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How to Build Your College Art Portfolio

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    The College Application Process is never easy. In addition to maintaining your high school GPA, studying for standardized tests, and asking for letters of recommendation, you’ll need to write several college essays. Depending on where you’re applying, you might need to set up some college interviews as well. And if you’re an art student? The process becomes even more complicated. 

    In addition to participating in the Best Extracurricular Activities for Students Interested in the Arts, prospective art students need to submit an art portfolio for college. This leads us to the question, “what kind of art portfolio do you need for college?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer. Creating an art portfolio for college is an incredibly challenging, personal, and time-consuming process. In other words, there is no one right way to go about creating a college art portfolio. In fact, each art school has a completely different list of art college portfolio requirements. 

    If you’re interested in studying visual art in college, knowing how to build your college art portfolio is crucial. Since each school is different, it’s important to look at plenty of successful college art portfolio examples from past years. This will help inspire you and give you a better idea of the school’s standards. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s start with some basic questions. 

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    What is a college art portfolio?

    college art portfolio To start, what is a college art portfolio? Students interested in attending art school will need to prepare a college art portfolio. A college art portfolio features a recent body of work, usually 10-20 pieces, that highlights the student’s strengths, range, creativity, and technical skills. Ideally, the work should be creative and well-executed, demonstrating a firm grasp of the elements of composition, in addition to other technical skills, such as accurately portraying perspective, proportion, texture, etc. The submitted work should be completed within the last year or two. Some colleges will want to see the original pieces in person, but most schools accept digital portfolios where the original work has either been scanned or professionally photographed. 

    What is a college art portfolio?

    To start, what is a college art portfolio? Students interested in attending art school will need to prepare a college art portfolio. A college art portfolio features a recent body of work, usually 10-20 pieces, that highlights the student’s strengths, range, creativity, and technical skills. Ideally, the work should be creative and well-executed, demonstrating a firm grasp of the elements of composition, in addition to other technical skills, such as accurately portraying perspective, proportion, texture, etc. The submitted work should be completed within the last year or two. Some colleges will want to see the original pieces in person, but most schools accept digital portfolios where the original work has either been scanned or professionally photographed.

    college art portfolio

    Art portfolio requirements for college applications

    Students who intend to major in art-related subjects, such as architecture, graphic design, interior design, illustration, game design, fine arts, fashion design, etc. will need to complete college art portfolios in order to be admitted into an art program. 

    Art college portfolio requirements vary from school to school, and sometimes even from major to major. This is partly what makes the process so overwhelming for students. After all, creating an art portfolio for college is a huge endeavor — one that will take you many months to perfect. The fact that each college has a completely different set of requirements further complicates the process. 

    The best thing to do is to start early. Come up with your college list as soon as possible and carefully take note of the different college art portfolio application requirements. Make sure you periodically reread these requirements and guidelines so that you stay on track. 

    Take special note of:

    • Deadlines.
    • How many pieces are required.
    • Whether the school accepts only finished pieces or is interested in sketches as well.
    • Whether the school has any specific application prompts or “home tests.”
    • Whether the school accepts digital reproductions or needs the original artwork.
    • How to save, name, and upload digital files.
    • What the size and format requirements are.
    • How to present and label your artwork.

    Responding to application prompts

    Some art colleges have specific application prompts. This means that they want to see something specific in your college art portfolio. Remember, every school is different and has different priorities. Their application prompts or “home tests” will reflect this. So while one college may give you a straightforward prompt, focused on technical skill, another school may provide a more open-ended prompt meant to gauge your voice and overall sense of creativity. 

    Tailoring your portfolio

    As previously stated, making an art portfolio for college is a huge endeavor. And while each school will have slightly different requirements, you simply won’t have time to make a new college art portfolio for each school. Instead, you’ll need to “tailor” your college art portfolio by making several variations featuring the same core pieces. 

    What to include in your college art portfolio

    college art portfolio So, what should you include in your college art portfolio? 

    Students should include a range of recent work (completed within the last year or two) that communicates their strengths and interests as an artist.  Do your best to submit a cohesive body of work. This doesn’t mean that the pieces should follow a specific theme, but rather, that the viewer should be able to see a larger narrative play out across your portfolio. Show off your creativity, passion, technical skills, and personal style. 

    Be sure to include lots of observational drawings. After all, college admissions officers will want to assess your abilities to properly render: shape, proportion, perspective, tone, texture, etc. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy drawing, basic drawing skills are considered foundational. So it’s a good idea to show them off. It’s also worth noting that technical skills expressed through observational drawings are often considered a more accurate way for college admissions officers to assess potential than other, more subjective elements of art and design.

    What to include in your college art portfolio

    So, what should you include in your college art portfolio? 

    Students should include a range of recent work (completed within the last year or two) that communicates their strengths and interests as an artist.  Do your best to submit a cohesive body of work. This doesn’t mean that the pieces should follow a specific theme, but rather, that the viewer should be able to see a larger narrative play out across your portfolio. Show off your creativity, passion, technical skills, and personal style. 

    Be sure to include lots of observational drawings. After all, college admissions officers will want to assess your abilities to properly render: shape, proportion, perspective, tone, texture, etc. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy drawing, basic drawing skills are considered foundational. So it’s a good idea to show them off. It’s also worth noting that technical skills expressed through observational drawings are often considered a more accurate way for college admissions officers to assess potential than other, more subjective elements of art and design.

    college art portfolio

    What to avoid in your college art portfolio

    Avoid cliches and don’t limit your work to one subject or medium. Show creativity, passion, and a desire to explore. In other words, don’t submit all charcoal drawings of horses. Or all pastel beach landscapes. Challenge yourself by exploring different mediums and subject matter. This will help Make Your College Application Memorable.

    Your college art portfolio should feature your best work while showing off your personality, passion, and ultimately, your potential. So while challenging yourself is important, don’t submit weaker pieces for the sake of variety.

    It’s also worth noting that college admissions officers don’t want to see anime, fan art, tattoo designs, or celebrity portraits in your portfolio. Submitting fan art will mark you as a “hobbyist.” In turn, colleges won’t consider your application as seriously. 

    And never copy the work of another artist! This includes drawing images directly found on the internet. (This is different from using reference photos where the resulting art piece is indistinguishable from the reference photos). College admissions officers have seen it all and can spot plagiarism from a mile away!

    What Is National Portfolio Day?

    Do you find yourself wondering, what college admissions officers look for in an applicant? If so, you should attend a National Portfolio Day event

    During National Portfolio Day events, high schoolers meet with college representatives from top art schools who offer feedback, advice, and guidance on student art portfolios. National Portfolio Day events take place periodically throughout the year, so students should do their best to plan ahead. That way, they will have time to incorporate feedback before submitting their college art portfolios. 

    The following schools are members of the National Portfolio Day Association. So if you’re interested in applying to any of the schools listed, find out when and where they will be attending events:

    • Alberta University of the Arts
    • Alfred University
    • Arcadia University
    • Art Academy of Cincinnati
    • ArtCenter College of Design
    • Belmont University – Watkins College of Art
    • Boston University School of Visual Arts
    • Bowling Green State University
    • Bradley University
    • California College of the Arts
    • California Institute of the Arts
    • Cleveland Institute of Art
    • College for Creative Studies
    • Columbus College of Art and Design
    • Concordia University
    • Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at GW
    • Cornish College of the Arts
    • Cranbrook Academy of Art
    • Drexel University – Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
    • Emily Carr University of Art + Design
    • Fashion Institute of Technology
    • Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
    • Florida International University
    • Hartford Art School, University of Hartford
    • Herron School of Art and Design – IUPUI
    • Illinois State University Wonsook Kim School of Art
    • Iowa State University College of Design
    • James Madison University
    • Kansas City Art Institute
    • Kean University
    • Kendall College of Art and Design
    • Kutztown University
    • Laguna College of Art and Design
    • Lesley University Undergraduate Admissions
    • Maine College of Art & Design
    • Massachusetts College of Art and Design
    • Miami University
    • MICA / Maryland Institute College of Art
    • Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
    • Minneapolis College of Art and Design
    • Montserrat College of Art
    • Moore College of Art and Design
    • New World School of the Arts
    • New York Academy of Art
    • New York School of Interior Design
    • New Jersey Institute of Technology
    • Northern Illinois University – School of Art & Design
    • Norwich University of the Arts
    • NSCAD University
    • NSCAD University
    • OCAD University
    • Otis College of Art and Design
    • Pacific Northwest College of Art
    • Paris College of Art
    • Parsons School of Design/Parsons Paris at The New School
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
    • Pennsylvania College of Art & Design
    • Pratt Institute
    • PrattMWP College of Art and Design
    • Rhode Island School of Design
    • Ringling College of Art & Design
    • Rochester Institute of Technology
    • Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design
    • Rowan University
    • Rutgers University – Mason Gross School of the Arts
    • Salve Regina University
    • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University
    • School of Visual Arts
    • Sheridan College
    • SMU Meadows School of the Arts
    • St. John’s University
    • Suffolk University
    • SUNY Purchase College School of Art + Design
    • Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts
    • The Cooper Union
    • The Glasgow School of Art
    • The University of British Columbia
    • The University of Kansas
    • Tyler School of Art and Architecture
    • University of Arizona School of Art
    • University of Connecticut Department of Art & Art History
    • University of Illinois, School of Art & Design
    • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth CVPA
    • University of Massachusetts Lowell
    • University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design
    • University of New Haven
    • The University of South Dakota
    • The University of the Arts
    • University of the Arts London
    • VCUarts
    • Vermont College of Fine Arts
    • Vincennes University
    • Washington University in St. Louis
    • West Chester University
    • Western Michigan University
    • West Virginia University
    • Wilson School of Design at KPU
    • Woodbury University | School of Media : Culture: Design
    • York University

    What Is National Portfolio Day?

    Do you find yourself wondering, what college admissions officers look for in an applicant? If so, you should attend a National Portfolio Day event

    During National Portfolio Day events, high schoolers meet with college representatives from top art schools who offer feedback, advice, and guidance on student art portfolios. National Portfolio Day events take place periodically throughout the year, so students should do their best to plan ahead. That way, they will have time to incorporate feedback before submitting their college art portfolios. 

    The following schools are members of the National Portfolio Day Association. So if you’re interested in applying to any of the schools listed, find out when and where they will be attending events:

    • Alberta University of the Arts
    • Alfred University
    • Arcadia University
    • Art Academy of Cincinnati
    • ArtCenter College of Design
    • Belmont University – Watkins College of Art
    • Boston University School of Visual Arts
    • Bowling Green State University
    • Bradley University
    • California College of the Arts
    • California Institute of the Arts
    • Cleveland Institute of Art
    • College for Creative Studies
    • Columbus College of Art and Design
    • Concordia University
    • Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at GW
    • Cornish College of the Arts
    • Cranbrook Academy of Art
    • Drexel University – Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
    • Emily Carr University of Art + Design
    • Fashion Institute of Technology
    • Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
    • Florida International University
    • Hartford Art School, University of Hartford
    • Herron School of Art and Design – IUPUI
    • Illinois State University Wonsook Kim School of Art
    • Iowa State University College of Design
    • James Madison University
    • Kansas City Art Institute
    • Kean University
    • Kendall College of Art and Design
    • Kutztown University
    • Laguna College of Art and Design
    • Lesley University Undergraduate Admissions
    • Maine College of Art & Design
    • Massachusetts College of Art and Design
    • Miami University
    • MICA / Maryland Institute College of Art
    • Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
    • Minneapolis College of Art and Design
    • Montserrat College of Art
    • Moore College of Art and Design
    • New World School of the Arts
    • New York Academy of Art
    • New York School of Interior Design
    • New Jersey Institute of Technology
    • Northern Illinois University – School of Art & Design
    • Norwich University of the Arts
    • NSCAD University
    • OCAD University
    • Otis College of Art and Design
    • Pacific Northwest College of Art
    • Paris College of Art
    • Parsons School of Design/Parsons Paris at The New School
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
    • Pennsylvania College of Art & Design
    • Pratt Institute
    • PrattMWP College of Art and Design
    • Rhode Island School of Design
    • Ringling College of Art & Design
    • Rochester Institute of Technology
    • Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design
    • Rowan University
    • Rutgers University – Mason Gross School of the Arts
    • Salve Regina University
    • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University
    • School of Visual Arts
    • Sheridan College
    • SMU Meadows School of the Arts
    • St. John’s University
    • Suffolk University
    • SUNY Purchase College School of Art + Design
    • Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts
    • The Cooper Union
    • The Glasgow School of Art
    • The University of British Columbia
    • The University of Kansas
    • Tyler School of Art and Architecture
    • University of Arizona School of Art
    • University of Connecticut Department of Art & Art History
    • University of Illinois, School of Art & Design
    • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth CVPA
    • University of Massachusetts Lowell
    • University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design
    • University of New Haven
    • The University of South Dakota
    • The University of the Arts
    • University of the Arts London
    • VCUarts
    • Vermont College of Fine Arts
    • Vincennes University
    • Washington University in St. Louis
    • West Chester University
    • Western Michigan University
    • West Virginia University
    • Wilson School of Design at KPU
    • Woodbury University | School of Media : Culture: Design
    • York University

    Key Takeaways and Moving Forward

    college art portfolio Creating an art portfolio for college applications is a personal and incredibly time-consuming process. In addition to creating the actual art pieces, you’ll need to organize your portfolio and professionally photograph your pieces. If you have mentors who can work with you during this time, take advantage of the help that they can offer you. You may also want to attend a virtual or in-person portfolio review, where college representatives give you candid feedback on your work. In the meantime, if you have other college-related questions, consider reaching out to our team of experts to see how we can help you best reach your goals. 

    Key Takeaways and Moving Forward

    Creating an art portfolio for college applications is a personal and incredibly time-consuming process. In addition to creating the actual art pieces, you’ll need to organize your portfolio and professionally photograph your pieces. If you have mentors who can work with you during this time, take advantage of the help that they can offer you. You may also want to attend a virtual or in-person portfolio review, where college representatives give you candid feedback on your work. In the meantime, if you have other college-related questions, consider reaching out to our team of experts to see how we can help you best reach your goals. 

    college art portfolio

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