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Articles / Applying to College / Should I Send Colleges Unsolicited Writing Samples?

Should I Send Colleges Unsolicited Writing Samples?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 15, 2015

Question: I’m applying early action to some top schools. I think I have a strong profile, overall. However, I’m a somewhat strong writer (I attended the Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors) and I was wondering if I should submit a portfolio of (perhaps 2) writing pieces (definitely not personal essays; more like essays dealing with social/ethical issues)? I don’t have any major writing awards (only local competitions) and no publications, so I worry that my writing abilities with a more critical essay won’t shine through. I’m applying as an intended Classics/Linguistics major, if that has any impact.

If writing social or ethical commentary is your strength, then it’s probably fine … even wise … to send a couple samples of your work.  Just be sure to check college Web sites carefully to see if there are specific instructions on how or where to send unsolicited materials. (Note, however, that sometimes these instructions are pertinent to only arts supplements or to slides or CD’s, so you may have to wing it when deciding what to do with your own submissions.)

Limiting your extra essays to two is a good idea. If you’re undecided about which pieces to send and are choosing among many, seek out advice from someone whose opinion you trust … perhaps a history or English teacher, a club advisor, or even a Telluride mentor. (And the fact that you were admitted to—and attended—Telluride should work in your favor, too.)

In some cases you may find that application instructions stipulate that admission folks want to see ONLY the materials that they’ve specifically requested. This doesn’t crop up often, but do take the time to hunt down these instructions, as much of a nuisance as it may be, and then heed them.

If you think that any of your writing would be of particular interest to a Classics or Linguistics professor at one of your target colleges (i.e., your commentary intersects with the professor’s research or course offerings), you can also try sending your essays directly to him or her.  Don’t be surprised if you get a polite but not necessarily encouraging response … or even no response at all. But, occasionally, a prof may be excited enough by a prospective student’s ideas to put in a good work at the admission office. While this isn’t quite as rare as winning the lottery, it’s not something you ought to count on. Still, it could be worth a shot. Good luck!


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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