Imagine that you are an admission official at an Ivy League or other “elite" institution. It's after midnight and you're holed up with a down comforter, a cup of chamomile tea, and a sky-high pile of application folders, each including transcripts rife with AP classes and near-perfect grades and test scores. So how does any applicant—who doesn't happen to be Malia Obama—stand out in such an accomplished crowd?
Well, an arts supplement can certainly be one way. Even candidates aiming to major in chemistry or computer science can distinguish themselves among hyper-competitive peers by demonstrating a special talent. But the key word here is “special." Students who send arts supplements to the Ivies and their ilk are in tough company. And submitting a so-so supplement won't boost admission odds and might actually hurt them.
Being the top painter, sculptor or violinist in your senior class may not stand up to the task of turning heads in the big leagues any more than being a vaunted point guard on a high school basketball team means a sure shot at the NBA. So, before completing an arts supplement, try to seek out objective opinions about the caliber of your work. One way to do this is to attend a “National Portfolio Day" where experts from college art programs offer free evaluations. See http://www.portfolioday.net/ Even if you don't plan to apply to any of the institutions represented, you can still receive helpful critiques with no pre-registration required, if you attend. While many of this year's sessions have passed, there are still some coming up in the South and West. (For more schedule information, go to:http://www.portfolioday.net/2015-16-schedule ).
If your art portfolio is indeed outstanding and receives kudos from the appropriate professors at your target colleges, it still won't overcome significant deficiencies in course selection, grades, and test results, but if the rest of your application passes muster, a strong arts supplement can certainly help you to stand out in the crowd and will push your application closer to the “In" pile than it might otherwise have landed.