Portfolios: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

By Algonquin College Modified on December 10, 2018

Tips on building your college application portfolio


by Chelsie McHugh

So, you found a program that interests you? That’s great! They’re asking for a portfolio as part of the admission process, and you’re not sure what that means? That’s cool, too. Portfolios are the key to building yourself as a brand and getting into your dream program.

Portfolios are easier to build if you’re in a creative field, but you can (and should) create one regardless of the industry you’re diving into. They make you look confident and competent.

Let’s start with the basics: what is a portfolio? Portfolios are a collection of your best work. They can include pieces you’ve done in your spare time and even school work. Your portfolio is your brand, it’s what you’re all about. It should tell your story. Essentially, the pieces you showcase demonstrate your skills and that you know what you’re talking about.

Algonquin College’s Animation program asks that you submit 10-15 pieces and a cover letter. Some of the programs that want to see portfolios include Illustration and Concept Art, Graphic Design, and Interior Decorating. Everyone wants to see a strong portfolio.

All programs that require a portfolio as part of the application process have the details on their webpage. They’ll specify how many pieces you need to include, how they should be displayed, and where to submit them. Check out the “Application/Admission Information” tab for everything you need to know.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “Why do I need a portfolio if I haven’t started the program yet?” That’s simple. The Animation program describes it this way, “The more experience the applicant has in terms of drawing, the more time he or she will be able to devote focused energy to this new and extremely demanding craft.” Basically, if you can prove that you’ve got a good foundation going, and that you’re a hard worker, you’re golden!

Portfolios come in a few different formats: online or hardcopy. Both of these are great. Hardcopy portfolios are extra handy during interviews. They’re easily accessible and you can bring them anywhere. Online portfolios give you the flexibility to edit your pieces more easily, and share them anytime, anywhere.

A strong portfolio should tell a story. You’ve probably heard the mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” This means that your portfolio should speak for itself. In the words of Katherine Becker, writer for ONE Design, “[…] You need to show them that you know how to tell.” It’s less about the work and more about how the work affected you. What were the challenges you faced in this project? How did you overcome them?

If you already have a portfolio but you aren’t sure if it’s strong enough, you’re more than welcome to attend an TEXT http://www.algonquincollege.com/mediaanddesign/portfolio-information-sessions/ Algonquin Portfolio Information Session. In these sessions, your portfolio will be reviewed so the college can determine your suitability for the program to which you’ve applied. You’ll also get feedback from experts. Did I mention that they’re free, too?

To sum up, portfolios are really important! They’re as important, if not more so, than a sturdy résumé. Some programs require them as part of the application process, some don’t, but try to produce one anyway, especially if you’re thinking of a creative program. It sounds tough, but you can do it! I believe in you!

Chelsie McHugh is a third-year Algonquin College - Advertising and Marketing Communications student. She’s a funny, fiery redhead with a passion for writing.