Preparing for College

Impact of Arts Supplement on Elite College Admissions?

Question: My daughter has used the Art Supplement for dance and drama at Stanford. Can you explain how this supplement influences her overall admission chances?

Colleges like Stanford use arts supplements to scout for exceptional talent. It can indeed be mind-boggling to discover how many high school students have had extensive experience in theater, visual arts and, especially, in music and dance. So, needless to say, the more selective the institution, the more outstanding the arts accomplishments must be in order for admission officials to sit up and take notice. (At colleges with higher admit rates, admission folks tend to be more easily impressed by arts résumés than they are at Stanford and its peer institutions, which attract the most gifted students in the world.)

At the ultra-selective places such as Stanford, where roughly nine out of every ten qualified applicants are turned away, the majority of candidates list tip-top grades and test scores on their transcripts. Thus admission folks must ask what else each student will bring to campus. At this exalted level, most of the arts supplements will indicate a level of passion, dedication, and talent that reflects well on the candidate but probably won’t make him or her stand out in a hyper-competitive crowd. Only occasionally will the achievements be so significant or atypical that they will push an otherwise borderline application into the “in” pile.

When an applicant is recognized for his or her art in the national—or even international—arena, admission officials may cut some slack, if there are deficiencies in other areas of the student’s record. But, more typically, a strong arts supplement is the icing on the cake for a student whose academic record already meets lofty standards, not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for those who don’t.

Even if an applicant’s arts accomplishments aren’t unique, if this student has devoted countless hours to his or her artistic interest, I do feel that it’s worthwhile to submit the supplement. It may not seal the deal on an affirmative admissions verdict, but it does indicate that the applicant understands the demands of making a major commitment, which certainly isn't true of all teenagers ... even some of those with stellar transcripts.

(posted 1/11/2011)