College art portfolios: Student artists express their passions in the college admissions process

Oliver Konopko, Staff Writer

Most college applications include an essay, transcript, and teacher recommendations, but for many artists at the school, college applications include an additional step: an art portfolio. College art portfolios, containing visual, performance, or studio artwork, give students a unique opportunity to showcase their artistic interests, talents, and personality to colleges, Ross Petras (12) said.

These profiles can take many forms and vary based on students’ specific artistic interests, Executive Director of College Counseling (CoCo) Canh Oxelson said. Musicians can submit a video of them playing instruments or singing, and visual artists can submit scans of their pieces, he said.

Sometimes, the requirements for the portfolio change based on the college the student applies to, Oxelson said. For example, some colleges ask for a three-minute audio recording of a singer, while others want a seven-minute video, he said. “[At CoCo], we need to make sure that students are researching the requirements for each school, because they all differ, just like they do for essays.”

An art portfolio is a good way to show more of yourself and your interests to a college admission officer, Molly Goldsmith (11) said. Goldsmith plans on submitting a portfolio of her singing in English and other languages to demonstrate the intersection of two of her largest interests: song and foreign language.

Students are advised to start their portfolios in the spring of their Junior year to avoid rushing, Oxelson said. “We want students to really plan, if not execute, their portfolios early so there is no last minute rushing.”

Since art is such a significant part of many students’ lives, it only makes sense to submit a profile, Raghav Poddar (11) said. Poddar, who paints and draws, plans to submit a portfolio of his various art pieces, he said. Some art pieces Poddar will include were made after starting his portfolio, while others he made in advance, he said. 

While visual artists submit portfolios, actors like Petras fly to auditions around the country for their application, Petras said. Despite the travel, he enjoyed the opportunity to perform in front of the people who would later admit him to college, he said. “It’s hard, really hard, to make something super individualized in the college process, and I felt that auditioning [was] super individualized.”

For the artists who do not get individualized auditions, they still need to bring their personality to life through their profiles, Goldsmith said. Since portfolios are limited by how many images can be included or how long a video can be, students need to balance choosing pieces that show their creativity and skill with pieces that display their personality, she said. “I want to help [admissions officers] get to know me better as a person,” she said. 

When crafting portfolios, students must create a central theme that connects the artwork, Poddar said. Poddar’s theme came to him naturally when he noticed that all of his artworks had mentions of his struggle with perfectionism. Although at first, Poddar did not intentionally make art pieces centered around his theme, he now purposefully uses more expressionistic brush strokes to bring the theme to life, rather than focusing on the rigid brush strokes he was originally taught to use, he said.

While college counselors can ask guiding questions to help students with their portfolios, they recommend students work with their art teachers to get more specific advice, Oxelson said.

Aimee Yang (12), a painter and drawer, worked with Art teacher Brian Lee to compile her portfolio, she said. Lee has experience assembling portfolios and helped Yang decide what pieces to include and what to write in the description, she said.

Compared to other parts of a college application, putting together the art portfolio is less stressful, Yang said. The most difficult part of putting together my portfolio was choosing what images to include and writing descriptions for the images, but in general, the portfolio felt more supplementary, she said.

Although CoCo recommends students try to balance choosing art pieces that they love and pieces that best show their capabilities, students tend to choose more of the former, Oxelson said. By choosing pieces they love and explaining why they love them, students have the opportunity to communicate something personal about themselves to an evaluator, he said.

Sophia Paley (11), a tap dancer, plans on choosing pieces that resonate with her because she wants to show her personality, she said. “I want to showcase the work I put into dance,” she said. “I do other extracurriculars, but I want to show off my hard work in this.”

Even students who do not plan on studying art in college can submit a portfolio if they feel that art was central to their school experience, Oxelson said. Art is one of the few things that, regardless of the college process, many students participate in and love, so it makes sense to highlight it in an application, he said.