Preparing for art school applications


Do you have a high school or even a middle school artist who is considering going to art school? It’s not too early to start looking at what it takes because getting into a reputable art school is competitive. 

One of the most common mistakes art students make is that they underestimate how long it actually takes to put together a strong portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of an artist's best artwork that showcases the best work and experience, ideas and skills, ability and commitment as an artist. A year would be a good minimum amount of time to put together a strong portfolio.

Here are some of the most important factors young artists need to take into consideration when it comes to preparing for art school application.

Does the student already have an art school in mind? If so, they should get online and look at the portfolio requirements of the specific school(s) they are interested in because different schools have different requirements. Some art schools provide a very specific outline of what needs to be submitted while others are more generic.

There are two efforts that go into putting together a portfolio. One aspect is the logistical issues: selecting pieces through a process of critiques, photographing them, figuring out the way to present them, how to write an artist statement, and setting up mock interviews to learn how to talk about their own art. (We are offering a “business side of being an artist” workshop which will start in October which addresses many of these issues. For more information, click here.)

The other (more important) aspect is creating strong artwork. Every art school I researched prioritized strong drawing skills first, idea development and personal expression second. Strong skills in observational drawing and painting is the biggest factor that can help an artist get into their school of choice, whether an artist is applying for fine arts, design, or animation.

A portfolio submitted for admission will usually consist of 10-20 digital images of a student’s best and most recent work so be selective! Each piece should showcase talent, ambition, commitment, and represent the student’s strongest capabilities. It is better to have 10 really strong pieces rather than 20 that aren’t one’s absolute best.

Artwork should be photographed in good light and unframed. Work should be photographed and saved with high resolution so the reviewer can enlarge the images without pixilation.

While it’s important to demonstrate good technical skills, a strong portfolio needs work that reflects thoughts, concepts, and personal work - not just class assignments. Schools want to see what speaks to the personal experiences and backgrounds of applicants. 

Keeping a sketchbook is important. It shows the process of an artist’s work, how ideas evolved, and how work has matured.  Some art schools will require that applicant's submit their sketchbook along with the portfolio to give further insight. That aside, keeping a sketchbook will make students stronger artists!

All artists need to learn how to talk about their work. Some art schools require an interview and mock interviews with a teacher can help prepare for the interview. Students should select a couple of pieces to prepare for the interview and get comfortable talking about their work (when and why they create the work, what the work is about, what media was used, and what they like about their work and why).

Sometimes students can get their work reviewed by art professionals before applying to schools by attending a National Portfolio Day event where many art schools will have admissions officers available to review students' work, offer guidance and information about programs of study, admission requirements, scholarships, and financial aid. 

It seems like a lot to cover but starting early in the process will ensure that students have plenty of time and experience to pull together a strong portfolio, learn about the process, and get into the art school of their choice!

Charlene Freeman