Do Colleges Even Look at Portfolios?

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Portfolios are a core requirement for numerous different programs all over the world. However, not all universities and programs require you to submit a portfolio of your previous work. The programs that almost always require a solid portfolio include art programs, academic programs, architecture, and film.

But do colleges even look at portfolios? Asking this question is like asking if a college looks at your GPA; yes, of course, they do. However, how much does it actually matter? And what is the ideal way to make your own portfolio stand out in a set of thousands of applications?

What is a Student PortfolioWhat is a Student Portfolio?

A student portfolio consists of a compilation of previous work demonstrating a student’s abilities. This includes showing your skills, capabilities, knowledge, and sense of dedication. The variety of what is included in a student portfolio can range anywhere from teacher-assigned assignments to personal projects.

For instance, a strict, highly-graded examination or assignment given by your professor or teacher could be used in your portfolio. That is especially if the assignment’s purpose is to illustrate your creativity and knowledge in that specific field.

All in all, a student portfolio is a reflection of who you are and the previous work you have done. For instance, most art colleges require you to submit a collection of work that reflects your ideas through your creativity, personality, and commitment to the major you’re applying to.

Do All Colleges Require a Portfolio?

Do All Colleges Require a Portfolio?

The simple answer is no; not all colleges require a portfolio for applying. However, more and more universities and colleges are either asking for samples or offering an option to submit parts of your work. The reason for that is they want you to demonstrate your own skills and show them how you stand out.

Generally speaking, it is logical to assume that any art-based major will require you to submit a portfolio. That makes sense since these programs are tailored towards the creative side, and submitting your own work is the only way of showing them what you are capable of.

Below is a breakdown of general requirements based on the art major you are pursuing. You can also read about art school portfolio examples depending on the art major you’re seeking.


Architecture schools vary significantly in their portfolio requirements. Some of them will ask for an extensive showcasing of your work, while others might ask for a single sample of your previous work.

However, if you do not have any background in architecture, don’t fret about it. If you do not have prior knowledge of the topic, most universities simply ask you to demonstrate some fundamental understanding. That includes three-dimensional form and space, composition, light, depth, and color perception.


Art is a vast topic, and numerous subcategories fall underneath it. These include photography, drawing, printmaking, and painting. Depending on the university or college, you will be asked to submit different pieces or a specific number of them.

For instance, NYU requires Studio Art to ask their applicants to submit 15-20 samples of their work along with a 1-page personal statement stating their purpose and goals as an artist.

Dance, Drama, & Music

You will almost always be asked to submit videos of your work as proof of your skills for performing arts. This only makes sense considering these arts require a lot of dedication and a natural affinity to the topic.

Most of them require you to submit your online application through Slideroom. You might be asked to submit numerous different samples or perform a specific piece and submit it.


This is a no-brainer; applying to study film will definitely require you to have a preexisting interest in film-making. Hence, it goes without saying that all of them will ask you to submit parts of work or proof that you have a knack for this sort of thing.

What Do Colleges Look for in a Student Portfolio?

What Do Colleges Look for in a Student Portfolio?

Universities and colleges want you to showcase your absolute best work and pieces. Have you ever seen a person linking their own portfolio website to their social media accounts? Or maybe while applying to a university, you notice the “additional information” option?

If you’re applying for arts or performing arts, you most definitely need an art portfolio for college. That will not only increase your chances of being admitted but also gives your college insight into what you’re capable of and how you can contribute to their work.

If you’re considering submitting an art portfolio to college, then below is a list of general requirements you should always consider submitting. We recommend sending sample work even if the college does not ask you to send anything.

  • Artwork: drawings, photographs, graphic art, paintings, drawings, and illustrations
  • Musical composition: previous scores, songs you have written, song lyrics, and arrangements
  • Writing: articles, blogs, books, novels, stories, poetry, research papers, and any pieces of writing
  • Performance art: vocals (including solos, choral, scat), musicals (including bands, orchestra, gigs), and theatricals (including comedy, storytelling)

Should You Submit a Portfolio for College?

Should You Submit a Portfolio for College?

Yes, you most definitely should, especially if you have previous pieces that prove your competence in a specific field or major. While it is not an easy process, you should slowly plan to build your portfolio by collecting previous work samples.

If you’re still wondering do colleges even look at portfolios, then keep reading on. Digital portfolios, also known as e-portfolios, have been increasing in popularity. It makes submitting it more accessible, but the competition is more challenging.

Hence, below are 9 tips and tricks to help you in your college portfolio process:

  1. Always choose the best pieces of your work
  2. 12-16 images of your work are usually enough; do not submit too many pieces and overwhelm the reviewer
  3. Get input from your teachers or advisor on your portfolio
  4. Make sure you have a variety in your portfolio. Do not go for all acrylic painted pieces, and do not submit all fictional stories. Make sure you add some spice to your applications to showcase the extensive creativity you have
  5. Select work that photographs well, as you want to demonstrate the best of what you have
  6. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, reach out to someone to help you or hire someone to do it for you
  7. Find a great digital camera for when you are taking pictures of your work
  8. Always include a personal statement explaining your purpose and inspiration behind your work
  9. Always include pieces of scratch paper or drafts you used to illustrate your initial process

How to Make Your College Application Portfolio?

How to Make Your College Application Portfolio?

Most colleges want students who will stand out and bring a new perspective into their campus, especially if you’re applying for an art major. You need to build a compelling portfolio that immediately grasps someone’s attention. While that might be a challenging task, it is not impossible.

Here is a list of things you should ensure you do during your portfolio application process:

Focus On What You Love

Too often, you see students simply building a portfolio based on what other people are doing or what online resources tell them to do. However, if you simply follow what you love, you’re guaranteed to have better chances of excelling.

Find Connections

We do not only mean making connections with other people. Instead, connect your hobby or what you love to a broader circle of activities. For instance, if you love drawing, take a drawing class in something you’re not familiar with. If you play the piano, then join a band.

Get Personal

Make sure that you tell a story that resonates with your art pieces. Don’t tell us the story of your life. However, telling a personal story that brought you to always hits a soft spot. Hence, if you write about science, showcase samples of your work in a lab or a related subject.

Shine Through

The more accomplishments, the better. If you have a wide range of interests, do not shy away from mentioning them. List all your achievements, awards, participation, and activities. If you have done volunteering before, you never know if it’ll earn you some extra credit, so put it in there!

Let’s give you a college admission portfolio example that stands out. You could see that the student is adventurous, critical-thinker, and exceptionally creative through the portfolio. One example stood out for an art program that worked with numerous mediums and scales.

Wrapping Things Up: Do Colleges Even Look at Portfolios?

If the college asks you to submit a portfolio, then it’s guaranteed that they will look at it. Not only does it demonstrate who you are, but it also shows them if you’re suitable for the program they are offering.

Hence, do not skimp over the material or leave out any critical pieces of work. Make sure you illustrate your absolute best samples and write a personal statement explaining your inspiration and your own story about why you’re applying for the program.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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