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Articles / Admissions / Impact of Arts Supplement on Elite College Admissions?

May 19, 2020

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)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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