College Entry Portfolio Tips

You’ve interviewed, researched and stalked potential art schools and finally picked a few if not THE candidate….now what? Brace yourself for the formal entry process which requires A LOT of forms, your transcripts from high school, an interview and or essay, rights to your first born child (not actually) and most importantly, your portfolio.

This can seem like an intimidating process but fear not! If you haven’t yet graduated high school and you have access to a portfolio class or an art teacher that can give you extra projects to help with the process, take advantage of it. If not, don’t worry, all is not lost. When I was in high school I went on the field trip 3 hours away to go see the art school I ended up going to 6 years later but totally skipped the senior year portfolio class because at the time I was pretty sure I was going to be a famous rockstar… so no need obviously RIGHT?…yeah well we all know how that turned out or I wouldn’t be writing this would I?

First Things First

Find out if there are specific admission requirements for your entrance portfolio. This can vary between schools so don’t assume they are all the same. For example, the school I went to is based on the Bauhaus School structure so it required a fine arts portfolio for entrance to general first year art studies. You also later required a second portfolio if you wanted to go into the Visual Communication Arts stream before your second year, with a totally different set of requirements.

Your portfolio is your resume. It’s your first impression and a way to show your potential new school where your skills are at and what potential you have. While it can be competitive to get in to certain schools remember that they will understand the you are raw and need to develop. Why are you bothering to go, if not to improve? You need to make an effort to make a great first impression, despite whatever level you may be at. This will increase your chances of acceptance to the school and may very well be the difference between you and someone else. If you are serious about making art as a career, do your best to get into good presentation habits now. You will learn more a long the way as we all do, but don’t think that piling a bunch of random drawings in a loose folder with your name on it is going to be enough.

Presentation Suggestions

Once you know how many pieces you need to submit and what subject matter, mediums and sizes are acceptable you will have a check list to use when you are compiling your portfolio. Remember to always submit your best work. If you need a second opinion ask an established artist or teacher. If you don’t have a current piece that is good enough, create a new one. Most importantly, don’t leave this to the last minute. You don’t ever want to make excuses for your work, even if you aren’t 100% confident in it. Try your best and give your self enough time.

Now that you have all the pieces you’ve decide to enter there are a few common ways you can present your work:

 1. A portfolio book with Acid Free sleeves you can slide your art into like Itoya Art Portfolios or Pina Zangaro Presentation Books.

This works well if all of your pieces are within a certain size range or you are submitting photographs of your work. Don’t forget to pick the presentation book that fits the largest piece’s dimensions. There are different options and sizes available so research what is right for you. Some brands will have removable pages which is great for customizing the amount of pieces shown in your portfolio, but note that they can sometimes be more costly.

2. A large zippered portfolio case with handles that can be found at most art supply stores.

I would recommend mounting all of your pieces onto the same sized support whether it be foam core or a card stock.If you have art on canvas this may not work but the key is to try and make everything uniform and presented as best as possible. In some case you might have a variety of different types of work. For my entrance portfolio I mounted all of my drawings on an illustration board and then matted them with a description label on the back. I  then arranged them all neatly and in order in the presentation case. Looking back I didn’t love this presentation but it worked for all the different pieces I wanted to include.

3. Make your own presentation case as long as it is sturdy and will protect your art appropriately from damage or falling out.

One of my classmates in college made a beautiful leather-bound portfolio for his work that he stitched by hand. If executed well, this extra touch of creativity can make your portfolio a stand-out amongst the rest. 

General Suggestions:

  • Always label your pieces with all the standard information,  your name, piece title, date, medium, size
  • If submitting photographs of your work, use the best professional quality photos your are able to get. Seek out photography students who might be able to do this for you for free or at a discounted rate if necessary.
  • Clearly label the outside of your portfolio with your name and address or as per the school admission instructions

For more details on typical portfolio requirements, check out this great link at

Future Art Student Advice Posts:

Art Student on a Budget

Art School Survival Tips

The Good Thing About Bad Critiques

Previous Art Student Advice Posts:

Why I Went to Art School

Choosing the Right Art School For You


Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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