Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
How to Create Your Best College Portfolio
When applying to college, some students will have to submit a college portfolio. This is especially common for students who want to study the arts, such as visual art, music, performance art, or creative writing. Like every aspect of a college application, there is a particular craft to assembling an effective college portfolio. Read on to learn about how best to showcase your works to maximize your chances of admittance.
Also see: What looks good on a college application
What is a college portfolio?
A portfolio is a showcase of works you’ve produced which are relevant to the field you hope to study at a school. Oftentimes, this could include works of visual art, such as paintings, drawings, digital pieces, and photography. It could also include sheet music or recordings of musical compositions, collections of poems, short stories, screenplays, or novels. It might include works of comedy, recordings of storytelling or other digital sound pieces. While these are all typical contents of a portfolio, you could theoretically include any piece of work you’ve produced and that would interest the college.
This portfolio will come in addition to your standard college application. If you’re applying for undergrad, this includes your high school transcript, test scores, letters of recommendation, and essays. If you’re applying to grad school, it will typically be your college transcript, test scores, letters of recommendation, and essays as well.
Related: High school and college GPA guide
What should my college portfolio accomplish?
Your college portfolio is a great opportunity to show what you are interested in making and studying. It shows what you have already managed to create, as an indicator for your potential and your passion for a field of work. With a college portfolio, you hope to put your best foot forward. Include the pieces that you are most proud of and that others have been the most impressed by so far.
There is only so much you can communicate on a typical college application. Your test scores and grades are, at the end of the day, only numbers. Your essays are a great way to communicate your ambitions and showcase your writing skills, but at the end of the day, they cannot get everything across. Think of a college portfolio as giving the admissions officers a firsthand look at what you are creating and the skill you are interested in honing.
Also see: Top music scholarships
How much time should I allocate to assemble my portfolio?
It’s a good idea to start earlier rather than later when it comes to college portfolios. You’ll want to give yourself some time to carefully weigh which pieces to include. Since you’ll be using a combination of gut feeling and feedback to make this decision, you’ll want to give yourself time to weigh it all out and have time left over to ponder.
Since you’ll want to get feedback from people, it’s a good idea to have a draft of your portfolio ready several months before its due date. That way, you won’t have to rush the people who are helping you out by reviewing it. Especially if your portfolio involves pieces that take a long time to process, such as a piece of longform writing, it’s a good idea to give your reviewers more time rather than less.
What format should I send my college portfolio in?
Because the content of portfolios varies widely, the answer to this question can also vary. The vast majority of college portfolios are submitted digitally in this day and age. Some colleges have upload portals for portfolios. However, an increasingly popular option is for colleges to request a website. You can use your website to contain any form of piece, be it a video recording, a text document, sheet music, or a photo of a piece of visual art.
When you submit your portfolio in the form of a website, you’ll want to put some effort into its presentation. Try to make an elegant, clean website. Don’t go overboard in trying to make it too complex – typically, the simpler, the better. Squarespace has several free templates to help you make an easy and simple portfolio website.
Don’t miss: 10 tips to rock your college applications
Getting your portfolio reviewed
Getting your portfolio reviewed by family and friends is great, but it has its limits. Unless you have connections in academics, your family and friends will probably not have an insider view as to what admissions officers want to see in a portfolio. Luckily, there is a way to gain access to this expertise.
On college visits, which typically occur during your junior and senior year, you can request appointments with representatives of the department you’re interested in. Whether it be music, visual art, or creative writing, most schools have officials who will provide objective reviews of your portfolio. They may be able to advise what works to leave in and which to omit. Since portfolios typically must be short, this is valuable advice to ensure that the pieces you leave in have the greatest possible impact.
Don’t miss: Top questions to ask on a college campus visit
Can I use the same portfolio for each college?
Contrary to what you may assume, you probably won’t use the same portfolio for each college you apply to. Some colleges have different submission requirements; the permitted amount of material may change, or the format for submission. So, make sure to read each college’s submission guidelines carefully in order to plan far in advance. You’ll probably want to tailor your portfolio to different schools to maximize your chances.
Summing it up
- A college portfolio is a great way to showcase the works you’ve created thus far
- It can take the form of visual art, written art, musical compositions, or performance
- Many students submit their portfolio in the form of a website, while others upload individual files
- Make sure to plan your portfolio far in advance in order to ensure that you have time to get feedback
- You can get feedback from friends, family members, and college officials
- Most likely, you will want to tailor your portfolio to match each college’s submission guidelines
Good luck with your submissions! College portfolios are a great opportunity to put your work together and look at it as a whole. Don’t miss the opportunity to reflect on the great work that you’ve done so far, and get excited to continue developing those skills in school.
As you’re looking into college options, make sure to also look into options for financing. Remember to fill out the FAFSA before the deadline, and check out our guide to interpreting the EFC that you receive. Finally, try our scholarship search tool to find custom-matched, vetted scholarships, updated consistently!