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Portfolios, Auditions, and Other Special Applications

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If you're planning on applying to an art or architecture school, be prepared for a few extra requirements along with your typical application.

Generally, you will encounter special applications and requirements when applying to universities that have separate departments or schools for your intended major. For example, Syracuse University has a School of Architecture and a College of Visual and Performing Arts. What happens in universities like these is that, on top of the general requirements for a typical application (basic info, essays, short answers, transcript, extracurricular activities, etc.) the separate schools/departments have requirements of their own. Generally speaking, art and architecture schools will request a portfolio.

Art school requirements

Almost all art schools will require a portfolio in addition to the general application. The format of the portfolio varies upon the college. Most schools prefer slides, but some may ask for photos. Whatever the format may be, you should always include the medium used, the original size of the piece, an approximate date of completion, and possibly a title with the slides or photos. These can be written on a separate index sheet or next to the slides/photos themselves. Be sure to follow the instructions and requirements of each school. If you have any questions, don't be afraid to call and ask the admission office.

Architecture school requirements

Architecture schools with four-year Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts programs most likely will not ask for portfolios. However, almost all architecture schools with five-year Bachelor of Architecture programs will require a portfolio. Like art schools, the format for these portfolios may vary slightly. Again, most schools prefer slides, but sometimes they request photos. Be sure to follow the instructions and requirements issued by each school; sticking to their preferred format is very important. Remember, the people reviewing your portfolio probably have already seen many before yours and will probably see many more after. An oversight like not following their stated directions could cause the reviewers to place your portfolio at the bottom of the pile, or even worse, to not review it at all.

Your portfolio

The contents of your portfolio should not only reflect some sort of potential and growth in addition to your talent or artistic ability. However, this does not mean you should include the very first drawing you ever made back in kindergarten along with your most recent “masterpieces.” All the pieces you choose should have been made within the past year or two.

For architects, schools are not looking for how versatile you are, or how many different kinds of medium you've experimented with. Most important and dominantly present in your portfolio should be pieces that display your free-hand drawing abilities—pencil drawings. Free-hand drawing is one of the clearest ways for a reviewer to truly assess talent, potential, and growth. Also, free-hand drawing is one of the most basic skills. Presenting them with your strong ability to draw with a pen or pencil (whatever the subject may be) is more powerful than presenting them with pieces made with many different materials. This applies to art applicants as well, although having some sort of variety in your medium may be appreciated.

For architecture applicants, examples of your technical drawing skills are much less appreciated than examples of your free-hand drawing skills. Technical drawing is a simple technique that is quickly learned and tells nothing. Unless the drawing is exceptional in its concept or representation, do not include technical drawings. However, if you have attended an architecture program in which you made models, do include them if they are presentable.

Ask an art teacher for help in selecting pieces for your portfolio. What you may consider “bad” may actually have many more merits than you may think.

Art and architecture home tests

Many of the top art schools, and a few architecture schools (namely Cooper Union) require a home test/examination. The home test is usually sent out sometime in January or February (if you are applying regular admission), and approximately a month is given to complete it.

The home test is a multi-part examination that consists of various art projects. For example, one part may be creating a composition of various manufactured items. Remember, this is not a standardized test. It is a test meant to illustrate your potential as well as your ability. Your idea is just as important as its execution. Follow the directions of the home test, but remember that admission counselors are looking for potential and ability, as well as concept and idea. Often, the directions are not as clear or obvious as one would like them to be, so be creative and thoughtful.

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