 pixels, you shouldn’t submit the work.

    Don’t forget that the arts supplement is optional. You can still major in a field, or take classes or activities without past work samples. If you’re not confident and don’t think you’re as good as others, don’t submit it!

    How Much Does an Arts Supplement Boost Your Application?

    You’re probably wondering how your arts supplement is evaluated. To understand the quality of your work better, admissions officers refer to college professors who are experts in visual arts, music, theatre, or dance, depending on which field you’ve submitted in to score your supplement. The evaluations are then added to your application, which is looked at holistically.

    Remember, college applications are an accumulation of your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays. So, stellar arts supplement will not immediately guarantee you admission into Harvard or Yale if the rest of your application isn’t up to the Ivy League standard. But, impressive work in an arts field can definitely enhance your application.

    Submitting an arts supplement provides admissions officers a more in-depth glimpse into who you are. It adds to your profile, and further displays your hobbies and interests. Colleges might not have known that you were an expert harp player! Submitting your concert clips will add color to your application and can show prowess in an unusual speciality, which is always an asset in your college applications.

    Where to Submit Your Arts Supplement

    Colleges usually have systematic guidelines for submission of the arts supplement. You shouldn’t just email it to them or send it by post if the instructions say otherwise. Arts supplements can be added through the Common App, Coalition App, or Universal College App, depending on whichever application system you’re using. Of course, you should check first whether a college accepts arts supplement, such as the listing on the Princeton website:

    If you've excelled in architecture, creative writing, dance, music, theater or visual arts, and would like us to consider your talent as part of your Princeton application, you are welcome to submit an arts supplement via SlideRoom.

    Most colleges use the online portal, SlideRoom, which is integrated with the application systems and can automatically add your uploads to your application. Each college has their own SlideRoom site, and submission costs $5 per application. The platform is very-user friendly, and you only have to create one SlideRoom account and upload media materials once. SlideRoom accepts images (.jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, .tif, .tiff, .bmp, .tga) under 5 MB, audio files under 30 MB, documents under 10 MB, and videos under 250 MB. Since colleges expect your files to be professional and clear, if you want to submit larger files for greater quality, the application fee will increase by 20 percent. SlideRoom also has a References section for you to add in any teacher recommendation.

    Choose your best work which reflects your talent accurately. Make sure that you’ve uploaded the correct files. You don’t want easily avoidable errors to get in the way of colleges appreciating your hard work.

    The optional arts supplement helps creative students show, rather than tell, admissions officers how skilled they are in the arts. Excelling at an instrument or a dance form is in no way a cakewalk, and shouldn’t be underestimated. If you’ve worked for years to improve and perform at the highest level in an area of the arts, and you have the samples to prove it, why not use them as examples to strengthen your college application? If your submission accurately reflects your hard work and passion, the arts supplement can definitely provide a boost to your application.

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