How to Submit Supplemental Materials to Colleges

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student using a laptop for research.

When applying to college, you want to present yourself in the best possible light. Supplemental materials can be a key part of this. They allow you to show more than just grades and test scores; they let you share your personal projects, passions, and achievements in a tangible way.

What Are Supplemental Materials?

Supplementary materials are additional items that applicants can submit along with their college applications to showcase their unique talents, achievements, and interests that aren’t fully captured by standard application forms. These materials offer a more detailed glimpse into an applicant’s abilities and contributions, potentially giving them an edge in the competitive admissions process.

Colleges often provide the option to submit a variety of supplementary materials, depending on the applicant’s skills and achievements. These can include:

  • Visual and Performing Arts Submissions

Applicants to performing or fine arts programs are typically required to submit relevant supplementary materials. This could be digital files of artwork for art students, recordings of recitals for music students, or videos of performances for theater or dance students. An audition might also be part of the application process.

  •   Academic Improvements

For those applying to specific colleges or programs within a university, supplementary materials might include research abstracts, academic papers, or additional letters of recommendation. These documents can help emphasize an applicant’s academic prowess and suitability for their chosen field of study.

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  • Professional Resumes and Extracurriculars

Updated resumes or expanded high school resumes can highlight experiences and achievements that go beyond the classroom, including participation in state or national-level activities, or recognition such as awards or championships.

  • Media Coverage and Documentation of Achievements

Applicants might also include newspaper articles featuring their achievements, or videos documenting significant activities such as involvement in an all-star team or other prestigious events.

While supplementary materials can significantly boost an application, especially for those pursuing specialized fields like the arts or sciences, the most successful applicants do not submit additional materials unless specifically required or recommended by the program.

Admissions committees primarily focus on required elements such as essays and test scores. However, for students with exceptional achievements or talents that are central to their identity or academic goals, submitting well-chosen supplementary materials can be beneficial.

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When Should You Submit Supplemental Materials?

Deciding whether to include supplemental materials with your college application involves careful consideration and strategic planning. Here are some guidelines to help determine when and what to submit as part of your college application process:

Always start by checking the specific admissions policies of each college you are applying to. Colleges vary in their acceptance of supplemental materials, and some do not accept them at all. It’s necessary to respect these guidelines to ensure your application is considered complete and professional.

You can also schedule a discussion with your college counselor. They can provide valuable advice on how to highlight your strengths and whether your supplemental materials will make a significant impact on your application to your target schools.

Remember to consider the content and quality of what you want to submit. For example, a short film might be reviewed by a film professor who will assess your directing skills. Ensure that your work is of high quality and relevant to your intended area of study. This is particularly important for applicants to specialized programs such as art or music schools, where showcasing specific talents is important.

In some cases, supplemental materials are evaluated by faculty members rather than the general admissions committee. This means your materials should be tailored to impress experts in the field rather than just admissions officers.

Many schools allow the submission of updated information, such as a new award or an updated resume, even after the initial application has been sent. This usually can be done until mid-February or March, which is helpful for sharing accomplishments that occurred after your application deadline.

If you’re considering submitting something that isn’t explicitly requested—like a video of a theatrical performance or a portfolio of graphic designs—contact the admissions office first. Many admissions offices discard unsolicited materials, so it’s better to confirm whether your submission will be welcomed and reviewed.

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Preparing Your Supplemental Materials for Submission

When preparing supplemental materials for your college application, make sure they complement and strengthen the story you’ve already told in your main application. Here are some key steps and considerations for preparing your supplemental materials:

Supplemental materials should complement the personal and academic profile you have portrayed in your application. For example, if you’re aiming to be a STEM major, including a recommendation from a summer research mentor can reinforce your commitment and capability in this field. Similarly, if you’ve expressed a passion for creative writing, submitting a selection of original poems can highlight your talent and interest, particularly if you plan to take creative writing courses in college.

Be aware that many colleges use third-party platforms to process supplemental materials, which might require additional fees. Consider these costs when deciding whether to submit supplemental materials.

Only submit samples of your work (like research or art) if they have been recognized in a significant way. This guarantees that what you are adding to your application is of high quality and worthy of extra attention from admissions committees.

If considering an additional letter of recommendation, make sure it offers a unique perspective on your achievements and character that isn’t already covered by other parts of your application. This can provide a deeper insight into your personal strengths and contributions.

It’s important to review each target school’s policy on supplemental materials, as receptiveness can vary widely. Some schools are less open to additional materials unless specifically requested.

If a college asks for supplemental materials, adhere closely to their submission instructions. Materials might need to be sent directly to a specific academic department or the college’s admissions office. If any instructions are unclear, it’s advisable to contact the admissions office directly to ensure compliance and proper handling of your materials.

an application form flashed unto a computer screen

Supplemental Materials Submission Guidelines and Procedures

When considering submitting supplemental materials to colleges, it’s essential to understand that each institution may have its own specific guidelines. Here’s a look at how different universities handle these submissions, highlighting that the process can vary significantly from one school to another.

Dartmouth College

  • Art Supplement: For those submitting an art supplement, Dartmouth directs applicants to their Arts Portfolio page for detailed instructions.
  • General Supplemental Materials: These can be uploaded directly through Dartmouth’s applicant portal, emailed, or even faxed. Each method requires allowing ten business days for the materials to be recorded as received.

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Brown University

  • Video Introduction: Instead of a traditional interview, applicants to Brown can submit a video under two minutes long. This should be uploaded through the applicant portal by the application deadline and should offer insights into the applicant’s personality and interests not mentioned elsewhere in the application. Brown suggests dressing casually and ensuring clear audio for understanding.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

  • Creative and Research Portfolios: MIT encourages submissions from researchers, artists, and makers through their application portal. Each type of portfolio has specific content guidelines, such as video time limits for performing artists and technical schematics for makers, emphasizing the need to showcase significant achievements outside the classroom.

University of Chicago

  • Video Profile: UChicago allows a two-minute video essay in place of a traditional interview, which can be uploaded directly to the application portal or submitted via a link to another site. The video should reflect the applicant’s authentic self, showcasing creativity and passion. UChicago values uniqueness and encourages applicants to demonstrate aspects of their personality that align with the school’s distinct culture.

Yale University

  • Art and Research Supplements: Yale accepts supplemental materials that demonstrate exceptional skill or achievement. Art supplements may include portfolios for visual arts or recordings for music, each reviewed by faculty in the relevant field. Research papers or abstracts can also be submitted through the admissions status portal, with the option for a research mentor to provide a recommendation letter.

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Common Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Supplemental Materials

When applying to college, the supplemental materials you choose to submit can play an important role in shaping how admissions committees view your application. However, a few common pitfalls can negatively impact your application if not carefully avoided:

Be selective about what you include as supplemental materials. While it may be tempting to send as much as possible to showcase your skills and interests, overloading admissions officers with excessive information can detract from the most important parts of your application. Admissions teams have limited time to review each application, so every piece of supplemental material should have a clear purpose and enhance your narrative.

Each college has its own set of guidelines for submitting supplemental materials, and failing to follow these instructions can be detrimental. Whether it involves specific formats, deadlines, or methods of submission, overlooking these details can lead to your materials not being reviewed at all. Always double-check the admissions page of each college to ensure you’re complying with their requirements.

Technical mistakes such as submitting files in the wrong format, broken links, or corrupted files can prevent your supplemental materials from being reviewed. Such errors can convey a lack of attention to detail, which is a critical skill for academic success. Before submitting, verify that all files open correctly, are in the required format, and are accessible through the links you provide. Lastly, always back up your materials in case you need to resend them.

Young woman using a laptop in a library.

Final Thoughts

Supplemental materials offer a special opportunity to make a memorable and distinct impression on admissions officers. Use them wisely to showcase aspects of your personality, achievements, and potential that aren’t apparent from standard application forms. By thoughtfully choosing what to include, you can ensure that these materials truly enhance your chance of standing out in the competitive admissions process.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I submit a research supplement?

Most students do not need to submit research supplements or any other supplemental materials. The majority do not require these extras to be successful. Unless your particular situation or achievement strongly improves your application and aligns with your academic goals, it’s often better to stick with the required materials.

2. What is the purpose of supplemental learning materials?

Supplemental learning materials are used to address any gaps in the standard curriculum and to provide diverse instructional approaches that cater to different learning styles. These materials can help instructors engage students more effectively and meet the varied educational needs of their classes.

3. Can athletes submit videos of their sports performances to colleges?

While it’s not common for team sport athletes like football or soccer players, who are often recruited directly by schools, athletes in lesser-known sports or those without school teams might benefit from submitting video clips. For example, if you play a sport like billiards at a professional level, submitting a video could be advantageous. However, always check with the college first to see if they accept such materials and follow their specific submission guidelines.

4. Should I send additional material to colleges?

It’s important to follow the specific instructions provided by each college regarding what materials they require for your application. If you are considering sending additional materials, discuss this with your high school counselor or directly contact the admissions office of the college to ensure that your submission will be relevant and welcomed.

5. When is it appropriate to submit artistic portfolios or creative works?

If you are applying to a program that focuses on the arts, such as fine arts, music, film, or design, submitting an artistic portfolio or examples of your creative work can be necessary. These materials allow you to demonstrate your skills and commitment to your craft. For other fields of study, consider submitting creative works only if they are relevant to your intended major or uniquely highlight your abilities.


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