Worst MFA Portfolio Mistakes

Don’t waste your time with these mistakes most MFA applicants make in their portfolios!

35 min. video

Getting the right information for your MFA is important so you aren’t headed in the wrong direction. There is unfortunately a ton of misinformation online about preparing an MFA portfolio, this video provides trusted, accurate information.

Discussion with Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Lauryn Welch.

Video Walkthrough

  • Don’t include any artwork whose sole purpose is to practice a specific skill, like anatomy sketches and linear perspective practice drawings.
  • MFA programs are not concerned with your technical skills.
  • Technical skills are not important to demonstrate in your MFA portfolio, and it won’t be emphasized in the programs either.
  • Any artwork that is created from a prompt that someone else designed, class assignments, etc. shouldn’t go into your portfolio
  • Your MFA portfolio is essentially you writing your own prompts, it all needs to come from you, not an assignment someone else gave you.
  • Your MFA portfolio shouldn’t look like a patchwork quilt of random, one off artworks that have nothing to do with each other.
  • You don’t need your portfolio to be super cohesive and focused on one theme, but there should be continuity in terms of the concepts behind your work.
  • Variety of media is fine in an MFA portfolio, as long as there is an underlying cohesion to the work.
  • Poor photos of your artwork will make or break your application.
  • Some schools require the edge of the canvas to be in the portfolio.
  • For that reason, it’s best practice to always photograph with the edge of the canvas so you don’t have to reshoot later.
  • Don’t wait until your portfolio is 100% finished to start your artist statement.
  • Often getting started with the artist statement as you develop your portfolio is important because it can expose the gaps in your thinking.
  • Avoid long text descriptions when you upload your portfolio, no one has time to read them!
  • Many schools require that half of the portfolio has been made in the past year .
  • In general, artwork that is older than 2 years is too old for your portfolio.
  • Don’t use the exact same portfolio for every school.
  • Every school has a certain culture to it, and you want your portfolio to align with that.
  • Broad, vague, generic concepts in your artwork will cause your pieces to skim the surface of these topics and come across as watered down.
  • Narrow down your concepts to be as specific as possible and do research that is in depth. (reading a few articles online won’t cut it)

Prof Lieu’s Tips

Clara cartoon

When I agree to write a letter of recommendation, I ask the student to send me a school list + deadlines. (once you write a letter, it’s not time consuming to upload it to another school)

Lauryn banner

One of the important things about letters is to make it as easy for your recommender as possible.

It drove me nuts when students would keep changing their school lists, so just be conscious of their time and do as much as you can for them.

Services Discord gif

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.