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Articles / Applying to College / Ivy Admissions Oomph from Arts Submissions?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 11, 2015

Ivy Admissions Oomph from Arts Submissions?

Question: I was wondering what kind of impact art portfolios and supplements have at top-tier/Ivy admissions. My work I would describe as high-quality. What role do art and music supplements play in the admission process? They're not as helpful as athletic recruits, of course, but it does resemble another “under-the-table" sort of consideration since the portfolios are usually sent directly to the art and music departments rather than viewed by the committee.

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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

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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