It can feel like the colleges you’re applying to want to know every single thing about your life — not only your grades and test scores, but also your experiences and opinions (in your essays) and your interests and hobbies (in your extracurricular activities). To an extent, they do. However, there is such a thing as too much information, so be careful not to cross that line.
In most cases, you should avoid submitting anything that the application doesn’t specifically ask for. This means you generally shouldn’t be mailing colleges supplemental materials such as your resume, papers you’ve written in high school classes, and so on.
There are, of course, some exceptions. If your resume contains significant information that doesn’t appear elsewhere in your application, consider including it. (If your resume is nothing more than a list of things you’ve discussed in your essays and already included as extracurricular activities, skip the resume.)
Consider including supplemental materials you’re really, really good that aren’t required. Generally get A’s in your English classes doesn’t mean you should submit writing samples; imagine how many straight-A students apply to these colleges every year. If you’ve been published or won awards, though, it may be worth the supplemental inclusion. Similarly, if you’re a casual musician, don’t include a recording (think how many other students have taken five years of violin or piano lessons; in cases like this, you won’t stand out). If you have extraordinary talent, though, consider including it.
It can be hard to assess for yourself whether you have the kind of skill or talent that merits an inclusion of supplementary materials — and the people closest to you will have a biased perspective. Try to step back and look at your work objectively, and keep in mind that strangers can be the most honest critics.
To be clear, this advice is for people whose supplementary materials are not directly related to their field of study. if you’re applying as a music, dance, art, or similar major, you should absolutely include the relevant materials.
In Your Essays
Yes, your essays are your chance to express to a college who you really are, beyond your scores and grades and hobbies. But that doesn’t mean that anything goes. Remember, your goal with your essay is to impress these people and convince them that you would be a valuable member of their school.
With that in mind, here are some things you should not include in your essays:
- Anything you wouldn’t say to an old-fashioned great aunt. This means that topics about sex, alcohol, drug use, and so on are definitely off the table.
- Anything that indicates bad judgment. Alcohol is already on the “no” list; drunk driving is far worse, even if you’re including it as an example of having learned from your mistakes. (One exception: if you absolutely need to explain something that would otherwise raise questions, you may consider breaking these rules. For example, if you were in juvenile detention and therefore unable to attend traditional high school for a while, you’ll need to address the topic.)
- Topics such as politics, religion (including atheism), and debatable social issues (such as abortion laws or gun control). A passing reference is fine if it’s necessary to get a point across, but don’t spend your essay dwelling on potentially controversial subjects.