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Top tips to improve your art school portfolio and application

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Applying to art school is a huge decision, and preparing your portfolio is key to proving your potential as a future student. Colleen Marino, VCUarts admissions counselor, offered Art-N-Fly some advice on how to nail an art school portfolio. If you’re getting ready to apply to VCUarts, check out these five tips you can use to make your application stand out.


1. Show what you can do.

To make sure you have a strong portfolio, you need to show that you know your fundamentals and possess well-practiced skills. Instead of drawing from photos, include pieces that show off your ability to draw from life. Think more deliberately about why you’ve selected charcoal, ink, clay or any other material.

“[When] drawing from observation,” Marino told Art-N-Fly, “the artist is in control of the composition. Therefore, no two images drawn in the same spot will ever be represented in the same way. A photograph does not afford the artist this same creative freedom or exploration.”

2. Let your portfolio tell your story.

VCUarts asks for 12 to 16 works of art that you have created within the past two years that show your promise in visual art and design. This is your chance to exhibit the work that defines who you are as an artist and individual, your style, and what subjects interest you. Show us your best work, who you are as a artist, and the various skills that you have.

“[Creating] a stand-out portfolio is about curating a personal narrative,” Marino said in Art-N-Fly. “A strong portfolio will tell a committee who the student is and what their interests are through their chosen mediums, creative concepts, exploration and development of both materials and technical skills.”

Challenge yourself to do something new, and submit the work that makes you proud.

3. Listen to your peers.

Ask your teachers, friends and local artists in your community to look over your portfolio and give honest opinions. Make use of their constructive criticism.

That also goes for college itself: take advantage of opportunities to hear directly from current students about their experiences in art school.

You can get feedback on your portfolio before you apply by attending an Open House, scheduling an appointment with an admissions counselor, or joining us for a virtual event.

4. Be prepared and stay connected.

Along with your portfolio, the other components of your application need just as much care and attention. Don’t wait until the last minute to finish everything!

“Make sure to ask your reference at least a month in advance to write a letter of recommendation,” Marino said. “Keep in mind that you may not be the only student asking this individual for a letter of recommendation, and that writing a letter of recommendation can be time consuming.”

After submitting your application, make sure to check your email regularly. Admissions counselors will email the address on your application to communicate about missing application materials, upcoming deadlines and next steps.

5. Meet the application deadlines.

The VCUarts first-year deadline for submitting the Common Application is January 15.

The portfolio deadline has been extended to February 1. VCUarts understands that due to COVID-19, students may not have had access to art classes; studios; dance, music, theatre, and film productions and design; and other art making opportunities. We are seeking students who show a high potential for success once enrolled in an arts program, and during the application review process, we will take into consideration the nationwide lack of arts access over the past year.

Students who apply by the deadline will be considered for a variety of awards, including academic merit scholarships and talent scholarships.

Marino notes, “VCUarts continues to review applications on a rolling basis, but individuals who submit their applications by the deadline will be given priority.”

Visit the VCUarts Admissions page to make sure you’re up-to-date on when all of your materials are due. Stay on top of everything, and you’ll have much less to worry about.