Portfolio preparation is essential for admission to degrees in art and design, fashion design, or architecture, but many international students struggle with the concept and the details. James Galloway gives a basic guide to the requirements.

If you’re coming to the UK to do a design or arts degree, you will have to submit a portfolio as part of your application. This can be the challenging part, as each university and each course will have slightly different requirements about the content and how it is presented. However, your portfolio is the best opportunity you have to really demonstrate your abilities in and passion for your chosen subject, and making a portfolio also gives you the chance to show how your ideas have developed over time, as well as a chance to explain your influences and inspirations.
First of all, what is a portfolio? Generally speaking, your portfolio is a collection of your work in your chosen subject, and it shows how your skills and ideas have developed. Your portfolio also demonstrates your creativity, your commitment and, most of all, your personality. Think of your portfolio as your personal gallery or exhibition space, but use it also to show the research and processes that you used to develop your ideas – these are almost as important as the final work itself.
Your portfolio will also need to be relevant to the level of study you going for. An undergraduate portfolio will be simpler than a postgraduate portfolio, of course, but will still need to show idea development and inspiration. Including your most recent work is important, even if it is unfinished, as the university or college will want to see where your ideas and creativity are at the moment. A postgraduate portfolio will demonstrate your ability to research through investigation, and how you are able to process ideas and concepts, and incorporate them into your own work.
Your portfolio will need to have some logical order to it, so it’s best to remember to group work according to theme or content. The presentation of your portfolio needs to be consistent, and it needs to be clear what each item or piece of work represents. The quality of your work is important, rather than the quantity, so instead of overloading your portfolio, focus or narrow the range of work you include to cover certain themes or the concepts you want to illustrate. If you are unsure of the length or volume of work you need to submit in your portfolio, you should check with your agent, as they will be able to speak directly with the university, or have staff who can help you with assembling the portfolio, and with other preparation. If you still need help, try to find a private tutor who can offer specific portfolio preparation support.
So how do you submit your portfolio? Each course will have different requirements, but in general you will have to submit your portfolio via CD-ROM or DVD, as a sketchbook, as photographs, as slides, and sometimes as a link to a personal website or Flickr page. If you get invited to an interview, you might be asked to bring pieces – such as sculpture – with you, so you will need to be practical about your choices, as you will have to carry them on a train or in a taxi! Your portfolio will also need to have a description with it, which is an opportunity for you to explain your ideas in writing, and talk about the inspirations and thoughts behind your work, and how they developed.
The important thing to remember is that there is no exact formula for getting the portfolio right: it is a personal statement, and it is judged on content, and how that content developed. Your agent can help you on the presentation and the format, but the ideas will be have to be your own. Working closely with your education agent or consultant will give you a head start, however, and you will be able to submit your portfolio with confidence.

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Category: Applications, Art and Design