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  • Writer's pictureAcacia Blyth

How To Make A Killer Art Portfolio For College

Being an art applicant through the college process is no easy feat. It’s not just throwing some drawings on a slideshow and calling it good. It’s about curating a well crafted collection of pieces that checks off every box of your school's requirements, and without guidance it can be a pretty difficult task. That is why I am here. I hope that this How To guide can help you as you go through your art application process and get you into your top schools so that you can continue your creative journey. 

Before jumping into it, let me give a bit of background about my process and what I hope qualifies me to speak on this subject. This last year I applied to fifteen universities and out of those fifteen schools ten of them I submitted portfolios to. Those ten schools are Tufts+SMFA, Colorado College, Drexel University, RISD, Cornell University, Parsons @The New School, Northeastern, Syracuse University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. Out of these schools I was accepted into my preferred program at Tufts+SMFA, Drexel University, Parsons @The New School, Syracuse University, and Cornell University gave me a transfer offer. Each of these schools had slightly different requirements when it came to creating my portfolio for them, and therefore, through this process I’ve come to understand a wide range of what you need and want to have in your art portfolio to be a successful applicant. 

Understanding Your Schools:

Before you start putting together your portfolio it is important that you research each of your schools requirements and what they are looking for. This is especially important because no two schools will have the same requirements and you want to make sure that you show your dedication to the institution you are applying to by covering all the bases of what they are asking of you. 

To find these expectations and guidelines, go to the schools website and go to the pages that indicate portfolio/art applicants. It might take a bit of digging but you should be able to find a list of what they are looking for. However, if you can find this list or they are not clear about what they want then reach out to them through the art department and ask your questions. In my experience everyone was super nice and extremely helpful, so don’t feel nervous about reaching out. 

Next, and now this is something I didn’t do but would recommend, you should check the schools portfolio review schedule because most institutions will suggest that you present your portfolio to them before applying. These sessions are not meant as a way to put you down or make you feel bad about your work, rather they are meant to help you curate a portfolio that best fits the school you're applying to.

Now that we’ve gone through the tedious semi-boring part of the process, let’s get into the fun stuff!

Making The Portfolio:

Ok, so now that you understand what your schools are looking for and when you can do review days it’s time to actually put together your portfolio. I’d suggest that you start this process at the beginning of your summer entering senior year to give yourself enough time, because low and behold stuff will come up and things will change. However, for me, I didn’t know that I was going to be building portfolios till I start senior year and I therefore didn’t really start this process until late November. And though I would definitely not suggest this strategy, if you are committed and willing to put in the energy it is possible to get your portfolios done in just a few weeks. 

When you actually start creating your portfolio I suggest using the software Canva because it’s FREE and you can upload images without losing much quality. With that, you also want to make sure that the pieces you’re uploading are well curated. Most institutions won’t ask you to have a theme or a concept through your portfolio, however, you still want to present your work in a strategic way. What I’ve learned is that you want to start out with something great. This catches the attention of your viewer, and in this case it’s the person putting you in the accepted or rejected pile, so you kind of want to make it a good one that hooks them. Once you’ve opened with something spectacular you want to put your weakest pieces in the middle. You want them here because from a psychological standpoint individuals remember things at the beginning and the end, and you want them to remember you as a strong applicant. Therefore, when closing your portfolio you need to go out with a bang. Like I said, your first piece is meant to be spectacular, but your closing piece must be the most spectacularist! 

Now, before you submit your portfolio I think it is important to have someone you know review it, which is really important if you weren’t able to go to a portfolio review day. Having someone close to you review your work can help you catch areas of weakness whether that’s in your writing or the way you present pieces, and they can help you see your portfolio from another perspective. 

Pressing Submit:

Last but certainly not least is pressing that big red button (it may not be red but you get my gist). Now you would think this would be the easiest part but it can actually be pretty fricken frustrating for a few different reasons. One, is that many of the schools require different softwares to have you submit and they require you to do different things. For example a few schools used SlideRoom which is an outside platform that connects to your school and allows you to upload photos and add your text descriptions on the side. Other schools may have a platform built into their applicant portal and you also just upload a photo and they have a separate area for text description but it’s a little trickier to find because it doesn’t immediately pop up. The second frustrating thing is that sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’ve actually submitted something. For example, for one of my schools I thought I had pressed submit but it turns out that I never did and eleven days after the deadline I realized my error and had to make a bunch of frantic phone calls. Therefore, make sure you’ve clicked all the way through the upload process and scroll through every page so you don’t miss anything!

Final Words of Wisdom:

To close there are a few important things to remember. One is that you shouldn’t feel defeated by a deadline. On a few different occasions I had a mess up with my deadlines and I missed them and I was so worried that I had spent all this time and it was for nothing because I goofed. But all you have to do is make a few phone calls to the schools department and inform them of what happened and most likely they will tell you it's all good and you can still upload your work. 

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that you’re building these portfolios because you love the art you’re doing. I know it can be really grueling and annoying but you should take it as an opportunity to really explore your artistic abilities and push yourself to create some incredible works that really emanates your individuality.

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