Preparing The Art Portfolio

Students who are considering studying art in college in a serious way must develop an art portfolio during high school. While there are liberal arts colleges and universities that admit art majors without a portfolio, the act of creating a portfolio over time can help students determine if art is in fact the right major for them. Here are some considerations for the potential art major:

Are you truly an artist?
Beyond the portfolio requirements, it is important for students to understand that if they matriculate to an art school and change their mind about studying art, they will need to transfer.

“If I don’t see enough good work in a student’s portfolio then I think this person might not want to be an artist,“ said Francy Caprino, enrollment management director at Pratt MWP, a two-year art school in Utica, New York affiliated with Pratt in New York City. “Be convincing,” adds Caprino.

Students who are leaning toward art but are not completely sure or who still want a liberal arts education outside the arts should consider attending a liberal arts college or university with a strong art department.

The Portfolio
Each college will have specific requirements for the art portfolio, so students should always check each school’s specific requirements. Rhode Island School of Design typically asks that students draw a bicycle. However, most colleges will have general expectations of what should be in the portfolio. Plan to have three to four drawings from direct observation (not drawn from photographs). The admissions committee will be interested in how well a student can take a 3-D object and translate it to flat, one-dimensional art.

Concepts Appropriate for You
The conceptual ideas behind students’ portfolios should reflect who they are and be just as interesting as the artwork itself. Art school admissions committees want to see concepts that reflect the life of the 16-year old applicant. “A painting of a wine bottle and fruit more accurately reflect the life of a 40-year-old French man than of a teenager,” said Caprino. She suggests that students instead consider concepts such as the top of their dresser or their bedroom before it is cleaned.

Portfolio Day
Getting feedback on the portfolio from qualified evaluators is essential. National Portfolio Days are offered across the USA each year, giving students an opportunity to get feedback on their portfolio. Some colleges will also provide feedback to students visiting campus. “Bring everything, including sketchbooks,” advises Caprino.

Final Presentation
The final portfolio should have between 15 to 20 pieces, and most of it should be from the past two years of the student’s work. While some colleges have specific requirements for how to present the portfolio, the most common methods are through or through a student’s own website. Google Sites is an ideal place to create an art portfolio website. See for one student’s art portfolio.

Pre-College Programs and Summer Courses
Many students attend a summer pre-college program at an art school to help develop their portfolio. Others take summer day classes near home or enroll in their high school’s portfolio class. There are many ways to develop a portfolio that suit all family budgets, including art programs at community colleges.

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