Top Tips for Preparing an Arts Supplement

So you think you can dance… or sing… or play the bassoon…

All colleges strive to have vibrant and diverse student communities. A thriving student arts scene enriches the community for all and serves as an important incubator for creativity, risk-taking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication – in short, all the things you hope a top tier liberal arts education will provide. As June Vail, professor of dance and the founder of Bowdoin’s dance program, notes, “the enterprise of a liberal arts education is…to educate students to be creative and flexible, to harness their energy in a different way.”

Given this, it’s no surprise that admissions offices look for applicants who’ll add in distinctive and meaningful ways to the campus arts community, both in and out of the classroom. Do you wonder how to best convey your talents and accomplishments in the arts to the colleges on your list? If so, read on!


Whether music recordings, art samples, film samples or dance videos, you can submit evidence of your achievement in the arts through SlideRoom, an online platform that’s integrated with the Common App and facilitates the submission of digital files to admissions offices. As an applicant, you’ll only need to create one Slideroom account, which will then be used to access the SlideRoom portal for each college on your list. Complete instructions on setting up your SlideRoom account are available here.


As a passionate artist, you’ve dedicated lots of time to your creative pursuits and have much to show for it. You’ve decided to apply to a liberal arts college (rather than a conservatory program) and aren’t sure if you should submit an arts supplement. A good rule of thumb is if you’re a serious student and practitioner, then a portfolio may make sense.

Have the arts been a serious pursuit for you or are you more of a dabbler? Do you have outside validation of your arts talent – all-state honors, prestigious audition-based arts programs, work presented at important festivals, etc.? Particularly in some arts disciplines – classical music and dance, in particular – most students will start formal training at a young age and will have become quite proficient by high school. In other disciplines, students may not begin formal study until middle or even high school. Your arts teacher/mentor can help you determine if your work is at a level where you’d be competitive in this highly competitive process.


The task of reviewing arts supplements usually rests with the college’s arts faculty – individuals with deep subject matter expertise in their chosen arts discipline. Bear in mind that these faculty most likely have a pretty high bar – both in terms of your demonstrable arts talent as well as your potential to be a high-impact member of the campus arts community.


No doubt about it, a stellar arts portfolio – as validated by college faculty – will be a differentiator and strengthen your candidacy at top colleges – but typically won’t be enough to overcome mediocre grades and scores. Be aware that the converse may also be true. A mediocre arts supplement that garners an unenthusiastic review from a faculty member may dampen the admissions office’s enthusiasm for your candidacy. Before preparing a submission, think carefully about if you have the chops to stand out to a very discerning evaluator.


You’ll find specific instructions on what to submit – by arts discipline – on the college’s website. Pay close attention to the instructions, as failure to do so will mean that your hard work won’t be reviewed. Stanford’s music department, for instance, provides great guidance on the kind of work that their faculty will review.

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  • The quality of your digital media will make a difference. Recording your violin solo with a microphone that dampens your highest resonance will mask your hard work. A blurry, grainy video shot by your mom from the back of the auditorium will blur your beautiful lines and pointed toes. You don’t need to invest in professional grade equipment. Just make sure to do some test recordings and figure out how to best position your recording device before you get started.
  • Auto-tune? Don’t even think about it.
  • Know your music or your lines cold. Nothing detracts from an audition more than a student who doesn’t know their music or their lines. You should present pieces that you know well, so that your musicianship or ability to convey character and emotion come through loud and clear. Where possible, always opt for video, rather than audio, recordings.
  • Dress appropriately for the work you are presenting, and speak clearly when introducing yourself and your work. Remember, first impressions do matter.
  • Be choosy. Select your very best samples, rather than uploading all your prints, paintings, photographs or films. Yale, for instance, asks that you only submit between 5 and 8 pieces (and at least one should be a drawing). Brown notes that if photographs are included, they are expected to go beyond iPhone snapshots of vacations.
  • Prepare an arts-specific resume. With limited space on the Common App to delineate the breadth of your arts work, you can upload an arts-specific resume through SlideRoom that will be seen by the faculty evaluating your work. Use this opportunity to describe your arts education, awards, honors, achievements and special programs. You also can submit an arts reference with your supplement, so be sure to ask someone who knows your work well and can speak to your potential for further artistic development as a member of a college arts community.


Remember that you are not required to submit a supplement and academic and co-curricular arts opportunities will be available to you whether or not you have submitted an arts supplement. Chances are you’ll discover a talent you never even knew you had as you embark on this next phase of your education!