How to Not Go Insane While Making a College Portfolio

College admissions portfolios are intimidating to say the least.  The process is incredibly stressful and sometimes feels like it will never end.  As I say all of this, however, let me preface this article by saying that making a college portfolio, as time consuming as it may be, paves the way for you to do what you love.  The countless hours you spend perfecting your artwork is beyond worth it if it allows you to get into a school and eventually get a job in a field that you’ll be happy in for the rest of your life.

I’m writing this article on November 2nd, the day after early action applications are due.  I just submitted everything to all my colleges and as I’m reflecting on this process, I’ve made a list of what worked for me and what I wish I did better.  Here it is:

  1. START EARLY: Like, really early.  This could be an insane amount of work and you want to give yourself time to really show these schools your best work and who you are as an artist.  You’ll most likely be showing them a mix of old and new work, but before curating your old work, you don’t know how much you’ll need to do.  Leave yourself enough time to do your best and hold onto some of your sanity in the process.
  2. TAKE AS MANY ART CLASSES AS YOU CAN:  Not only will this refine your skills and make you a better artist, it gives you pieces that you can use!!  Take the art classes your school offers, anything from fine arts to photography to ceramics will help you.  In my experience, colleges have liked to see a variety of mediums, so adding a photograph or sculpture into a portfolio could really help you get accepted.  I used about 10 fine arts pieces from school in my fashion design portfolio!  If your school doesn’t offer art classes, look into classes in your area.  If you live near a college they may offer classes and some of them may even be for credit.  Art classes also give you a better grasp on how to talk about art, which is really beneficial when you need to describe your artwork or write artist statements as supplement essays.
  3. MAKE A LIST: The first thing I made when I began my portfolio was a list.  I copied and pasted all my school’s portfolio requirements into a word document.  I simplified this list into a list of pieces that they require.  Then, I checked off those of which I already had and made a to do list for what I was missing.  For certain majors (like fashion design), schools require very specific projects that you’ll need to make just for that portfolio. This list was a really helpful way to stay organized and understand how much work I had to do, and it also made sure that I didn’t forget anything.
  4. VARY YOUR MEDIUMS: As you put together a portfolio, be conscious of what mediums and types of art you include.  I’ve noticed that schools like to see a variety within your portfolio, so experiment with different mediums to show them that you’re a versatile artist.  I also noticed that they like to see different types of art like I mentioned earlier, so if you can, include pieces that are different types, such as a mix of photography, fine arts and sculpture.
  5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PORTFOLIO REVIEWS: I can not stress this enough: portfolio reviews are SO helpful.  There are also a ton of opportunities for a professional to review your work. There are National Portfolio Days throughout the country where representatives from many schools come together to give you tips on your portfolios (you can find their schedule here  Often, schools also offer portfolio reviews when you go to visit their campus for a tour.  The admissions directors give really helpful advice to round out your portfolio in general, as well as tips to get into their school specifically.
  6. FINISH EARLY:  Once you finish all your artwork for your portfolio, there’s still a lot more to do.  If you’re submitting your work on Slideroom, (you probably are, most schools require it) you’ll need to photograph all of your work.  Making sure your work is presented professionally is extremely important so photographing and editing those photographs takes a lot of time.  You also need to leave time for you to physically put your work on Slideroom.  Since most schools require different numbers of pieces and some schools have specific requirements, you’ll need to sort your portfolio into what’s going to each school.  Once you do that and they’re on Slideroom, you still need to title and describe each piece.  Basically, if you finished all your artwork on October 31st and your portfolio is due November 1st, you’re gonna have a really bad Halloween :(.

I’m not going to lie to you and pretend portfolios aren’t stressful because they are.  But they’re manageable and you’ll survive it and the entire college admissions process.  All in all, they’re worth it so that you can do what you love.  Good luck and I hope you get into your top choice, you got this!! 🙂

Photo belongs to Lauren Zodel

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