All colleges strive to have vibrant and diverse student communities and a thriving student-led art scene that serves as an essential incubator for creativity, risk-taking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication–or in short, all the things you would expect from a top-tier college.
According to June Vail, professor of dance and the founder of Bowdoin’s dance program, “the enterprise of a liberal arts education is…to educate students to be creative and flexible, to harness their energy differently.”
Given this, it’s no surprise that admissions offices look for applicants that will add distinctive and meaningful ways to the campus arts community, both in and out of the classroom. So, if you are a student who is gearing up to impress colleges this fall, and you wonder how to best convey your talents and accomplishments in the arts to the colleges on your list, then read on!
SLIDEROOM – YOUR ARTS PORTAL
Do you have music recordings, art samples, film samples, or perhaps you are into dance, and you have some dance videos, or whatever your talent is, you can submit evidence of your achievement in the arts through SlideRoom. SlideRoom is an online platform that’s integrated within the Common Application and facilitates the submission of digital files to admissions offices. Keep in mind that there is a fee ($10-15) to use this service. Also, since there isn’t a “standard” set of requirements for portfolio submission, each school will have its guidelines, so it’s essential to check them before and during the process of putting together a college art portfolio.
As an applicant, you’ll only need to create one SlideRoom account, which will be more than enough to access all the colleges on your list. For complete instructions on setting up your SlideRoom account, click here.
Before outlining some elements of the portfolio, it is essential to mention that film majors require a very involved and intense portfolio preparation. Therefore, the film major portfolio is not discussed in this article as it is a thousand or more words article-worthy supplement in itself.
If I am not planning to study art, should I still submit an art supplement?
As a passionate artist, you’ve dedicated lots of time to your creative pursuits and have much to show for it. However, you’ve decided to apply to a major in the sciences (rather than a conservatory or liberal arts program), and now you aren’t sure if you should submit an arts supplement. A good rule of thumb is if you have been a student who has spent most of middle and high school attending art classes and especially if you have some recognition in the area of art, to submit that as a part of your application. In any case, a portfolio will make sense as it will be a natural addition to your application, revealing your personality and talents.
Needless to say, if you have found art to be something you are serious about, or art is something more than just a dabble for you, but rather the core of your undergraduate education, then an art portfolio is a must. As you begin gathering your work, assess if you have outside validation of your art talent: all-state honors, prestigious audition-based arts programs, work presented at festivals, etc.? Particularly in some arts disciplines – classical music and dance, in particular – most students will start formally training at a young age and will have become quite proficient by high school. In other disciplines, students may not begin formal study until middle or even high school. This all depends on what you end up choosing in the field of art.
WHO REVIEWS SUPPLEMENTS?
The task of reviewing arts supplements usually rests with the college’s arts faculty – individuals with deep subject expertise in their chosen arts discipline. Keep in mind that these faculties most likely have a pretty high bar – in terms of both your demonstrable arts talent and your potential to be a high-impact member of their campus arts community.
HOW WILL AN ARTS SUPPLEMENT IMPACT MY ADMISSIONS APPLICATION?
No doubt about it, a stellar arts portfolio–as validated by college faculty – will be a differentiator and strengthen your candidacy at top colleges – but typically won’t be enough to overcome mediocre grades and scores. Be aware that the converse may also be true. A modest arts supplement garners an unenthusiastic review from a faculty member and may dampen the admissions office’s enthusiasm for your candidacy. So before preparing a submission, think carefully about if you have the chops to stand out to a very discerning evaluator.
WHAT SHOULD I SUBMIT AS MY ARTS SUPPLEMENT?
Your first job is to visit the websites of all colleges on your list and read the specific instructions on what the colleges expect you to submit. Pay close attention to the instructions, as failure to do so will mean that your hard work won’t be reviewed. Stanford’s music department, for instance, provides excellent guidance on the kind of work that their faculty will review.
SOME TRIED-AND-TRUE ADVICE AS YOU PREPARE YOUR ARTS SUPPLEMENT
Music: Since the art portfolio is a way for students to highlight their most notable talents and accomplishments, each student can submit only one portfolio. Inside that portfolio, music majors/minors, for example, can add 2-3 contrasting pieces for less than a total of ten minutes.
The idea is to focus on a single category and narrow down one specific area in that category. Repertoire requirements include you, the student, submitting your absolute best pieces to showcase your skills and ability. Vocalists should submit a total of 2 pieces, one in English and one more in another language. Whereas composers have no set time limit and should submit 2-3 scores of contrasting styles, with realizations. Have a concise and clear resume that allows the evaluators to see everything in an organized format. Your resume should include current and previous instructors, notable soloist opportunities, employment related to music, awards and honors, and select repertoire lists. Make sure to know your music or your lines cold. Nothing detracts from an audition more than a student who doesn’t know their music or their lines. Presenting pieces that you know well or by heart helps showcase your musicianship or ability to convey character and emotion come through loud and clear. Wherever possible, always opt for video rather than audio recordings– this will help you showcase emotion and feeling. First impressions play a significant factor. Dress appropriately for the work you are presenting. Make sure to project your voice and speak clearly when introducing yourself and your work. Thinking of using auto-tune? Scratch that thought out right away; show your raw talents.
Art: The art portfolio is not meant only for majoring or minoring in an art-related subject but to showcase your overall talent, personality, abilities.
The quality of your digital media will make a significant difference. Recording your violin solo with a microphone that dampens your highest resonance will mask your hard work. A blurry, grainy video shot by your mom from the back of the auditorium will blur your beautiful lines and pointed toes. There is no need to invest in professional-grade equipment; make an effort to do some test recordings and figure out how to best position your recording device before you get started. Be as picky as you can. Round up your very best samples rather than uploading all your prints, paintings, photographs, or films. Yale, for instance, asks that you only submit between 5 and 8 pieces (and at least one should be a drawing). Brown notes that if photographs are included, they are expected to go beyond iPhone snapshots of vacations.
As mentioned earlier, prepare an arts-specific resume. With limited space on the Common App to delineate the breadth of your artwork, you can upload an arts-specific resume through SlideRoom that will be seen by the faculty evaluating your work.
Use this opportunity to describe your art education, outside validation, and achievements you’ve received/earned. Along with a resume, submit an art reference with your supplement. Be sure to ask someone who knows your work well and speak to your potential for further artistic development as a member of a college arts community. Here is a checklist to be guided by when compiling your art portfolio:
- Photographs of your work should be high-resolution, properly cropped (the environment in which the photo was taken is not visible), color should be accurate to real-life, and with no detectable digital manipulation. All in all, your photograph should look crisp and clean.
- If it makes sense or will benefit any particular piece, include both full-scale photos and close-ups.
- Some (again, read the specific instructions as they will vary from school to school) schools will ask you to include pages from your sketchbook. The purpose of that is to give the viewers insight into your brainstorming process, kind of like interviewers understanding you better by asking about your work ethics. Include only 1-2 of those.
- Other than sketches, every other piece should be finished. No fingerprints should be visible, and make sure there aren’t any torn or folded edges. It should be the final product-like the final draft of an essay you’d submit for grading. More importantly, the drawing is carried out to the edge of the paper (no gaps or white backgrounds, unless intentional).
- If your work is older than 2-3 years, don’t include it in your portfolio. It is no longer relevant to your style and probably no longer accurately represents you as an artist. The reviewers want to know what you are doing now, preferably work created within the year of the application.
- Drawings that were very obviously class assignments are not typically original or enlightening. Be extra critical about including these. Another figure drawing of a man sitting on a chair? Schools have seen it. Try to make your submission pieces original and unique to yourself; this way, the evaluators will see something fresh and new, allowing you to stand out from the others.
- Your work shouldn’t copy other work (no anime, cartoons, celebrity portraits, etc.). Think original!
- Need some inspiration? Attempt a monthly Art Dare, submit your work, and compete for a chance to win prizes. Or browse through this list of other challenges for printmakers, writers, and artists worldwide!
Other types of portfolios
Although typically associated with the fine arts, the use of portfolios in other disciplines is gaining popularity. One understated use for digital portfolios is:
Several schools offer a portfolio for “makers, creators, inventors, entrepreneurs of the spirit” to showcase their work along during the college admissions process. Early supporters of STEM portfolios include MIT (Maker Portfolio) and Carnegie Mellon (Maker Projects).
A Final Thought
Remember, you are not required to submit a supplement. Academic and co-curricular arts opportunities will be available to you. At VoicED https://voiced.academy, you can get complete guidance with your art supplement and the entire college admissions process. Starting early and working with one of our consultants will dramatically help in increasing the chances of you discovering a talent you never even knew you had as you embark on this next phase of your education!