A portfolio can help you create a better college 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
• art work: drawing, painting, photography, graphic art
• musical composition: scores, song lyrics, arrangements
• writing: novels; screen plays; poetry; history; news articles; scientific research, both published and unpublished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. A portfolio will also demonstrate your strengths and growth as an artist or performer. The portfolio goes beyond a transcript, recommendation, test score, even an essay to show what you are doing and to attest to the commitment you have to your area of interest.
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 a 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 a 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 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.
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.
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. To read in more detail about how to prepare a portfolio, see our article “How to Submit a Great Portfolio with Your College Application.” It is not a last-minute thing!
Information provided by Kal Elmore, high school Art Department Head