Planning for College Your High School Path

How To Create a Portfolio for your College Application & University Admissions

Written by CB Community

Creating a portfolio can help you present a better, more well-rounded college application. Here is more information about how a portfolio can help with your application.

What is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of accomplishments and work in an area of talent/interest you have pursued. The collection might include:

  • Artwork: drawing, painting, photography, graphic art
  • Musical composition: scores, song lyrics, arrangements
  • Writing: novels; screenplays; poetry; history; news articles; scientific research, both published and unpublished
  • Performance art: vocals – choral, solo, scat; musical – bands, orchestras, paid gigs, solos; and theatrical – theater, comedy, storytelling

The portfolio gives a sampling of your talent and the type of work you take an interest in doing. When you create your student portfolio, it will also demonstrate your strengths and growth as an artist or performer.

The portfolio goes beyond a transcript, recommendation, test score, college interview, or even an essay to show what you are doing and to attest to the commitment you have to your area of interest.  Modern portfolios often come in the form of a website, as it’s a visually attractive way to show your accomplishments. Portfolio websites have been popular among creative freelancers, but they’re getting more common among other professions as well, as it is one of the ways to make yourself more visible for potential employers or clients.

Why Would I Use a Portfolio in my College Application?

If you are applying to an art school, most often the college you apply to will require you to submit a portfolio of your work and will provide you instructions for how to do so.

Also, many college applications allow space for “Additional Information.” You could attach a portfolio, in this case, to show other dimensions of you as an applicant or to show talents you have and might pursue in college as a major or even a minor.

In fact, it might be a good idea to include a portfolio as a supplement to your application–period. A portfolio reveals you in an interesting and different way, setting you apart.

If you have not been heavily involved in school and community activities, it may not be because you have few interests or lack motivation but that you have unusual interests or different priorities.

A portfolio can demonstrate your time commitment to talent and show your passion for learning about, doing, and improving that talent whether it is a talent for singing, acting, painting, playing an instrument, or speaking and writing.

When Should I Start to Compile a Portfolio?

You should be collecting and accumulating samples of the work you produce all along, the sooner the better.

Portfolios are a final selection of the best of what you have done with your talent as you have tried new and different things, as you have stretched your abilities, and as you have learned new techniques.

But, practically speaking, your junior year of high school is when you need to become more serious about your college application and portfolio. It is best to start at the beginning of your junior year by taking inventory, that is, listing what you have that could be used as a sample of your better and more interesting work.

With an inventory, you know what you have, and, what you don’t have. If you have gaps, if you have too many of the same type of things, you will have your junior year and the first half of your senior year to add what you need to show both your strengths and your breadth of experience.

Your junior year, too, is a good time to begin gathering information about how you will present your portfolio, what comprises a good portfolio, and how best to package a portfolio.

You can also get an early and helpful start with a portfolio submission by attending Portfolio Day, a day in the fall quarter of high school when 40 to 50 art and performance school representatives will gather at several sites around the country to meet high school students and look at their “draft” portfolios to give them suggestions for selections and improvements.

Even though you may not have a portfolio to present, it can be very helpful to listen to what is said about others’ portfolios and to see what others’ portfolios look like.

Timing is Everything

The summer between your junior and senior years of high school is usually college visit time.

It is good to schedule a special appointment with an admissions representative and then, if you can, an art/music/theater department representative to have him or her review your portfolio.

Such a review would consist of the same kind of personal advice and suggestion as you would receive on Portfolio Day.

Any and all input about how you can best finalize a portfolio presentation will make it better. Check out our article about how to start your college prep in junior year for most useful tips and tricks.

During your senior year you will have to pay attention to deadlines for required portfolios, especially if you are applying for Early Decision.

If you are not required to include a portfolio with your application but you are doing so as a supplement to your application, you will still need to meet application deadlines. You should set aside at least two to three weeks to process, put together, label, and send you portfolio.

It is not a last-minute thing!

Information provided by Kal Elmore, high school Art Department Head

About the author

CB Community

Passionate members of the College Basics community that include students, essay writers, consultants and beyond. Please note, while community content has passed our editorial guidelines, we do not endorse any product or service contained in these articles which may also include links for which College Basics is compensated.