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Articles / Applying to College / Will Art Portfolio Help Ivy Aspirant Stand Out?

Will Art Portfolio Help Ivy Aspirant Stand Out?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 27, 2014
Question: How unique is artistic talent (visual arts) in the realm of the Ivy League? It's what I find sets me apart *the most*, and I plan to stress that in my application next year. (I'm a junior now.) I know that many applicants are incredibly musically talented, but is visual art talent unique at all? I have won a few awards through the Scholastic Art and Writing program, and have painted murals in my school and around my town. Art is my main passion that I want to express in my application; do you think it will stand out?

If I, “The Dean," were to be truly helpful, I'd be able to provide you with the percentage of students who submit art portfolios with their Ivy League applications and then I'd also offer you the percentage of those who did who were admitted to their top-choice colleges. But I don't have any of those figures, and I'm not about to pester admission folks just as their crazy “reading season" gets started.

So, for now, all I can say is that submitting an art portfolio is fairly common, and submission alone will not help your application stand out. However, it will underscore your passion for art and is thus very much worth doing. Note, however, that at the vaunted Ivy level, many applicants are very gifted in the fine arts and the competition will be keen. Over three decades, I've seen a few below-average portfolios, many predictable ones (good but not memorable), and some portfolios that have really knocked my socks off. Hopefully, yours will fall into that latter category. If so, this will certainly help your admission odds, although it won't make up for sub-par grades or test scores because there will be plenty of “competitor applicants" who are very talented artistically and who have tip-top grades and test results as well. Your murals may help you stand out the most, but only if they are exclusively—or at least primarily—your own work and were not created by a team.

As you prepare your college applications, try to take advantage of opportunities to have your portfolio professionally evaluated before you submit it. For instance, National Portfolio Day events are free and held across the country. These can provide an excellent opportunity to get your portfolio reviewed by experts while there's still time to improve it. See http://www.portfolioday.net/2014-15-schedule for a list of dates and locations.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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