Colleges appreciate adding arts to STEM studies

Snap Inc. co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel and his wife Miranda Kerr, the model and businesswoman, recently donated more than $10 million to Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. In high school, Spiegel attended classes at Otis. He graduated from Stanford University majoring in product design.

“I felt pushed and challenged to grow surrounded by super talented artists and designers,” Siegel reflected, “and we were all in it together.”

This mindset of adding the arts to traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has created the acronym STEAM. Colleges recognize the importance of the arts to foster critical thinking and creative ideas.

To encourage students to share their creative talents, some colleges have added video essays and other integrated media portfolios. With many colleges reporting increased applications for limited slots, involvement in the arts can differentiate a student with their talents.

The Common Application includes the SlideRoom portfolio platform. For an additional fee, students can submit artistic work, video performances and writing samples. It is important to review the requirements of each college and specific degree programs as to whether they require or allow optional submissions.

Most colleges with a School of Architecture or College of Visual and Performing Arts require an additional portfolio. For example, Syracuse University School of Architecture and Tufts University School of the Museum of Fine Arts both require portfolio submissions.

Creative work can showcase a well-rounded application. Tufts allows students applying to Arts and Sciences, as well as Engineering, to submit optional SlideRoom portfolios including photography and artwork. The University of Chicago allows optional supplemental materials to be uploaded to the UChicago account including creative writing, music, dance, visual art, theater performance, capstone projects, business plans and research.

Once a student submits their college application, some colleges invite students to add an optional video interview as an alternative to meeting with alumni or admissions officers. For example, Brown University encourages students to submit a two-minute video as a creative way to share in their voice as to why they want to attend Brown and showcase their personality. The video is then uploaded to the Brown Applicant Portal.

Wake Forest University has an optional two-three minute virtual interview. The applicant must choose from three prompts to respond to:

  1. What world problem would you solve?
  2. What does the university motto pro humanitate mean to you? or
  3. Discuss something of importance that is not already in your application. This can be a selfie video and should not be professionally produced.

The video essay format gives college admissions an additional glimpse into the student’s world. Written and verbal communication is integral to the college living and learning environment with classroom presentations, group projects and campus activities.

There are local Vermont organizations for high school students to develop their creative confidence. Pursuing the arts encourages self-expression.

The Shelburne Craft School offers a variety of classes including gardening, embroidery, woodworking, oil painting, stained glass and wheel throwing. Classes are offered each season for various levels and age groups.

Davis Studio provides the Destinations High School Program during the school year for sophomores through seniors. This artistic focus includes drawing, fashion design and multi-media. The goal is to build a portfolio that highlights student talents for non-traditional paths, college, art school and professions in art.

Very Merry Theater includes summer camps for children ages 6-13, as well as volunteer camp counselor opportunities for high school students. Visit their website to complete the application. The Charlotte Wagon Tour camp is a one- or two-week camp to perform an original or licensed summer theater production. The typical day includes practice, costumes and set design. There is a performance at the end of the camp session.

Vermont Ballet Theater has two locations in Essex and Shelburne that offer a range of summer dance camps. For advanced dancers, there is intensive ballet that requires an audition. For young dancers, there is ballet camp that includes making small ballet-themed props and learning choreography for a performance at the end of camp. Also, the Broadway-inspired And All That Jazz theater camp, includes singing, dancing and acting. These “triple threat” musical-inspired camps include a performance for family and friends.

With all the buzz about STEM, don’t forget to add the arts. STEAM ahead to uncover talents that can enhance college applications and influence your creative future.

(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)