What do I need in my art portfolio?


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     In a way, I envy art students. Their portfolios are a major component of their admissions packages.

     Contrast that with your "typical" high school student whose admission is based largely on their GPA and standardized test scores. Many high school students don’t seem to "find themselves" in terms of high school performance until their junior year. As a result, their GPAs and class ranks are not really competitive. Others simply are not good at standardized testing. In these days of huge applicant pools and by-the-numbers screening, these students may be left out, in spite of their potential.

     The portfolio review art students go through seems in some ways fairer. Whether accepted or not, students who have reviewed their portfolio with a college rep at least can be assured they were given some serious consideration. Their admission (or rejection) was based in part on years of work in their preferred area of study, and not just a few numbers on a transcript.

     With that said, adding a portfolio to a college application is a lot of work—even if the pieces to be featured are already done. If the pieces are not all complete, expect the process to be VERY time consuming. As a result, the sooner you begin, the better. I would strongly suggest that this process be started no later than the spring of your junior year.

     The first step is research. You must find out what the requirements are and the format in which the portfolio is to be submitted. This information may be readily available on the school’s web site, but in many cases you’ll probably want to contact them and ask for additional information/clarification.

     Common requirements are 10-20 pieces in a variety of media. Some schools will accept 35 mm slides for all of the pieces, while others will want to see originals of all 2 dimensional artwork. Many schools want at least one self-portrait included. Many also require the artist to present and explain the work to a college rep, even if that must be done by phone. I could go on listing common requirements, but they’re not important. What is important is that the student investigates specific requirements for the schools that they plan to apply to!

     For those determined to do some casual browsing, some school’s portfolio requirements are linked below:

Art Academy of Cincinnati

Art Center College of Design

Keene State College

Minneapolis College of Art & Design (Get Adobe Reader here if needed)

Moore College of Art & Design

Northwest College of Art

Syracuse College of Visual and Performing Arts

Tyler School of Art (at Temple University)

     For a more comprehensive resource on general requirements, check out It’s a great resource, as long as you remember that it’s no substitute for researching requirements at the schools of your choice. While you’re at the site, be sure to read their "Introduction" page. You’ll probably learn something interesting—I know I did!


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