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By: Scott Cline on July 3rd, 2017

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4 Common Art School Portfolio Mistakes

Portfolio | For Undergraduates

Your art portfolio plays a big role in whether or not you get into the art school of your dreams. Creating a high-quality collection of samples that showcase your abilities is the best way to increase your odds.

To compile this type of portfolio, you'll want to avoid some common pitfalls during the creation process. Here are four mistakes to avoid as you consider which of your works to include in your art school portfolio:   

1. Valuing quantity over quality

We often see applicants worry about not having enough samples to put in their portfolio. Maybe you only realized you wanted to attend art school during senior year in high school, or maybe you were focused on drawing but now want to pursue graphic design. Whatever the case, many art schools set a range of required pieces so applicants can focus on quality over quantity. At CCA, we require 10-15 examples for most undergraduate applicants. Art school admissions departments would rather see a portfolio with 11 high quality pieces that are thoughtful and expressive than one with 15 where the quality of work was uneven.

2. Too much focus on observational drawings

One of the most common myths about art school portfolios is that you need a lot of great observational drawings, depictions of real 3-D objects in 2-D mediums. It's true that this type of art showcases technical ability, but consider the program you are applying to as you compile your portfolio. If you plan to study sculpture,  observational drawings may not be as relevant as they might be for a student wanting to study illustration.

Also think about the school's requirements. Greyson Hong, an admissions director at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, told The New York Times that observational drawings were less important in applicant portfolios than technical ability and creative concepts.

3. Taking poor photographs of your work

Many schools require applicants to submit digital versions of their portfolio using a tool like SlideRoom. If you're going to be taking pictures of your art to use for your portfolio, make sure to use a high resolution camera that accurately depicts your work’s essence. Consider that admissions staff will most likely be reviewing your portfolio on a relatively small computer screen, not standing in front of it. There are helpful guides online that discuss lighting, angles, and placement for photographing art for a portfolio.

4. Not editing your portfolio

If you were writing an admissions essay to get into college, you would edit it before submitting it, right? Your portfolio should receive the same treatment. Once you've finished selecting the examples you will include in your portfolio, evaluate the way it flows as a whole instead of just thinking about what each individual piece means. Be prepared to answer questions about why you chose certain works or arranged them in a particular order.

Don’t let art school portfolio mistakes hold you back

All of this advice is important, but don't spend too much time worrying about making mistakes in your portfolio. It's more important to concentrate on selecting works that represent your conceptual and technical abilities, which will help differentiate you from other art students. If you can demonstrate depth of meaning in your work and highlight your artistic aptitude,  you will have a powerful, creative collection that serves as an asset for art school applications.

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About Scott Cline

Dr. Scott Cline is vice president of enrollment at California College of the Arts, where he leads the financial aid and undergraduate admissions offices. He has worked at CCA for over six years, previously as director and associate director of financial aid.

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