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What exactly is a portfolio? It’s simply a collection of your best pieces of artwork that you submit for review when you apply to an art program (you can think of it like an audition, which is what you’d have to do for other specialized schools, such as music school, dance school, or theater colleges).

Selections for your portfolio should express your interest and aptitude for a serious education in the arts. A well-developed portfolio can help you gain acceptance into a prestigious art school and increase your chances of winning scholarships in national competitions.

The pieces you select should illustrate diversity in technique and variety in subject matter. You may display work in any medium (oils, photography, watercolors, pastels, etc.) and in either black-and-white or color. Your work can include classroom assignments, independent projects, and pieces from your sketchbook.

Specialized art colleges usually request that you submit an average of 10 pieces of art, but quality can be more important than quantity. The admission office staff will review your artwork and transcripts to assess your skill and potential for success. Usually, you’ll present your portfolio in person, but some schools will allow you to mail slides if distance is an issue. Hard work is the rule of thumb here since there is no such thing as a “perfect portfolio,” nor is there any specific style or direction to achieve one.

Tips for pulling your art school portfolio together

Here is some advice about how to prepare your art portfolio:

  • Make your portfolio as clean and organized as possible.
  • Protect your work, but make sure the package you select is easy to handle and does not interfere with the viewing of the artwork.
  • Drawings that have been rolled up are difficult for the jurors to handle and view. You may shrink-wrap the pieces, but it is not required.
  • Avoid loose sheets of paper between pieces.
  • If you choose to mount or mat your work (not required), use only neutral gray tones, black, or white.
  • Never include framed pieces or those with smudges.
  • A slide portfolio should be presented in a standard 8 x 11 plastic slide sleeve, which can be purchased at any photo or camera supply store.
  • Be sure paintings are completely dry before you place them in your portfolio.
  • Label each piece with your name, address, and high school.


Always check the requirements at the school or schools to which you are applying, as some will ask for specific types of work. This is especially true if you are applying to a program in a certain medium.

Just as the audition is an important part of the admissions process for a performing arts school or music school, the portfolio is a key part of college admissions for art programs or schools.