How to Create a Portfolio for College Admissions

Application Strategies
September 17, 2021
Once you know how to create a portfolio for college admissions, you can set yourself apart from other applicants and catch the attention of admissions officers at your dream school. But a portfolio is just one aspect of college admissions.

College admissions officers look at much more than your grades these days. They want students who will be valuable, well-rounded members of their college's community. To catch the attention of college admissions teams, you need to show off your extracurricular activities in a clear and appealing way that emphasizes your talent and hard work. One of the best ways to do that is with a portfolio. If you're wondering how to create a portfolio for college admissions, this guide will take you through the process.

What is a College Admissions Portfolio

The kind of portfolio we're talking about is simply a way to display the extracurricular work you've done in the years leading up to college. This is different from a resume, which is a document that lists your grades and achievements. A portfolio is sort of like an artistic statement. It shows admissions teams who you are in a way that doesn't always translate into essays or test scores.

Some examples of a portfolio could be a selection of photographs, paintings, or computer graphics you've designed; a collection of short stories, essays, or news articles you've written; recordings of musical performances; or videos of events you organized. Portfolios don't have to be limited to artistic pursuits -- you can create a portfolio for college admissions that shows off your volunteer work, your travel experiences, or work experience. 

Portfolio Formats

There are two main ways to build a college admissions portfolio: by creating a document, such as a pdf, that displays your work, or by creating a website that you can link to. Each format has pros and cons.

PDF. The benefit of the pdf format is that it's easy for anyone to look at, and it organizes your work in a clear, simple way. It can be attached to emails or uploaded along with other application documents. You have a lot of control over the layout and formatting, so if your experience includes design and desktop publishing, you can create a beautiful, eye-catching document for admissions officers to look at. 

The biggest drawback to the pdf is that it's not ideal for multi-media projects such as videos, audio files, or 3D designs. 

Website. There are plenty of websites that allow users to create portfolios, blogs, or art displays relatively easily. The specific site you use doesn't matter, as long as it suits the kind of art or project you want to show off and your ability to design with it. You can get as creative as you want with an online portfolio, including video, text, photos, and other art. Plus, building your portfolio online shows admissions officers that you're comfortable using technology. 

The drawback with a website portfolio is that it can be more complicated than creating a simple pdf. You also have less control over the appearance of your work, since it may display differently for people using different types of devices or browsers.

What to Put in a Portfolio

You should build your portfolio throughout high school. Even if projects you work on or art you create as a freshman aren't as good as what you create your senior year, the dedication and hard work of improving can be impressive to admissions officers. Remember that you're telling the college admissions team a story about who you are, but more importantly, who you can become in the next four years. You obviously want to show off your best work, but a progression that shows how much you've improved is a good way to grab their attention as well.

Keep your portfolio concise. If you've been producing entire albums of electronic music during high school, don't include every track. A selection of your four best is sufficient. There's no exact number, because it depends on the nature of the work and how long it takes admissions officers to experience it. You can include up to a dozen photographs or other visual art work, but only three or four video pieces or short stories, for example. 

Other Things to Include

Aside from the actual projects themselves, you should add some supplemental information. Write a cover letter or main page that briefly explains what kind of projects you've created, how they're connected, what inspired you create them, or any other interesting facts about them. Individual pieces might also have short explanations included with them.

If your work has won any awards, been published, or received some other notable type of recognition, you can include a list of achievements, or mention them with the specific projects that won them.

Don't be afraid to be creative with the layout or design of your portfolio. It's generally good advice to keep a resume clear and simple, but a portfolio is your chance to show off your artistic skills. The best portfolios are attention grabbing, beautiful, and distinctive.

Things to Avoid

Don't use a basic template for your portfolio. Keep in mind that the admissions team will be seeing hundreds of portfolios. They'll recognize a template they've seen 50 times, and it won't help you stand out. It's more work, but creating your own design, or changing a template so much that it's no longer recognizable, will help you build a portfolio for college admissions that looks truly unique.

Don't use a website that requires people to get an account just to look at your portfolio. Admissions officers probably won't bother. Make sure the site is easy to use and lets anyone view your work just by clicking on the link.

Don't let spelling mistakes or typos creep in. You're probably used to proofreading your college essays to make sure there isn't a single mistake. The same rigor applies to your portfolio. Yes, this is where you can be creative, but you also have to show that you're diligent. 

Putting together a college admissions portfolio can be a lot of work, but software and online tools give you plenty of freedom to design something that truly showcases your abilities and accomplishments. Once you know how to create a portfolio for college admissions, you can set yourself apart from other applicants and catch the attention of admissions officers at your dream school. But a portfolio is just one aspect of college admissions. WeAdmit college counselors can guide you through the other parts of the often complicated application process, including testing, essays, and more. Sign up for a free counseling session and learn how a WeAdmit personalized college coaching team can put you on the path to your perfect fit college.



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