Using the Arts to Amplify Your College Application

Answers to all of your arts questions when applying to colleges.

Using the Arts to Amplify Your College Application

Did you know that colleges are interested in your creative and artistic pursuits, even if you don’t plan to major in the arts? If the arts have been a major part of your academic or extracurricular life, you might want to showcase that in your application via a portfolio or arts supplement. Curious about how to leverage your artistic talents as a part of your applications to colleges? Read on for our top portfolio-related FAQs.

I’ve been hearing about creative portfolios. I’m into the arts. Should I think about submitting one?

There are two major categories of students who should be preparing to submit creative portfolios:

  • Students applying for Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs who are seeking a pre-professional arts education. These programs will require students who intend to major in an artform to submit examples of their skills, aesthetic, and talents, and these portfolios are typically the most important part of a student’s application.
  • Students who have a special talent in the arts who are applying to BA programs (of any major) at schools that accept arts supplements. Many top-tier BA programs (especially at liberal arts colleges) will allow students to include a portfolio with their applications to showcase their talents.

Can art really help me get into a school?

Sometimes, yes, it really can. Keep in mind that colleges are looking to build a diverse class and are eager to understand your talents. Sharing your artwork can help you stand out, and if you indicate your eagerness to participate in the artform on campus, you are showing exactly how you’d fit into and engage in the college’s community. That can be a very valuable piece of your application.

But wait, I like art but I don’t want to study it in college.

That’s okay. You could be applying as a neuroscience major or engineer but still submit, for example your visual art portfolio (assuming your college of choice accepts them as part of your application). This will add to your story and help admissions officers get to know you in a new way. 

Aren’t portfolios just a thing for visual artists?

No! Portfolios are for artists and makers across disciplines: music, dance, theatre (on- and off-stage), film, creative writing, journalism, video game design, graphic design, fashion, music business & producing, product & industrial design, even sometimes engineering and robotics.

Ok, you’ve sold me. I want to submit a portfolio. But who actually reviews it?

It depends. BFA programs often have arts-specific admissions offices, and your materials are reviewed by professors and arts admissions officers, who then make recommendations to the overall university admissions office. For BA applicants (both prospective arts majors and other prospective majors), sometimes these portfolios are reviewed by professors who then make recommendations to the admissions office; sometimes the portfolios are simply reviewed by admissions officers. 

And what exactly would I be submitting?

The number of pieces and formats will vary by discipline and major. In general, visual artists/designers will want to have 10-20 pieces that demonstrate depth and breadth, and performing artists will want to submit 3-6 pieces and/or a highlight reel. Some performance programs also require submission of a taped prescreen. Whatever your discipline, it’s a good idea to take a look at the portfolio / arts supplement requirements of your colleges of interest well in advance of deadlines so that you have time to ensure you have the right number of pieces, monologues from the right time period, etc. 

When you choose your pieces, keep in mind that colleges and arts admissions officers are interested in more than just your technical skills — they’re looking for your creativity, style, point of view, and what making artwork means to you. So when choosing materials to include in your portfolio, you want to include pieces that will highlight that. 

Within a college’s arts supplement submission platform, you might also have opportunities to submit an arts resume that articulates your big projects and experiences, a letter of recommendation from an arts teacher, and / or an artist statement that gives insight into how and why you do what you do.

All of this sounds great, but what if a school doesn’t have a place for an arts supplement, or I’m an artist in a discipline other than the ones they accept?

Some schools will offer students an opportunity to include a weblink in their application — this is another great way to showcase your creative talents and entrepreneurial pursuits. 

You can create a thoughtfully curated website, YouTube page, Instagram handle, etc., and include that. 

Great. So what should I be working on now to make myself stand out when it’s time to apply?

Use spring and summer to keep building your portfolio materials. This is something you can be working on now, even amid COVID restrictions. If you’re looking for formal instruction, some summer arts programs have transitioned very successfully to online formats, including RISD, Interlochen, and Putney. 

Now is also a great time to get creative, and keep developing your interests, skills, and techniques in more informal ways. Whatever you do, just keep creating! And if you’d like to learn more about how your artistic talent might be leveraged in the admissions process, or are seeking guidance on arts admissions strategy or portfolio support, our arts admissions team can help. Contact us for more information and check out our recent webinar on using the arts in your college application. 

Becky McGlensey