Portfolio interviews for art degrees

Applying to study a creative subject may require presenting a portfolio of your work. Find out how this works and how to make it a success.

A portfolio is a collection of examples of your work, including both finished pieces and examples that show your process, such as sketches.

Exactly what you should include in your portfolio will depend on the course you are applying for, and you will normally be able to find guidance on the university website. You will need to assemble work that shows your creativity, technical ability and potential. It’s good to include recent work, even if it’s unfinished, and to show your ability to experiment even if the results aren’t your best work. Including a sketchbook can be a good way to do this.

You’ll also need to spend some time presenting your work to make sure it demonstrates your abilities as clearly as possible. You’ll normally either group pieces by project or theme, or present your work chronologically to show how you have developed.

What subjects might need a portfolio?

Any creative subject might involve submitting a portfolio. This includes:

  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Design
  • Pottery
  • Photography

Whether you need a portfolio will depend on the universities you apply to, so check this when you apply.

How portfolio interviews work

A portfolio interview will normally involve discussing your work with one or two tutors from the university. You will be expected to talk about your ideas and methods, as well as the background to your work, such as artists you are interested in, exhibitions you have visited and books you have read.

The interview will focus on your portfolio, but you should be prepared to discuss your work and interests more widely as well.

Making your portfolio interview a success

Success at your interview will ultimately come down to the strength of your portfolio and your knowledge and interest in the subject, but these tips can help you to make sure your work makes the biggest impact it can:

  • When assembling your portfolio, keep it concise and present it simply. You won’t have time to discuss all of your work at interview, so it needs to speak for itself.
  • Read any guidelines the university provides carefully, and keep referring back to them when putting your portfolio together and preparing for your interview.
  • Be prepared to talk about parts of your work that are less successful, and what you have learned from them.
  • Think about which pieces, ideas and concepts you particularly want to talk about so that you don’t miss the opportunity – but make sure you are ready to talk about everything in your portfolio, as you won’t have control over what you are asked about.
  • Practice talking about your work with teachers, friends or your parents. This doesn’t have to be a mock interview, although they can be useful – the important thing is to be comfortable and confident discussing your work.
  • Plan out some questions you can ask – this will help to show your interest in the course, and will provide valuable information to help you choose between courses.