Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Portfolios for grad school: some like a little, some like a lot

I got a question about tips for assembling a portfolio for grad school applications, and I must say that this is one place where it's kind of a crapshoot. I don't know what it's like these days, but whatever you send to them needs to be really legible and comprehensible. Therefore, lots of formatting and putting extra graphics on your images when you send them to potential grad schools. In terms of formatting and sizes of images, grad schools generally tell applicants what they want and how they want it. Some schools will limit you to 12 or so 8.5" x 11" color images, and some will accept any kind of creative submission. When I applied to University of Virginia back in 1998, they allowed you to submit paintings and even poetry and creative writing samples. Their guidelines also indicated that the portfolio should be about half an inch thick. That sounded ridiculous to me, as between keeping up with all my classes and projects in four years of college, I hadn't produced enough work to make a 1/4"-high stack. I had to pad my application with some paintings and things I'd written back in high school. Needless to say, I didn't get in.

But what to submit? Start with really good, recent college projects. Get good photos or scans of your sheets/boards at a high resolution so that they read well on whatever small-format sheet they limit you to. Color images are generally better than black and white, of course, unless for some reason your images look better in black and white. If you're really good at models, include a couple shots of your good models. If there's a way to describe in a few sentences or explain each of the projects you include, either on a cover sheet or on a page with a plan, then do so. As for the rest of the content, the school will uaully tell you what they want in the portfolio. Some colleges will also accept images of paintings, sculpture, or other visual arts work. They may also accept drawings and photos of anything you've actually built, like a deck or a shed or furniture.

If anything, edit wisely. What images of what projects make you look like you're a good designer and that you understand how a building goes together? Usually, you're better off submitting 15 pages of good images of three projects and one painting than 40 pages of all the projects you've done since sophomore year and several paintings and sculptures. Quality over quantity.

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