In highly selective college admissions, more letters of recommendation, more resume pages, more supplemental materials to showcase a talent isn’t always better. In fact, in most instances, less is more in college admissions. Around mid-December of every year, we hear from students and their parents who did not work with us in the Early Decision / Early Action round and have since been deferred or denied admission by their first choice colleges. What we offer these students is a postmortem evaluation in which we dissect precisely what they did wrong with their application in the Early round not so that they kick themselves but rather so they don’t make the same mistakes again in the Regular Decision round right around the bend. One of the most common mistakes we observe during these postmortems is the submission of way too much material.
Don’t Submit Unnecessary Information to Colleges
On a first date, maybe you’d think of the person as an over-sharer. You know who we’re talking about. The person who rambles on and on about all of his previous relationships, his habits, how often he goes to the bathroom, etc. You know deep down that these kinds of topics should generally be avoided during first date discussions. And yet people overshare — and this does not exclude college applicants to our nation’s elite universities.
Don’t overshare. If a college recommends you submit two teacher letters of recommendation and a counselor letter of recommendation, those letters from two state senators and from your local postman aren’t going to tip the scale in your favor. Rather, these extra letters will likely negatively impact your application. Also, don’t complete the ‘Additional Information’ section on the Common Application unless you have an extenuating circumstance (e.g., you were undergoing chemotherapy during junior year — hence your drop in grades that year). You’d be amazed how many students treat this section as an additional essay. That’s not the purpose of this section. Extenuating circumstance. Read those words again.
Submitting Superfluous Supplemental Material in Admissions
It’s also not a good idea to submit unnecessary supplemental material such as videos, artwork, locks of hair (you’d be surprised what people send!), and family photographs. Hi, Grandma! We do hope you’re laughing at the last couple of things on our list but we’ve truly seen it all. You’d be amazed how many students submit artwork — students who aren’t interested in pursuing degrees in studio art. That violin performance with a mix of your basketball highlights? If you’re not getting recruited to play basketball by the university, admissions officers will not be interested in seeing you make a layup (even a layup with an excellent overlay of your violin playing). Even if you are a recruited basketball player, admissions officers don’t need to see game footage. That kind of video is for the school’s basketball coaching staff to evaluate. If they haven’t done so by the time you apply, you’re likely not on their recruiting radar.
Thinking about submitting supplemental materials to colleges? Let us know what you’re thinking of submitting and we’ll let you know our thoughts. Unless of course it’s a lock of hair. You know where we stand on that.
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