Art Portfolio Tips

Do you have a son or daughter applying to an art program that requires a portfolio? While I was away at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference I found the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design table which had some pretty amazing resources. Check out their portfolio tips fro prospective undergraduates below and visit their website for more resources at

Portfolio Tips For Prospective Undergraduates

One of the most important materials you will submit with your college application to an art & design school is the portfolio. Although there are many differences in the admissions requirements across the 42 AICAD schools, all require a portfolio for admission, and all view a strong portfolio as fundamental criteria for admission.

While it is true that each of the AICAD schools is looking for something different within the portfolio (and you should be sure to familiarize yourself with the admissions requirements of the schools you are applying to), there are some portfolio guidelines that are universal.

  • When in doubt, work from life. Set up a still life, draw your friends and family, draw the view outside of your bedroom window – the possibilities are endless.
  • Submit your favorite pieces, as they are likely your strongest pieces.
  • Do not include old work in the portfolio. Always select pieces that you have done within the last two years.
  • Your portfolio is only as good as your worst piece. Edit wisely.
  • Stay away from drawing/painting portraits of celebrities and other pop culture figures. This work always appears juvenile and unoriginal to admissions counselors who are looking for unique and creative candidates.
  • Pay attention to your composition. Are your pieces utilizing the space? If you are submitting several self-portraits with your face in center frame, you may want to vary your position and attempt a more dynamic composition.
  • Present your work in the best possible way. Even the best pieces will fail to impress if you are using poor lighting and an unsteady hand when photographing your work.
  • Get feedback on your portfolio well before college applications are due. Visit a National Portfolio Day, submit your work to the AICAD SlideRoom site and get feedback from your art instructors.


Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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