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By: Noel Dahl on June 27th, 2017

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How to choose which examples to include in your art portfolio

Portfolio | For Undergraduates

For most prospective art students, one of the hardest parts of applying to school is choosing portfolio selections. We've heard many applicants worry that they don't have enough samples because they didn't focus on art in high school, or they haven't decided on one specific field of art to study.

Don't let these concerns keep you from compiling a spectacular portfolio. Picking the right portfolio samples will help you get into art school so you can develop the skills to have an impactful career doing what you love. Here are a few tips to make the process of selecting samples for your portfolio a bit easier:

Know what they're asking for

The portfolio requirements for schools you apply to should be the first criteria you use to decide which works to include. If you're considering multiple art schools, the Student Art Guide blog suggests creating a list of schools and their portfolio requirements.

Show multiple types of work

Some prospective students haven't decided exactly what type of art they’ll focus on in school. Maybe you enjoy photography, but are considering digital graphic design because employment is projected to grow more quickly. If your interests are broad, take advantage by putting several different kinds of projects in your portfolio. Even if you know what you'd like to study, including a few portfolio samples outside of your desired program shows that you’re well-rounded.

Take risks

Your portfolio will be one of many that an art school admissions counselor evaluates. Don't look at this as an obstacle – think of it as an opportunity to distinguish yourself. If you want to include an experimental or unfinished piece that you think tells a great story or separates you from other students, give it a shot.

Art schools want you to meet their admissions requirements, but they need to assess your creativity too, sometimes in distinctive ways.  For example, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is famous for its bicycle drawing assignment. Applicants were required to draw a bicycle as part of their submission process, giving them an opportunity to convey their artistic perspective in innumerable ways but still allowing for a baseline comparison amongst applicants.  

Ask for help

As you are compiling your portfolio, there may be times you are uncertain about a particular piece or how to organize the works you've selected. There are plenty of places to get help in these situations. You can contact the school's art department, get in touch with a friend or family member with portfolio experience, or attend a Portfolio Day event in your area. Feedback from the right source can help you if you run into challenges while creating your portfolio and need another opinion.   

Final thoughts on art portfolio examples

Choosing works for your art portfolio means selecting art that represents your abilities, experiences, and perspective. By picking works that make you stand out, including a variety of different samples, and finding creative ways to fulfill requirements, you’ll end up with a great art portfolio that makes you a competitive applicant to any school.

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About Noel Dahl

Noel Dahl is director of graduate admissions at California College of the Arts, where he oversees the recruitment, admissions, and enrollment functions of the school's graduate programs. He received his MFA in Fine Arts and has worked in higher education for the past 15 years.

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