Advice for Visual Arts and Performing Arts Students

Visual Arts (Studio Art, Architecture, Fashion and Design)

  • As a visual artist, when should I start working on my portfolio?
    • From the very start of high school, you should be collecting pieces that you are particularly proud of and think you might want to showcase in the future. These pieces can be both from in and outside of school, and you will likely want to have a wide range of works to choose from. If you are able to take an AP art class, this can be a really good opportunity to build up your portfolio and receive feedback.
  • What do I need to include in my portfolio?
    • Portfolio requirements among different schools can vary significantly. Once you have begun working on a college list, you should be sure to check out the portfolio requirements specific to each school. Some schools will require you to submit essay descriptions with each piece of work you submit. See below to view a list of portfolio requirements from a handful of art colleges.
  • How do I submit my portfolio?
    • You can submit your portfolio to the Additional Information section of the Common Application. Some colleges on The Common Application will also have a function called Slide Room where you can upload your portfolio.
  • What can I be doing outside of school to prepare for college as a visual arts student?
    • Consider attending a summer program on a college campus, take classes at a local museum, volunteer to teach art in an after school or summer program, or in art therapy. Students interested in photography could volunteer at a local newspaper; students interested in architecture may be able to intern at a local architectural firm.
  • What is a portfolio day?
    • National Portfolio Days are offered throughout the country at different times of the year. Students must register online to attend. Portfolio Day is an opportunity for students to meet university representatives, showcase their work, and receive helpful feedback. Students will need to register with the  particular art programs they are interested in meeting with. These events may require travel although some colleges may allow students to submit their work electronically. In some cases students may be accepted on the basis of their portfolio although final decisions always come from the admissions office. Overall, these events are a tremendous opportunity for students to meet with a wide variety of schools in just one weekend.

Click here to register for Portfolio Days

  • Do I need any additional recommendations?
    • While this can vary from school to school, many will require a specific recommendation from a visual art teacher in addition to the traditional academic recommendations. 
  • Some art schools have supplemental essays or portfolio requirements. See the following examples.
    • Example 1: Pratt Institute (2020-2021 Application Requirements)

Some art schools have supplemental essays or portfolio requirements. See the following examples (2020 – 2021 Application Requirements)

  • Example 1: Pratt Institute
  • Portfolio
    • A visual or writing portfolio is required for all majors but construction management. Portfolios must be submitted at (*Fashion and Design majors must complete Visual Portfolio but not Writing)
  • Visual Portfolio 
    • Your visual portfolio should consist of 12-20 (including observational drawings (see below) pieces of your best and most recent work. It should consist of a variety of media and approaches. It can include assignment-based projects, self-directed work and sketchbook work, which often give us information on the applicant’s creative process.  The portfolio does not need to be major-specific and can include any type of work including paintings, drawings, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, etc.  Please do not include work that copies photographs, uses the grid system or directly replicates any other artist’s work (including replicating anime drawings, cartoons, or video game character designs).  In addition to the above, students must submit three to five drawings from observation (part of the 12-20 pieces). Examples of observational work include landscape, still-life, self-portrait, figure drawings, and interior spaces. Please do not submit drawings from imagination or copied from photographs for the observational work. This is fine, however, for pieces other than observational work.
  • Example 2: Rhode Island School of Design
    • Portfolio
      • Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.
      • Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.
      • We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.
      • While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.
      • Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.
  • The Assignment
    • Part I: Visual Response – Identify something that is in need of repair. Use any material or approach to fix it. What you choose to fix can be anything: from a tangible object to an intangible system. You can choose something objectively broken, or something you personally believe is in need of repair. This could be a past art piece, a social or ecological issue, a historical era, technology, etc.Your process is entirely up to you, but your fix should involve intentional modifications that change the original state for the better. It can exist in the realm of aesthetics, function, structure, or in any other capacity.

Theatre Art/Performing Artists

  • As a theatre arts student, what does the audition process look like?
    • Each college has its own requirements. Students must read carefully the section of the college website for prospective theatre majors.
    • Requirements are different for performance majors versus theatre technology/ stage management majors.
    • Liberal arts colleges that offer a theatre performance major may not require an audition.
  • Can I submit a video in place of attending an audition in person?
    • This will depend on the college. Due to Covid more colleges are allowing students to send a tape of their performance or complete the audition via Zoom.
    • Some colleges will allow students to submit a video via Slideroom on the Common Application.
    • Musical theatre applicants should be prepared to show evidence of strength in both acting and voice. 
  • How can I prepare to be a strong theatre arts applicant?
    • A student should audition and act in as many school productions as possible.
    • Try to learn ‘back of the house’ skills like tech, lighting, and props to show your interest in all things pertaining to theatre.
    • As early as possible begin to compile a theatre resume that lists all the productions you have been in including the roles you played.
    • Be mindful of being a team player, accepting with grace the role you have regardless of whether it is a starring role. Ensemble parts are a valuable part of theatre training. 
  • What should I be doing outside of school to prepare for college as a theatre arts student?
    • Attend a theatre arts summer camp.
    • Take theatre classes on a college campus during the summer.
    • Look for opportunities to volunteer at an under resourced elementary school to introduce them to theatre experiences
    • Work at a summer camp teaching theatre.
    • Work or volunteer as an usher at a local theatre

Do I need any additional recommendations?

  • While this can vary from school to school, many will require a specific recommendation from a theatre arts teacher or director in addition to the traditional academic recommendations. 

Do I need a theatre resume? 

  • Yes, you should prepare and submit a resume specific to your theatre background.
  • What should the resume include?
    • The resume should include productions acted in, roles played, dates, place of performance, etc.
    • If interested in theatre technology or theatre management the resume should include experience in lighting, tech, stage management, costume design, etc.

Resource guide created by Cindy Pendergast