It’s application season. Are your students taking advantage of opportunities to supplement their candidacy?

“You have a platform to create change. What is an action or policy you might propose to address an issue of social injustice in your school or local community, or on a national or global scale?” – University of Richmond Admissions

“Syracuse University is a place that seeks to be welcoming to all – and has been since our founding. Explain why you are interested in Syracuse University and describe a personal experience in which you persevered through adversity, rejected discrimination, learned a lesson, or were inspired by the courageous actions of others and how you will apply what you learned to our community in a positive way.” – Syracuse Admissions

“As an Augustinian community, we believe that you should see people for who they are. Please share with us a time when you were misjudged based on your identity or background.” – Villanova Admissions

With the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, many colleges have adjusted their supplemental essay questions to understand how students have overcome hardships and made contributions to their communities. This only adds to the importance of supplements, which help colleges distinguish between applicants in a test-optional climate characterized by unprecedented volumes. No matter the prompt, they are looking to see what applicants would bring to their campuses.

Takeaway: Make sure your students do their research and exercise care in customizing their supplemental essays and making them relatable. The themes of belonging to a community and overcoming adversity will continue to be important.

Videos are another great opportunity for a student to showcase their strengths, and any applicant with a smartphone can put something together to impress colleges. After all, unscripted videos let evaluators get a feel for the applicant in their comfort zone. Brown, my alma mater, introduced video to its application in 2020, telling applicants they could share a clip of no more than two minutes in lieu of an alumni interview. Other colleges, including Bowdoin, provide specific prompts to candidates.

Takeaway: Make sure your students look carefully at the required and optional components of their applications, including whether they can upload a video clip to their portals. They may even want to share a video directly with a representative of  particular college.

This is also the time for applicants to consider establishing a proactive presence on social media. After all, what if your students could interact with colleges, including admissions officers and professors, through X (Twitter) or LinkedIn? What if they applied for a scholarship and the college decided to do a quick internet search? 

Takeaway: Linkedin and other platforms aren’t for every student, but those who have unique interests or side hustles may find social media appealing. Those who post should do it with caution; they never know who will see the result!

Finally, students with extraordinary talents for research or the arts may also benefit from sharing their work digitally. Some highly selective colleges ask for or allow a research abstract or graded paper. Applicants to programs in music and fine arts may share their work through a platform such as SlideRoom.

Takeaway: Students with niche interests should seek opportunities to showcase their work. All applicants must follow each college’s specifications.

In 2023-24, make sure your applicants are aware of opportunities presented by colleges to supplement their candidacy. Through supplemental essays, videos and other materials, they can show off their understanding of a target college and display what they would bring to the campus and community.

Nina Berler is a college counselor and author of Supplementing the College Supplement, an ebook available on Apple Books that contains actual examples from student work. Nina has an AB with Honors from Brown University and an MBA from the Stern School of Business, New York University. She holds a Certificate with Distinction in College Counseling from UCLA Extension. Nina is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC).