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College Resources: Students Applying Fine Arts/Portfolio Based Admission

Applying to the conventional idea of college is hard enough--the essays, transcripts, test scores, and deadlines--but where do you start when you add a whole portfolio to the admissions process? As one of the more niche topics under college applications, it can be hard to find information on what to do, how portfolio-based admissions work, or even just what exactly they are. 

To start off, the reason a lot of fine-arts or technical colleges require a portfolio submission is so that they can see the actual work they are admitting you on the basis of. Portfolios help provide a more in-depth evaluation of a student’s growth over time and therefore can be helpful in conveying how much room a student will grow within a given college. Portfolios are also helpful in giving insight into the personality, creativity, and abilities of an applicant.

So...what are the steps to creating a portfolio..?

1. Compile the list of schools and their specific portfolio requirements ahead of time!

  1. Art schools often will specify what they are looking for in portfolios (hardcopy submissions/digital uploads, specific themes/subjects, number of pieces, labeling/formatting requirements, etc.)

2. Look at student portfolio examples to get a better understanding of expectations.

  1. Wait a sec though--what if the examples are so much better than my art? Don’t despair just yet! Portfolios listed as exemplars are often the best of the works submitted to the college AND portfolios are graded on far more than technical skill! An applicant with a drive, creativity, and interesting themes can beat out others with higher technical skill but no passion.

3. Attend the open days!! Or, during COVID, check out College Libraries which may have student art on display!

  1. Also--contact students, professors, or alumni to check out if you vibe with the environment there! After all--you need a place to get your creativity flowing!

4. PLAN your portfolio!! You want the best selection of work to represent the variety of attributes you’ll be contributing to the college!

  1. Look for creativity and variety! Demonstrate expertise across various skills, concepts/themes, experiences, mediums, and styles AND originality!

  2. Emphasize observational work!! Take an observation from the real world and make it your own through creative personalization. The observational work itself shows off your technical skill while the personalization *paints* you as unique.

  3. Show off your instinct for aesthetics!! Take a chance to interpret things in a new and interesting way that lets colleges know you can bring something special.

  4. Include process pieces (if permitted) to give an idea of how you think as a creator!

  5. Communicate enthusiasm and dedication! If you submit classroom pieces, make sure they go that extra mile!

  6. Tailor your portfolio to your major! 

i. Ex: graphic design--incorporate pieces from different digital platforms

5. Create and improve pieces to fit the portfolio!! You can always build on pieces as needed, but be careful to keep an eye on deadlines!

6. Select and review your work! Is it meeting your intended purpose? Get second opinions!

7. Organize, photograph, and present your portfolio! Don’t skimp on the final part!

  1. Your format should be simple, easy to view, and convey professionality with a touch of personalization!

  2. Order your work logically and aesthetically so your admissions officer(s) can connect your pieces easily to form an image of you.

  3. Don’t repeat unnecessarily!

  4. Trim, crop, and format as needed! Check if your artwork is in good condition too!

  5. If uploading digitally, make sure your file formats are accessible and appropriate!

i. Images should reflect the actual artwork and be cropped appropriately

ii. Keep videos short! Respect colleges’ time!


f. Label clearly, but not obtrusively! Your labeling shouldn’t take from your artwork!

i. P.S. double-check your links!!

Hopefully this gives you a walk-through of how to make an art portfolio, but check out this link for the FULL article with examples and sample artwork included!! Good Luck!!

-Vidya Muthupillai 


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