Going into the college admissions process, I knew that the arts supplement would be an integral part of my application. Both music and dance had significantly shaped my high school experience. I studied violin and performed with my piano quintet at the New England Conservatory every weekend. I also had been a soloist in dance performances in the greater Boston area and was choreographing and directing my own shows by senior year. Even though I wasn't going to major in music or dance, I knew that I would continue to perform in college (and I was right: I minored in violin performance and founded my own chamber music group at Princeton). I spent the entire summer before senior year rehearsing and finally submitted dance and music supplements tapes with my application in the fall.
So what is an arts supplement? An arts supplement is a portfolio that showcases your talents and accomplishments in visual or performing arts. Although it is neither a requirement nor a commitment to major in that art form in college, it can be a great way to show off your best work or performances, which often is hard to summarize or describe in the written application.
Self-evaluation is key in determining whether you should invest arts supplement, and here’s why: the admissions team will usually send your supplement to the appropriate arts department. In my case, a dance professor reviewed my ballet performance and choreography, and the orchestra conductor evaluated my violin solos. These professors and instructors will be thinking about whether you would positively contribute to their department and whether they would like to be your mentor or teacher. The arts supplement therefore only benefits students who have demonstrated continuous dedication and practice to their art form: if you “dabble” in piano or enjoy taking vacation photos, for example, the arts supplement probably isn’t for you. I highly recommend talking with your private teacher or instructor if you are unsure if you should submit one.
If you decide that the arts supplement would help your application, here are some tips:
1. Treat it like an actual performance or exhibition: The arts supplement should showcase your best work. Give yourself enough time to rehearse and to memorize your music or lines. If possible, always go for video over audio recordings. You don’t need to go overboard with stage makeup and costumes, but dress appropriately. You want to make a good impression with your evaluators.
2. Read and reread the requirements: The requirements for arts supplements are mostly similar across the board, but there are slight differences between colleges with regards to repertoire selections and submissions requirements. Some schools also require a recommendation from your private teacher or director. Some schools even have a different deadline for applications with arts supplements! Make sure to keep track of all these details while preparing, and don’t be afraid to reach out to individual departments if you have any specific questions.
3. Write an arts resume: The extracurriculars section of the Common App may not have enough room to adequately list all your arts accomplishments, so it’s a good idea to include a separate resume with your supplement that describes your arts education, awards, and accomplishments.
4. Do a quality check: You don’t need to use a professional-grade microphone or camera, but do run some tests to find the best lighting, acoustics, and video quality (similar to your tech standards for a performance—see Tip #1) before you begin recording. The quality of your recording will make a difference. Most importantly, before you submit, check to make sure your files open and play.
Sending your arts supplement to a mysterious jury of college professors and instructors may seem daunting at first, but if you are a serious performer or artist, this is a great opportunity to not only boost your application with your artistic talent but also to think about how you want to continue performing or making art in college.
Break a leg!