Should you include supplements in your application? What kind?

Have you finished your US university application but still aren’t sure that your prospective university will get to know the real you? Do you have talents which you feel you didn’t have space to display? Do you feel that merely listing your accomplishments and extracurricular activities isn’t enough, that you have to show as well as tell?

If so, then consider sending a supplemental essay or other types of materials. But before you do, we’ll look at the pros and cons of giving colleges more than they asked for.

To Supplement or Not to Supplement

You may think that the more supplements you include in your application, the better a college will get to know the person behind the student, and the better your chances of getting an acceptance letter.

Just remember: Admissions departments wade through hundreds, if not thousands, of applications every year. If they’re going to take extra time to look at your supplemental material, it needs to be of high quality or something unusually noteworthy.

Also remember that each school’s application (as well as the Common Application and Universal College Application) was created so that few or no supplemental material would be necessary.

That said, a supplemental essay or other materials are a good idea if you have an extraordinary talent or unusual achievements in a particular field. If you got an A in creative writing, you won’t necessarily want to supplement your application with a stack of short stories. But if one of those short stories got published in a prestigious literary magazine, then it’s well worth sending.

What to Supplement Your US College Application With

Colleges generally give guidelines on what supplemental items they’ll accept.

If you are a visual artist working in traditional media (paint, sculpture, photography, etc.), for example, you may have to send slides of your work rather than a CD. Whatever you send, it should be labeled with your name, date of birth and high school so they’ll know whose work they’re reviewing.

Don’t expect to get it back, even if you’ve enclosed return packaging. It’s always better to submit copies of your work rather than one-of-a-kind objects.

When it comes to supplemental material, it’s better to send a little and leave the admissions department wanting to see more, rather than exhausting them with everything you’ve ever done in high school.

If you’re a visual artist, send a dozen examples of your work, not 100. If you’re a writer, send a short story, not a novel. If you’re a scientist or mathematician, send an abstract, a bite-sized chunk of the research you’ve done or a supplemental essay about your research, and make sure that the laymen in the admissions department can understand it (although if you’ve had your work published, it’s best to send it as-is, perhaps with an accompanying explanation).

Even if they enjoy your work, they’ve still got a big pile of applications left to go through after they’re done with yours.

Is there something you want admissions officers to know that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere on the application. In special cases, a supplemental essay may be a wise item to include.

Is Your Work Supplement-Worthy?

Just as too much supplemental material can damage your candidacy, supplements of merely ordinary quality will also make you look bad. Make sure that others – preferably people outside your immediate family – think as highly of your material as you do before you send it for consideration.

If you’re an artist, was your work shown publicly? If you’re a dancer, did you receive any notices from critics? If you’re a musician, are you studying under someone prestigious who gave your work the thumbs-up? Look at your work objectively.

When Can You Send in Supplemental Material?

Often, supplemental material and supplemental essays can be sent in after your application. Check the deadline with the admissions departments at each school.

Whether or not you send supplemental material, the information directly on your application is the most important and will be given the most consideration. Before you send a pile of supplemental goodies, be sure you’ve made your application as strong as it can be.