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Should You Submit an Optional Portfolio with Your College Application?

student making art portfolio on laptop
Nicole Doyle College Admissions Advisor

Written by Nicole Doyleon May 13th, 2024

I came to College Coach after working in college admissions for many years. At Holy Cross, I was a work-study student in the admissions office, a tour guide, and a senior interviewer. After graduation, I spent one year in Seattle as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corp and then returned to the East Coast to work as an admissions counselor at Holy Cross. As part of that job, I traveled to England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Greece. When I was promoted to assistant director of admissions and international student recruiter, I added Central America to my territory. While at Holy Cross, I also organized the student Ambassador Program, hosted prospective student receptions, and read over 1,000 applications each season. I was also an athletics liaison for men’s hockey, baseball, women’s soccer, and softball. At Skidmore College, I interviewed prospective students and their families, conducted information sessions, and annually reviewed close to 1,800 domestic and international admissions applications.
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by Nicole Doyle, former admissions officer at College of the Holy Cross Whenever a student sees that something is “optional” in the college admissions process, like additional short essays or interviews, they question whether optional truly means optional. Artistic or maker portfolios can present one of those “should I or shouldn’t I” moments. Not to be confused with the portfolios that may be required of applicants to majors like music, art, dance, or film, optional portfolios can be submitted by students studying any major, even if that major is not art-related. If a student has a strong passion for the arts or for making things, submitting a portfolio can showcase creativity and personality, and demonstrate a commitment to developing their craft. Note that a relatively small number of colleges allow students to share optional portfolios, but they most often fall under the two following categories: Maker portfolios Columbia University welcomes applicants to upload a maker portfolio, which they describe as, “an opportunity for students to highlight completed or ongoing projects that they have built, fabricated, invented, produced, or otherwise created. These projects should demonstrate creativity and ingenuity, technical ability and hands-on problem solving.” Items that may be included in a maker portfolio include engineering projects, art or design pieces, coding or app development projects, and any other work that showcases the student's ability to conceptualize and bring to life original ideas. Art portfolios Many Ivy League and liberal arts colleges allow students to showcase their talents through an art portfolio. For instance, Vassar asks students to share their portfolios in music, visual art, or dance, if they “intend to further pursue that passion at Vassar.” That doesn’t mean students need to major in the arts. Instead, students may hope to minor in or take electives in the arts, or to participate in student organizations or productions related to their talent. When students are given this opportunity to share a portfolio, it may have an impact on the admissions process. At many schools, the music, art, or dance department will evaluate the portfolio and tell the admissions office if they feel the student’s talents would contribute to the arts community. Who should submit a portfolio? When deciding whether or not to share a portfolio, the key term is “strengthen.” If the student feels any type of portfolio will “strengthen” their application, then they should consider submitting one. The activity list in the college application doesn’t always capture the many different ways students spend their time outside of the classroom. The limited space in the activity list may not do justice to a hobby like knitting or 3D printing that would benefit from visuals. Share this talent via a portfolio to show the admissions committee the amount of time spent and the dedicated artistry it requires. A portfolio can also benefit a student who may not be active in school clubs, but who instead spends their time in a local art studio, in their garage tinkering with cars, or at home building PCs or other electronics. If a student believes their portfolio adds value to their application, and provides a more comprehensive picture of their abilities and interests, then it is worth submitting.

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