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Review of National Portfolio Day 2022!

National Portfolio Day (NPD) allows prospective students to meet one on one with professional representatives from a large selection of accredited art colleges and universities and receive valuable feedback and guidance on your portfolio prior to submitting their applications.

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I had the privilege of escorting 2 aspiring artists through our first National Portfolio Day in Dallas, Texas in September. Both are Juniors in high school this year, and both considered this an excellent exploratory activity, with useful feedback from colleges.

We arrived after noon and left at 3:30pm, exhausted, but better informed than when we arrived. Portfolio feedback varied widely, from encouraging words to actionable advice. I had a pearl clutching moment as I listened to one of the college reps proudly announce a 50% employment rate after graduation, therefore I have included a link to independent statistics on each of the schools we visited. Please also note what fields graduates are primarily employed in when reviewing the stats. If your student is unwilling to become a teacher (the top employer from most art schools), these statistics might leave you scratching your head, as they did me. In fact, Jennifer Cook-DeRosa and I had a long discussion about the financial viability of such a path the next day!

Student 1 had a portfolio that included a sculpture, a charcoal drawing (observational piece), a pastel self portrait, several digital character designs on a white background, a photo of a 2 page sketch of a graphic novel page spread, a piece of digital fan art, a digital painting done from a vacation photo, a character design with different profiles, and a single digital graphic novel page with 2 inset frames overlapping a larger scene.

Student 2’s portfolio was primarily fan art (I didn’t see most of it, this is what she told me). She later said that was a big mistake, based on feedback from the day.

I wasn’t with Student 2 most of the time, so feedback below is primarily from Student 1’s portfolio, or what Student 2 chose to share with us.

Feedback given:

Montserrat

Montserrat Stats

School of the Art Institute Chicago (SAIC)

SAIC Stats

Minneapolis College of Art & Design (MCAD)

MCAD Stats

Ringling College of Art & Design

Ringling stats page – I hear about high employment rates from Ringling, but I have to say their stats don’t reflect the praise I see online.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD):

RISD Stats

Side note from RISD: There was an admissions person giving feedback to a student who wasn’t with us and I have to praise her feedback! We’d been watching the student show her portfolio all day – she’s very talented and happened to be in line with us frequently. The admissions officer gave her valuable portfolio feedback (add backgrounds, more details, tie tones together, etc) – but she also suggested that the student broaden her scope from just a Studio Art major and consider Illustration as a major because she said it had more employment opportunities. She would be able to go into a wider variety of fields like illustrating a children’s novel (she had a piece that looked like that), illustration for marketing/advertising, concept art, etc. She rattled off a long list of job opportunities and encouraged her to look at job listings to see what they were looking for. Folks – this is the ONLY time I’ve heard any college representative at ANY college fair we have attended talk about the job market and marketability in this way! I wanted to hug her! I turned to my companions and gave them a quick summary of what I’d overheard and we discussed the importance of looking at the return on investment. College is a means to an end – gainful employment and independence – it’s not the destination! More importantly, we’d like to achieve that goal without becoming lifelong indentured servants to student loan companies. We also discussed that these schools are $100-200k/4 years easily, each offering potentially up to 50% in merit aid (but don’t count on that), and that the maximum federal student loan total $27,500 over 4 years. So, that means scholarship applications are your new hobby, unless mom and dad are going to either foot the bill, take out parent loans, or cosign a loan – keeping in mind the latter options can have long term impact on your family relationships!

Strategy for the next NPD:

  1. Review the list of colleges expected in advance and see if they have a degree of interest – note Cost of Attendance numbers (so we can ask about merit aid/scholarships and what they’re based on), location, any specific questions about program, classes, housing costs and requirements, acceptance rates, any notes on portfolio requirements in case we need clarification, does aid stack or will outside aid reduce internal merit aid/scholarships, post graduation employment rates within their field and/or in general, will there be internship opportunities, etc
  2. Form a ranked list of colleges by urgency for review and discussion
  3. Note any summer programs, and any questions (are the classes taught by actual instructors from the school? Students/TA’s? Outside employees or vendors? Is there any college credit given and how does it apply to the degree? Will the instructors give letters of recommendation? What is the goal of the courses and variety? Will those pieces be used to build their portfolio for admissions or just for skill building or fun?)
  4. Upon arrival at the event, circle those colleges on the event map to find them quickly.
  5. Put ? on those for whom we have questions
  6. We noted many of the “high end” schools like RISD and Ringling had long lines most of the day, but by about 3pm their tables had short lines of 1-2 persons per line, so we were able to visit more schools by visiting them last. There is a cut off time that they’ll stop allowing more people to lineup for a review, so be aware of this, but we heard some saying their cut off to line up was about 3:15p – 3:30p and others were not busy so they didn’t appear to cut off lines early.
  7. Most of the schools had us fill out cards or an online form w/a QR code. Bringing standard address/BIO labels might speed things along, if that’s acceptable. The students received QR codes to show the schools, but none of them scanned it, unlike other college fairs that do use them. If they DO use the QR code, we suggest taking a screenshot of it and making that your cell phone’s lock screen image to hasten things along and not have to unlock your phone every booth.
  8. They both brought their portfolio in digital form on their iPads and none of the colleges seemed to have a problem with this. I even point blank asked several, including RISD and she said that the portfolio would be submitted digitally anyway, so bringing it in digital form is perfectly fine. Just be sure that any photos taken are the highest quality.
  9. Bring a clipboard and pen
  10. Bring a small backpack or bag for all of the brochures you’ll college

What is National Portfolio Day?

Do you have a student interested in some form of art? National Portfolio Day 2022 can be a great way to meet representatives from colleges around the country, get an idea of costs, scholarships, and the admissions process, and get valuable feedback on student portfolios. Parents and advisors recommend trying to attend at least a couple of these events during high school to help students prepare their portfolios for future college admissions. The events are FREE to attend, whether virtual or in-person at one of the many locations around the United States.

There are dates on the schedule throughout the fall and a few select dates listed in the Spring, so far – they run in the summer, as well. The first Virtual event of the new school year is 9/17/22. Some are held at convention centers, but many of the events are held at art schools, which provides a nice opportunity to visit the college campus. Events last 4 hours, so it is beneficial to research the schools represented and select 3-5 colleges to hone in on.

From National Portfolio Day Association website:

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