Assembling an Art Portfolio for College Admissions

Tips, tricks and expert advice

Caucasian teacher talking to student in art class.
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Just as music majors tread a double path in college admissions - an academic application and auditions - visual artists are faced with a similar challenge. Most major art schools require SAT or ACT scores, high school transcripts, and a personal essay. Applicants also need to work on assembling an art portfolio with their best work. And the portfolio is the deciding factor for most art school admissions.


Every college has its own requirements for the genre(s) and quantity. Some want observational art - a landscape, for example, or still life - as well as more personal art and the results of a specific exercise. Others want just one genre. Cornish College of Arts, for example, requires 10 pieces, including five observational and five others that form a single, related set. The requirements are very different at Hartford Art School, which wants to see 15 to 20 pieces, half of them drawings. And at the California College of the Arts, admissions officers suggest using a summer art institute program to help build a portfolio of, in their case, the 10-15 required pieces.

Some want the actual artwork. Others want slides or CDs. Deadlines differ. The one constant is that a student never has as much time as he'd like, so it's essential to start planning early and to map out those deadlines and differing requirements on paper.

An Excel spreadsheet is a great tool for keeping track.

Getting Advice

The big issue, says Kavin Buck, the former director of recruitment for UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture and now enrollment vice president at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, lies in the selection of specific pieces for inclusion in the portfolio.

Don't do it alone: "Young artists are usually their own worst critics. Students tend to edit pieces based on their own personal aesthetics and not on what the colleges are looking for in an artwork."

Instead, he suggests students get guidance from an AP art teacher at the school, talk to admissions counselors at the schools that most interest them, and bring the preliminary portfolio to events such as National Portfolio Day, where college reps can share advice on what to include.