What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Create a Portfolio for Art School

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Show me what areas I need to improve

If you’re applying to an art program, you probably know that the application process will be slightly different. While you will still submit transcripts and letters of recommendations, the most important part of your application might be something that most college applicants never even think about: an art portfolio.


For students who are considering applying to an art program, the portfolio most often is the deciding factor in whether they are accepted. While grades, test scores, and letters of recommendation are also weighed, the single most heavily weighted portion of the application is usually the art portfolio. To learn more about the art portfolio, don’t miss this post.


What Is an Art Portfolio?

In addition to the basic academic requirements, most art programs require applicants to submit a portfolio of their work within the fields of art and/or design. This portfolio serves to highlight their skills, technique, creativity, and commitment. Often the portfolio represents work produced over an extended period, so the artist’s growth and development are also evident.


Who Needs an Art Portfolio?

The specific requirements concerning art portfolios vary from school to school and even within schools from program to program. If you are applying to a program in the visual arts, there is a good chance that you’ll need to submit an art portfolio. These programs might include programs like apparel design, architecture, art education, art history, ceramics, film, graphic design, painting, or photography.


To find out if you need to submit an art portfolio, you’ll need to check the specific requirements at each program you plan to apply to. Sometimes, even if you aren’t applying specifically to an art program, an art portfolio is still a good idea. This could be the case if you’re applying to a liberal arts school or other general studies school, but plan to major in visual arts.


How Are Art Portfolios Assessed?

There is no universal approach to assessing an art portfolio. That being said, most art schools like to see a student who demonstrates mastery of technique, versatility across mediums, techniques, or approaches, and creativity or personality through their art. This means that you should strive to compile a portfolio that highlights these aspects of your work.


Often times, art schools like to see pencil drawings included in an art portfolio. This is because these pieces specifically show technique and are a good example of your observational skills as well. Pencil (or charcoal) observational drawings demonstrate your ability to show shapes, tones, perspective, proportion, and shape. For the same reasons, some schools welcome sketchbooks or pieces of work in progress, as they shed light on your process and your progression of skill.


At the same time, your work should highlight your personal process and creativity. Art schools are not simply looking for an impersonal re-creation—instead, they want to see work that reflects who you are as an artist and how your process reflects that. There should be something unique about your subject matter or approach that makes your work stand out.


Finally, be sure to demonstrate your versatility. Use a variety of mediums, subject matters, and styles to show how adaptable you can be. Always choose your strongest pieces of work, but try to choose pieces that are not all of a similar approach.


3 Tips for Creating Your Art Portfolio

1. Start Early

If you think that you may be interested in applying to a program in the visual arts, you should begin compiling your work early. This means keeping careful track of your sketches and documenting your process as you complete collections or larger works of art. Because many art schools are interested in your process, you’ll want dated examples over a prolonged period that demonstrate how your work has progressed.


Most schools request 10-20 pieces of art, which will be difficult to complete in a limited period of time. The earlier you start collecting pieces, the more you will have to choose from when the time comes

2. Look at Examples

It’s a good idea to get an idea of what art portfolios look like before you begin to compile your own. Not only will this help to spark your ideas and inspire your own creativity, but also it will give you a more specific idea of what art programs are looking for.


If you do an online query for “art portfolio example [insert school name]” you will probably find multiple examples specific to the program you’re applying to. Some schools even compile their own examples, easily available online. For some great examples provided by art programs, check out the compilations below:


The Glasgow School of Art

Louisiana State University School of Art

Rhode Island School of Design


Another great way to learn exactly what is required is to attend a National Portfolio Day. These are offered across the country by various art programs and are an opportunity for students to showcase their work. No admission decisions are made on portfolio days, but they are a great opportunity to receive feedback or guidance from admissions officials before you submit your portfolio. Portfolio days are open to the public and are free to attend. It’s a great idea to attend once during your junior year to gather ideas and see examples, and then attend again as a senior to display your portfolio and gather input from professionals.


3. Know the Requirements

The specific requirements at each art program are different, and you need to be absolutely sure that you follow the requirements exactly for each school that you apply to. This is the single most important advice we have—know and follow each of the requirements exactly.


These include things like:


  • Deadline for submitting
  • How many pieces are required
  • Number of art forms you should submit
  • Specific assignments required
  • How you submit your portfolio (online, in person, by mail, etc)


Although the exact requirements at each program might vary slightly, odds are that if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to use a very similar if not exactly the same portfolio from one school to the next. Follow the instructions for each program exactly if you want to be considered for admissions.


Submitting an art portfolio is a necessary if you wish to attend an art program in college. Though the portfolio itself is a central and often deciding factor in your application, it doesn’t have to be the source of stress or panic. Plan ahead, get feedback, and know the requirements to ace your art portfolio.


For more information about the arts in high school, check out these posts:


Ultimate Guide to the Art History AP Exam

A Guide to the RISD Pre-College Program

Clubs You Can Start in High School

A Guide to Choosing Electives in High School

Should I Submit an Arts Supplement? The Dangers of Submitting Supplementary Application Materials


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.