START HERE for Your Art School Portfolio

Table of contents

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What do I need to know first?

Preparing an art school portfolio for college admission is not a casual undertaking, it’s very common for high school students to underestimate how much time and labor is involved. 

Creating the artworks for an art school portfolio is not simply the amount of time it would take to physically produce the precise number of artworks.

Deepti Menon

The process of creating an art school portfolio is an enormous learning experience that is ongoing throughout the entire process.

Although preparing an art school portfolio can often times feel overwhelming and stressful for many high school students, the learning and experience you will get making the artworks is actually one of the best parts.

A portfolio is a learning process

You’re going to develop your skills and artistic thinking process tremendously by the act of producing the artworks for your portfolio.

If you invest the effort, work really hard, and are open to trying out pretty much anything, you’ll reap many rewards.

For most students it takes several months, even up to a year to create a body of work that is rigorous enough for the competitive art school and college admissions process.

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Artist Books: Lotus & Meandering Folds

A portfolio takes a village!

On top of the actual hours that are required to simply produce the artwork, creating an art school portfolio requires guidance trusted professionals, practice in your skills, and access to accurate information.

It’s very helpful to have a supportive peer group who can help you stay on track and motivated in this entire process.

Join our 2025 Art School Portfolio Group!

Our Art School Portfolio Group provides ongoing support and feedback from our staff of professional artists for students applying or transferring to a BFA, MFA, or post-baccalaureate program.

Group class critique Lauryn

To participate, you’ll need to 1) join our Discord server and 2) pay a one time fee, or pledge monthly on our Patreon.

Creating a portfolio should be slow

You won’t be able to wake up one day, decide to apply to art school, and just whip up a portfolio in a few weeks, all by yourself.  You have to get guidance, from any number of areas.

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Drypoint: Intaglio Printmaking

So few few high school students have easy access to rigorous art programs and professional artists with expertise in portfolio preparation. 

Unfortunately for this reason, you’ll have to be prepared to take tons of self-initiative on your own to reach out and get the help you’ll need.

This has nothing to do with your abilities, experience or skill set, it’s simply what has to happen.

Would an athlete who wants to play college football decide to not bother getting a coach?  Let us know when you hear about an NFL player who was entirely self taught.

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Unfortunately, it’s extremely common for high school art students to do this process completely on their own, which is unfair! 

Different school, different portfolio

Every school is going to have their own unique set of requirements, so be sure that you carefully each school’s guidelines first, especially before you get started preparing your portfolio.

We recommend re-reading the guidelines multiple times as you’re working on your portfolio to be certain at every stage that you are following their precise requirements.

It can be an awful lot of information to keep track of, keep all of that information organized so you don’t get confused. One student told us she had Google spreadsheets for the entire process!

Specific portfolio requirements

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Gelli Plates & Stencils

The level of specificity in terms of requirements for each art school can vary tremendously. 

Some art schools are quite open ended in terms of what they are looking for in a portfolio, while others can be incredibly specific.

For example, CalArts has a sketchbook requirement, while the Animation program at Sheridan College has requirements that state exactly what media to use, what subject matter down to the last detail.

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Application prompts

Several art schools and college will provide a prompt that students will need to respond to, specifically for their application on top of the portfolio.

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Soft Pastel Tutorial: Female Portrait

Keep in mind that many schools that provide a prompt frequently change the prompts every year, so make sure that you are referring to the correct year’s prompt.

You’ll need to set aside time to work on these specific assignments in addition to creating the entire portfolio.

Deepti Menon

Make portfolio variations

For this reason, it’s highly likely that if you are applying to multiple art schools that you’ll have to create several different versions of your portfolios depending on what the schools require.

There might be a “core” of artworks that can applied to every school, but you’ll need to make changes to adjust to each school’s requirements.

Don’t make the assumption that for each school, you’ll be able to use the same 15 artworks!