US Art degrees and portfolio applications

US Art degrees and portfolio applications

03 Jul 2024

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This informal CPD article ‘US Art degrees and portfolio applications’ was provided by UES Education, specialists in international university and school admissions, working with top schools across the UK and Europe to provide a bespoke service for those who want the best possible application support in the UK.

If you’re advising students applying to fine arts programmes in the US, it can be useful to be aware of a few things. There are different types of arts programmes within US universities, and the application process for fine arts can be quite nuanced; having a strong understanding of these things will help set students up for success.

Understand arts within US Universities

One important thing to keep in mind is that ‘going to art school’ can be a very different experience depending on the specific arts programmes that applicants target. Some programmes are focused only on arts, whilst others provide academic emphases alongside art, giving students the opportunity to have a wider breadth of study and perhaps more options when it comes to careers. There are some liberal arts programmes that also offer fine arts programmes (liberal arts refers to the US style of education, in which students take a range of humanities subjects to build a broad foundation of knowledge). There are colleges with dual degree programmes, in which students in the arts school can do an academic degree at the same time, graduating with both degrees. And there are colleges/schools of the arts, which are hyper-focused on art practice, offering niche classes, mentorship, and small group collaboration.

Choosing an arts programme

Often, students may not have considered what specific type of arts programme is the best fit for them. To help them work this out, counsellors and teachers can encourage them to think about their goals. Do they want to keep creating art whilst they complete academic, pre-professional study, or is their overall career goal to do something artistic, like being commissioned for community arts projects? This can be a difficult question for students, who may know they love art, but be unsure if it is a hobby or a passion for them. To help them work through this, encourage them to think about whether they have a constant need and drive to pursue art above their other interests and passions. If this is the case, art school is likely to be a good fit; however, it’s unlikely to be a good fit for students who see art as simply one of their many interests and activities. If students are still unsure what role art fulfils for them, the perspective of their art teachers—who will have insight into how that student approaches their art practice, as well as the perspective of having worked with hundreds of students over the years—can be valuable.

Submitting a portfolio

Second, applicants to art schools and programmes will need to submit a portfolio of their artwork. Generally, a portfolio should contain around six to 24 pieces from a range of media, from both school and a student’s personal practice. Each programme will have its own unique instructions, so it’s key for students to pay attention to detail when reviewing the portfolio requirements of each school, and not to expect consistency in what is requested and how it should be submitted. There are also likely to be different (typically earlier) deadlines for portfolio applications than academic applications, so it is important to prepare ahead of time and double-check specific deadlines.

When creating a portfolio, students should include pieces that show not only their technical skill, but also their conceptual literacy. Before submitting a portfolio, students should have someone like a teacher or professional in the field look it over. A great way to do this is by attending a National Portfolio Day (1), where students can meet with an arts academic for advice.

One helpful way for an applicant to think about the purpose of their portfolio is to see it as a visual version of a personal essay: it should show their personal visual style, express their values, and convey their life journey and identity.


Those advising students applying to art schools and programmes should be sure to encourage them to plan ahead: thinking through the best programme, making sure they have a strong portfolio ready, and assembling their applications in anticipation of early deadlines.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from UES Education, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.



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For more information from UES Education, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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