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What Is a Creative Portfolio and Why Do You Need It

A creative portfolio is the calling card of an applicant entering a liberal arts university or pursuing a creative major. It is as important as a motivation letter. However, it is not always clear what it should look like.
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Basic Facts and Tips

A portfolio is a collection of works that reveal an applicant's creative potential. For example, those applying to become a journalist, an art critic, or a designer may need it. This portfolio helps the university decide on a candidate and understand what it can teach the student so that they achieve even greater success.

The point is that websites of educational institutions often have pretty vague requirements for how to create such a portfolio. For example, an admissions committee may just ask for any works that show an applicant’s experience and talent. When the requirements are not clear enough, the applicant does not understand what the university needs exactly.

What to do in this case:

Explore the university's website. Go through the list of subjects taught at that university. Find out about professors in your department. Read the requirements for a creative portfolio carefully.

Check out examples of work. Google different portfolios made by students of the same major or field of study. The university website can also have some examples of portfolios created by students who have graduated already. You can use them as a basis for your own portfolio.

Customer service manager Diana Romanova recommends including up to ten works into your portfolio. Six of them should be in sync with the university's key majors or your particular program of study, and another four should be the ones that you want to show to the committee.

What To Keep in Mind When Making a Portfolio

Don’t miss open days. Universities run them to give students a chance to visit the campus firsthand and take a look around. For example, if you are going to apply to the US, look for information on open days on university websites. There, you can ask admissions members or some other university representatives any questions, including about creative portfolios.

Consider the format. Don’t neglect the portfolio requirements the university sets. Do they ask for a PDF format or a video presentation? Is it enough to send the portfolio by mail or upload it to the website? Don’t be shy to contact the university and ask the admissions committee about the format. This way, not only will you find out the details you need, but also show your interest.

Pay special attention to the requirements for international students. When applying abroad, the requirements for international students may be different. Most often, additional requirements for international students include a language exam, but they may also apply to the portfolio.

Don't forget about deadlines. Never put things off until the last minute. Make a preparation plan. For example, allow for a month to prepare materials and another month to create a presentation. The perfect scenario is when you put together your portfolio and send it to the university a month before the deadline. The thing is that you might get a response saying that something is missing. In this case, you will have time to add things and improve your portfolio.

Be original. Don't be afraid to stand out and don't copy someone else's style or work.

Useful Sources

Art schools. If you're applying for an art major, you can find a mentor to help you create a portfolio that meets all the university's requirements.

Online platforms. For example, check out Coursera or the Student Art Guide with their How to Make a Portfolio section.

StudyFree. You can contact our managers who will advise you on making a good portfolio.

StudyFree mentor Ekaterina Buryakova, currently studying for her master's degree in Fine Art, University of Ulster, Belfast

When I was applying for my master's program, I was supposed to submit any work that showed what kind of an artist I am.

My portfolio included drawings, illustrations, and paintings. The second stage was an interview where they asked me how I wanted to develop as an artist and what areas I would like to work in.

From my experience, you need to demonstrate different skills for Foundations, such as drawing in different materials (pencil, ink, charcoal), and any creative work, like collages, videos, performance art, etc. In most cases, you will find the requirements on the university website. Just follow the instructions and everything will be fine.

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