Application Advice: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should...

I’m rebooting an old blog post because it answers a question we get all the time. 

Application Advice #5: Just because you can, doesn’t me you should, or, “should I send an additional letter of recommendation” (or a resume or a portfolio or a copy of my research paper or a binder filled with every award I’ve ever won)?

My grandmother (Nanny- “because grandma makes me sound old”) was one of those larger than life matriarchs who pinched pennies on everyday items so she could take the family on vacation. She was funny, she was sharp, and she had the biggest heart. If I had a hero, Nanny would be mine. I’d follow her around fascinated, trying to absorb wisdom and wit and good kitchen sense. I’d watch her hands fly over the counter tops, chopping this, adding a dash of that all while tossing a snappy quip to the family and friends always orbiting her.

One Sunday during halftime of her beloved Bills’ game, she was throwing together a pecan pie for dessert. I requested that she dictate the recipe to me (I was on a mission to capture every recipe I could and they were all locked in her wigged head) and the first ingredient she listed was:

Store-bought piecrust

I was surprised. Shocked might have felt like a better word for it. How could such a delightful cook not make her own piecrust? I think my actual response was “Huh?” (College certainly helped me out in the eloquence department.)

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

I stared at her blankly.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I can make piecrust, but I’m better at other things. Would you rather I make so-so piecrust or your favorite cheddar chive biscuits?” Her logic was flawless… or perhaps I’d forgotten everything she said before the word biscuits. (Seriously, those biscuits were so damn good!) 

Over the course of my career in admission, I have found myself repeating Nanny’s advice of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” to many high school students in throws of the college admission vortex (I promise there is a connection).

Our application requirements are purposeful; they have the power to tell us just about everything we need to know to make our decision about offering an applicant an invitation to Candidates’ Weekend. I know that’s hard to believe, but anything else you send is extra… and extra isn’t always good. Let me break it down:

Additional letters of recommendation: We allow applicants to send a supplemental recommendation (we ask for three letters of recommendation- one from your high school counselor and two from teachers), but you should only send that additional letter if the writer has something NEW to say about you or if they know you in a completely different context (outside of school or outside of the classroom).

Resumes: The Common Application extracurricular section is organized in such a way that application readers can access the information we need about how you spend your time outside of the classroom efficiently. It’s better to spend the time making sure that section of your Common Application captures your activities and jobs and responsibilities, rather than perfectly formatting an unnecessary resume.

Papers, abstracts, etc.: We have evidence of your writing skills in your essays and your research should be captured on your extracurricular list or in the additional information section or by a recommender. Remember what I said about additional letters of recommendation? That applies here too: you want supplemental materials to provide something NEW about you.

Portfolios: We read applications electronically, so please don’t send physical portfolios. If you believe that an electronic portfolio tells us something we can’t learn about you anywhere else in the application, go ahead and include a link to it in the Additional Information section of your Common Application. Keep in mind; we don’t require a portfolio so if you don’t have one, don’t worry.

The Binder: See above about submission of physical items. Also: that binder is for you. It’s an awesome artifact of your high school experience. Keep and cherish it… and chances are everything you’ve included in there is already in your application somewhere.

So when a student asks “should I (or can I) send X?” I reply with a question: “Will it truly tell us anything new about you?” That usually produces sheepish grins because for many, the answer is probably no. Just because you can (or just because we offer) doesn’t mean you should.

Good luck out there and please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us here in the Office of Admission and Financial Aid if you have questions!

Posted in: Emily, All Admission Staff Blogs