Operation: College Art Supplements
Stanford wants students to write an essay describing themselves for their roommates, while NYU is asking this year for applicants to write about a famous New Yorker they’d like to spend the day with. Students can often spend weeks perfecting a perfect response for the college admission officers to read. It will be, after all, one of the few ways a student can stand out of the thousands of prospective applicants. Every year, however, there are some in the senior class who take on an even more daunting additional task: the art supplement.
The art supplement portion of the college application often requires compositions that involve months of work. The compositions cover a wide range of topics – the visual arts of drawing, painting, photography, and computer graphics as well as the performing arts of music, dance, and theater.
For visual arts, colleges typically require another essay and an art portfolio consisting of at least 10 – 15 pieces of the student’s work. The conditions of the portfolios are as varied as the supplementary essay prompts. Some colleges will give their prospective students free reign, while others have very specific instructions. For example, UCLA requires a self-portrait while the Rhode Island School of Design in the past has asked that all portfolios include a drawing of a bicycle. This year, several Presentation students have become very familiar with the work involved in creating such supplements.
For those who know senior Corinne DiTullio, it comes as no surprise that she has been preparing her art portfolio for four years. The signs were everywhere – the quilt she made for her APUSH project of the events leading up to the Civil War and the dedication she shows collaborating with the Valenzuela Theater to produce the costumes for the school’s productions. For the last seven months, however, she has devoted herself specifically to perfecting her best work for her portfolio.
“My [UCLA] self portrait took over thirty hours,” DiTullio says of her endeavor’s time commitment. “I had a table set up in my room with all my collage pieces and there were some days I would work for eight hours or more on it and stayed up until midnight trying to make progress.”
The time commitment to do the art supplement for the performing arts is just as consuming. To do the music supplement for her colleges, senior Emily Nguyen was required to send in a CD with a professional recording of her work. With piano songs lasting eight minutes each, she practiced for four to six hours a day for a week to make her recording.
“Everyone who submits this supplement is extremely advanced and plays their songs impeccably,” she says as she recalls the experience. “I was so troubled about making it perfect that I had to restart the machine every single time I made a slip or teeny mistake. This meant I spent a lot of time playing and replaying my songs.”
She adds, “You can never procrastinate in music. I definitely put more priority in my college essays, but I regret that I could not completely showcase my abilities.”
The nerve racking demands and the need for perfection also affected DiTullio. Her advice to future seniors considering an artistic future in college?
“My advice would be to start early,” DiTullio says. “I worked over the summer on my portfolio, which really helped me get ahead. If I could change anything, I would have finished even more done in the summer. ”
Nguyen offers further advice for the musical inclined. “If you have an idea of what colleges you want to apply to, research them and see if they accept music supplements,” she says. “Start recording now so you can have plenty of time to perfect your playing. Most importantly, pick pieces you love! If you drudge through a song, the music department heads who will be listening will be able to tell.”
College counselor Mary Connolly says that a dramatic arts portfolio can also give some students an edge in such a competitive admissions environment. While most colleges do not require an audition, it is a way for those interested in a theatrical future to stand out. The National Association for College Admission Counseling knows that many students are unable to easily travel to individual colleges for auditions and so it holds national fairs in exchange. During these one-day events, such as the one held annually in San Francisco in October, prospective students can audition for the attending 120 schools.
While some students say they would much rather draw or play music than write an essay, Mrs. Connolly points to the grueling process of spending time alone for hours on end. As she says, “It’s not like going to art therapy.” Still, despite the extra time and effort above and beyond Pres’ already grueling requirements, these students all say that they hope their work will pay off with an acceptance letter this spring.
music clips from Emily Nguyen’s music portfolio