Portfolios for College: Do You Need to Create One?

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Going to college is such an arduous process. All these applications, looking for financial aid, putting together your work, and designing for the college is not an easy task. We obsess about our grades and transcript all the time too. While they’re essential, they’re not the only piece of information that you’re supposed to worry about.

Colleges and universities alike love looking at all the additional information you can supply them with. These include your extracurricular activities, volunteering, sports, experience, internships, and personal projects. The more knowledge you obtain in life, the more compelling your application is.

That’s when a portfolio comes in handy. Hence if you’re wondering if a portfolio for college is necessary, you need to create one. We advise every student out there to start compiling a list of their experiences and putting them together in an elegant portfolio. It is impressive, but it shows you can time-manage and experience things outside the realm of your school.

What Exactly is a Portfolio?What Exactly is a Portfolio?

A portfolio for college is a collection of documents and transcripts that you have accumulated over the years. These documents prove your values, achievements, accomplishments, awards, experience, and skills. It is also an incredible way to showcase your interest and values, as what you do throughout your life, even outside of school, defines who you are.

Typically, a portfolio can include the basics, including transcripts, research papers, and projects you have conducted at school. However, the list does not comprise solely of these items. You can include recommendation letters, internship proof, achievements and awards, and even sports certificates.

For instance, although less than 10% of students who play sports in school end up playing it in college, being athletically gifted boosts your chances. That’s because colleges love to see more going on for you, and they love people who can contribute to their institutes.

Hence, you have a higher chance of acceptance if you have experience playing in a sports team in high school. But remember that a portfolio can include numerous documents, and you’re not constricted to any specific ones. Hence, put in all the previous experience to make you stand out.

A portfolio for college students can include the following:

  • Resume or CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Internship opportunities
  • Copies of certifications, honours, scholarships, or any awards
  • Athletic accomplishments and teams you have been in
  • Videos or pictures that illustrate your club activities, interests, or personal activities
  • Include any creative works including writing, songwriting, poetry, and music
  • If you have research papers, include them in there
  • A statement of purpose or a well-written document on your goals and motivations

Do All Colleges Require a Portfolio?

Do All Colleges Require a Portfolio?

If you are wondering whether you need portfolios for college admission, then the short answer is it depends. What are you applying for? See, if you’re using it for more abstract topics or STEM majors, colleges did not require you to submit a portfolio more often than not.

For example, any mathematics major would probably not have enough experience before going off to college or university. That’s because science topics, technology, mathematics, and engineering do not offer enough opportunities during high school.

The maximum you can do before heading off to college is being part of a student club involved in that specific topic. Moreover, you can follow through some extracurricular activities such as some engineering classes outside, robotics, some advanced mathematics, or build some science projects.

However, things are not as simple as that when it comes to art majors. If you’re going into one of the creative majors, most colleges will require art portfolios for college. That makes sense in the world, as you are expected to demonstrate your skills and creative flair to be accepted into the top art colleges.

Hence, there are significant differences you’ll face in your application according to the major you are choosing. For example, most traditional colleges will not ask for any portfolio. But the more modern ones, or the competitive ones, almost always do. Submitting a solid portfolio in itself will boost your chances of getting accepted.

What Programs Require a Portfolio?

What Programs Require a Portfolio?

As we have already established, not all colleges will ask you to submit a portfolio for your application. However, if you’re considering applying for an art major, there is a 90% chance that a portfolio is required.

Now, aside from having to meet the minimum academic requirements to qualify for that college, you need to be able to submit a robust portfolio. All art colleges have highly competitive rates, mainly because all the art fanatics want to get into the best schools possible.

Hence, you rarely see someone who has never dabbled into creativity go straight to an art school. Not only do these colleges require a portfolio, but they want you to stand out. They want you to portray your personality and taste through the different art samples you send in, as that gives them an idea of how you are a person.

Ever since 2020, around the time the coronavirus swamped the world, colleges started encouraging the submission of portfolios online. These are known as digital portfolios. Canva has a beautifully constructed guide on designing your digital portfolio, and you can use their website to build yours.

Here is a general list of majors that require a portfolio:

  • Architecture
  • Dance
  • Music
  • Drama
  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Set Design
  • Film
  • UI/UX Design

The list does not include only the ones listed above. However, these are the main ones that always expect you to submit a portfolio.

Greg Christian’s online portfolio is a modern and compelling example of a portfolio. He has his website where he demonstrates his existing knowledge and skills. It’s incredibly straightforward, as you understand what he’s all about as soon as you open the webpage.

Greg Christian

Credits: Greg Christian

It’s always a good idea to keep it simple and straight to the point, as universities do not want to fumble over your website or portfolio to find out what you’re all about.

Portfolio for Art Colleges

So, since creative majors often require a portfolio, what do art colleges look for in portfolios? They simply want you to stand out. They want to know how different you are and how you express yourself. This is such a vital piece of information because you’re a way of expression is painted through your art projects.

Here are things we advise you to do:

  • Research the college and note down their requirements
  • Go through successful and unique portfolios of other art students
  • Go through open days to get to know the college more
  • Start creating your portfolio: list down your strengths, characteristics, and motivations to inspire you
  • Take time to create new artwork or improve on your existing ones
  • Review your work and ask someone to give you feedback on your portfolio

Check out art school portfolio examples:

Steveen Salvat, a french artist who’s emphasizing art, history, and science:

Steveen Salvat

Credits: Steevan Salvat

Nick Sheehy, a digital artist and illustrator:

Nick Sheehy

Credits: Nick Sheehy

Jenny Lee Flower, a creative artist who build projects and numerous designs:

Jenny Lee Flower

Credits: Jenny Lee Flower

What are the Advantages of Having a Portfolio for College?

What are the Advantages of Having a Portfolio for College?

Aside from the necessity of building a college portfolio, it comes with numerous advantages. The only disadvantage we could think of is the time it could consume. That’s generally because any work on college would require a chunk of time and effort, but it pays off eventually.

Here are a few advantages of building your portfolio for college:

Chance to Reflect

Building a portfolio and compiling all your work allows you to find out what you’ve been working on and find how you have progressed over the years. Moreover, if you have a website portfolio, others will be able to consistently check on your new work.

Cheap and Easy

Making your portfolio is not expensive at all. You don’t have to pay any additional fees unless you use some software or online resources. For instance, if you’re using a website for your portfolio, you will definitely have to pay for your website.


A portfolio is individualized. Instead of being grouped into other groups of students from your school, you’ll have your very own compiled art projects or general projects. Hence, you’ll be able to tailor it according to your preference.


Instead of having to only submit your transcript and grades and stress about that all the time, you’ll be held accountable in other ways. With a portfolio, you will have tangible evidence and documentation of your artwork and projects. Hence, you’ll be responsible to others, especially when you submit your applications to universities or colleges.

5 Tips for Creating the Best Portfolios for College Application

5 Tips for Creating the Best Portfolios for College Application

There are no guidelines on how to create a portfolio. However, there are some steps we do recommend you follow through. These tips and tricks will help you find your way to making the best portfolio for yourself.

Reflect on What You Have Previously Created

See, human beings are split into two; the ones that believe that they never do enough and those that believe small stuff is enough. Both are on the extremes of the situation. Hence, working on a portfolio lets, you discover what you’ve worked on and which pieces are your best.

Select Your Best Pieces

There is absolutely no point in putting all your previous work in one folder. As tempting as that might be, it is most likely to overwhelm whoever reviews your application. Hence, pick the most substantial projects you have, and blow them away.

Go for Creativity

We never recommend mediocracy. The further you stray from what’s considered “normal”, the closer you come to creating something unique. Hence, state your weirdest or most out-of-the-box ideas and accomplishments in a portfolio. Also, if you have art pieces that are not ordinary, you might just have a better chance at impressing.

Be Honest

While this is often a controversial point, do not go for the typical way of approaching applications. Be honest on your application, and state whatever lead you to this point. After all, your life speaks through your art and projects.

Consistent but Varies

Despite this statement being contradictory, go for a consistent overall look in your portfolio, but include a variety of documentation. Don’t include sketched buildings only, but don’t overwhelm your portfolio with various colours and designs.

Wrapping Things Up: Portfolios for College: Do You Need to Create One?

You definitely need to create a portfolio if you plan to apply to an art major. Otherwise, it varies according to where you’re sending your application and what the major is.

However, it’s always an excellent idea to compile a portfolio. You can always send in additional information. A solid portfolio will showcase your most vital characteristics and pieces of work.

Picture of Professor Conquer
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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