How to Create a Portfolio for Your College Application
Application portfolios are collections of work that showcase a student’s abilities. They range from art to writing to music and beyond.
It's a common misconception that portfolios help an application. In reality, your portfolio will be judged as critically as other elements of your application. That's why it's important to determine if a portfolio is appropriate to include.
Who Should Submit a Portfolio?
Portfolios are primarily for artists, so they don't usually include academic work or athletics. Portfolios showcase drawing, painting, photography, graphic design, writing, acting, dancing, filmmaking or music. There are other possibilities, but if your talent or interest doesn't resemble the media above, consider whether it's appropriate to include. Portfolios should focus on one medium to exhibit depth.
If you spend most of your extracurricular time and energy on one of the above media, your application will benefit from a portfolio, especially if you've won awards or otherwise been showcased in a public capacity.
Students who choose to submit a portfolio usually have been practicing their art for years, giving them a wide variety of work to select for inclusion. Portfolios can include pieces that date back months or years, so you should begin planning your junior year. If you're a dancer, for example, begin filming performances (especially solos) early. If you're a visual artist, consider including your best work from the last three to four years.
Many colleges have requirements for portfolio submissions, including size, format, labeling and written summaries. For instance, some colleges request visual art portfolios be submitted online. This means you'll have to take high-quality photographs of each piece and ensure the sizing, resolution and file type are correct. Other colleges ask for portfolios to be mailed. Pay close attention to the details of each college, and never submit portfolios to colleges that don't accept them. If you can't find portfolio details on a college's website, ask their admissions office.
Plan Your Portfolio
The best portfolios tell a story of progression through a breadth of different work. Include pieces that demonstrate your talent and your maturation. You can structure your portfolio around a theme. If your portfolio includes works that are too similar, it could indicate you don't have enough range.
Most importantly, portfolios should demonstrate skill. Talk to your teachers, admissions counselors and mentors — they'll help you determine whether you should submit a portfolio. If your portfolio isn't impressive, it might count against your application. That said, a thoughtful, professional portfolio that showcases talent, maturity, and creativity can take your application from good to great.