Can I Send Unsolicited Extra Materials With My Application?

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Question: I am creating a maker portfolio to submit to MIT as part of my engineering application. I'm putting a lot of work into it, and I don't want to use it just for one school. The other schools where I'm applying (Duke, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, North Carolina State, Texas) don't request a maker portfolio, but can I send it to them anyway?

Most colleges will accept — and even welcome — unsolicited submissions such as your maker portfolio. Yet, like most other aspects of the convoluted admissions process, don't expect consistency in the application parameters at different schools. So consider these tips as you navigate the decision:

1. Go on the admissions website for every college on your list and read the instructions carefully. Look for a heading along the lines of “Supplementary Materials."

2. Find out if supplementary materials are prohibited entirely (which isn't common but does happen) and, if not, see if there are restrictions on what can and can't be sent.

3. Determine whether the school has a specific format and/or address for sending your materials. MIT, for instance, offers detailed guidelines about how to create and submit a maker portfolio, with limits on size, length, etc. Ideally, these guidelines will mesh with those provided by your other colleges. But you may need to amend your MIT portfolio to meet the requirements at additional schools.

4. Find out if there is an early deadline for these extras.

If you can't dig up any information about supplementary materials on the web pages or if the information doesn't pertain to your needs, then write to your regional rep to ask. (The regional rep is the admissions staff person who oversees applicants from your high school. Often the names and email addresses are listed on websites. If not, call the admission office.) It's always a wise plan for applicants to make contact with the regional rep, but it's not such a hot idea to do this by sending disingenuous questions just to “act" interested. So inquiring about your maker portfolio is actually a worthwhile way to interact with your rep. Don't be shy about writing. However only do so if the info isn't clearly stated on the website.

While most admission folks cringe each time they open up a manilla envelope full of piano-award certificates or newspaper clippings about the success of an entire field hockey or robotics team (“That's me, third from the right in the back row with the American flag in front of my face"), they usually do find it valuable to see the actual research, engineering projects, art work, etc., that a student himself or herself has created. So as long as none of your colleges expressly prohibit supplementary materials and as long as you follow any guidelines provided (and you delete all references to MIT in your cover note!), you should feel free to send your maker portfolio everywhere.

All of the colleges on your list receive far more applications from well qualified students than they have room to accept. So although admission officials are inundated with essays and recommendations to read and with transcripts and test scores to decipher, sometimes it can be the unsolicited surprises that best enable them to distinguish between seemingly similar candidates.


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