How to Create An Art Portfolio for Your College Applications

Whether you’re a painter, singer, sculptor, or architect, an art portfolio can add a new dimension to your application and bring your extracurricular experience to life.

Students often submit an art portfolio that accompanies their college application, whether it’s supplemental material for a liberal arts college application or a requirement for applying to a conservatory or art and design school.


Whether you’re a painter, singer, sculptor, or architect, an art portfolio can add a new dimension to your application and bring your extracurricular experience to life. Especially if your artistic experience is a large part of your extracurricular profile, it’s great for admissions officers to see the result of your hard work over many years.


Students using the Common App will see the option to submit through SlideRoom, which will link directly to the school’s branded portal for applicants. It is an easy process to submit an art portfolio, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take assembling and editing the art portfolio seriously. In the same way you might write several drafts of an essay and get feedback from a teacher or counselor, you’ll want to follow the same process for your art portfolio.


Here is how you can use your art portfolio, whether supplemental or required, to help you stand out from the crowd in your college applications.


What to Include In Your Art Portfolio


There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding what to include in your art portfolio. It depends on your artistic discipline and what your desired school says they’re looking for. The name of the game here is quality over quantity.


It’s also a good idea to keep your art portfolio consistent with whatever you’ve described on your activities list i.e. if you listed 5 years of classical voice training on your application, don’t just submit a piece from your one-off sculpting class. But if you’ve won an award for a piece of art, that would be a great choice for your submission.


An art portfolio may include the following for each type of artist:


  • Visual artists: painting, drawing, sculpture (photos), photography, graphic art and design

  • Musicians: performance videos, compositions, scores, original songs

  • Writers: novels, stories, plays, poetry, screenplays, historical or scientific research, news articles (especially if published)

  • Performers: choral performances, recordings of songs/plays, orchestral pieces, theatrical pieces, storytelling, voiceover work


This is not a comprehensive list by any means — if you’ve got something completely out of the box, you may want to include it — but it’s a place to start when brainstorming your submission.


As for the quantity, that also depends on what the school is looking for and what you have to offer. Visual artists can submit around 10-15 pieces/images whereas videos of performers should be limited to 4-8 minutes (and put your best work first). Writers would also do well to submit 5-15 pages of their strongest material. Double-check what the school’s requirements are when it comes to creating your art portfolio.


Especially for top schools with massive application pools, your admissions officer won’t have much time to watch or review what you submit, so the easier you make it for them, the better chance you have of making an impact.


How to Curate an Art Portfolio


Art is subjective, and curating an art portfolio is also a subjective process, both for the creator and the audience. As such, the following are just things to consider. Sometimes, thinking out of the box will be rewarded, but don’t proceed with any strategy without careful consideration and input from trusted advisors, teachers, and counselors.


Consider the story your art portfolio tells about you. What does it illuminate that may not be elsewhere on your college application? What does it reveal about your passions, interests, and dreams? While you should always stay clear of including overtly offensive and inappropriate art, stay as true to yourself and your work as possible.


You also don’t have to record or create something new for your art portfolio — oftentimes, it’s better if you don’t. Instead, let’s see you in action. Pieces produced in art, music, or voice classes are often a good idea to include since they’re been crafted carefully over a long period of time under the supervision of an expert.


An art portfolio can also showcase your growth as an artist over time. Maybe you could include your best pieces from your 9th or 10th grade art class and then show your best pieces from your 11th grade AP Art portfolio. Especially if your growth as an artist is highlighted somewhere else in your application i.e. recommendation letter or essay, this can highlight and show proof of our ability to develop as an artist.


Don’t be afraid to include a diversity of mediums, if you work in more than one. If you’re an oil painter and a piano player, include a concert video and a few of your best paintings. Even if you only specialize in one medium, try to include a range of different subjects, techniques, and moods, but make sure that you still choose top-quality pieces.


Finally, this may seem obvious, but don’t slack on photographing your work, especially if you work in sculpture or other 3D art. Use HD images that won’t easily pixelate via electronic submission. You may even consider hiring a professional or at least a talented friend to shoot and or edit the photos of your work — ask your art teacher for advice in this area.


How to Write an Artist's Statement


When submitting your art portfolio, you may have the option to write a brief statement commenting on your work and explaining your artistic philosophy, or, if you’re applying to conservatory or art school, a much longer statement reflecting on your artistic ethos.


This can be daunting for students because there isn’t necessarily a structure for this that works well for most people, but you can still apply the same advice that is given about personal statements in general — be specific, be clear and concise, and proofread. Don’t be unnecessarily pretentious, but don’t shy away from being honest about the emotional and creative motivations that lie behind your work.


For more advice in this realm, here are some examples and more insight into the process of writing an artist’s statement.



If you have a body of artistic work, don’t hesitate to submit it alongside your college application, with the above considerations in mind. If done mindfully, an art portfolio can be a memorable and influential part of a student’s college application.


If you need help revising your art portfolio and your college application, reach out today to schedule a free consultation with one of our college consultants.