Preparing to submit a college portfolio

Read Laura Gaynor’s tips for producing a top class portfolio.

Written by Laura Gaynor


Portfolios can be, but don’t have to be, a very stressful part of the Leaving Cert. People often do them on top of schoolwork, without much help. So with that in mind, it can be especially difficult to apply for an arts related college. Here are a few tips on how to make a good portfolio.

Portfolios require a balance. And if you are prone to being a perfectionist, it’s important to be aware of this. Although you might think that’s a good thing, it’s not what you think it is. Perfectionism is when you decide to pick on details that no one will ever notice without seeing the bigger picture. I think a great metaphor for the fruitlessness of perfectionism is this clip from Father Ted.

Things to remember

Go to the open day

This is your chance to meet the people who will actually be looking at the portfolios, so have a few questions ready. If you cant go to the open day, try chatting with any students you might know there already. If neither of those work, you can always be a chancer and politely call someone in the faculty. If they aren’t busy they might give you the time of day.

Make a plan

The first thing I did on my portfolio was to write an index. The index also served as a kind of checklist, and helped me break down the portfolio into manageable chunks.

Know the portfolio guidelines inside out

These should be in the prospectus or on the college website. They usually say what they do and don’t like to see. This could save you a lot of time.

You only have a short time to make an impression

Remember portfolios are looked at for a really short space of time, and the person looking at them has lots to consider. Yours will be in a pile of hundreds, and there might only be a few minutes allocated to each portfolio. So if you overload your portfolio, they might only see half your stuff. Be choosy with what you put in. Again, the ‘quality not quantity’ approach can save a lot of time too. One thing I did was seeing how long it took someone to look through my portfolio and cutting it down until it was the allotted time. Even so, I rearranged my index to prioritise the stuff I most wanted them to see.

Keep up with school (but maintain perspective)

Make sure you’re keeping on top of everything. And by keeping perspective, if your portfolio is due next week and you have a class test – it’s okay to not do much study. You can’t burn the candle at both ends. Although let your teachers know first.

Get feedback

Show it to a variety of people. But don’t just look for what you want to hear, ask people to be critical. If they suggest changes, listen to their advice. But if you don’t want to change something, don’t.

Read your sentences aloud

This is the easiest way to see if they are coherent. When you read stuff aloud you’ll see which sentences are too long. You’ll see where you need commas, and full stops. Maybe send them to your local grammar wiz too.

Things to avoid

Working through stress or sleepiness

Stressed? Tired? Stop working. You will not do anything productive when you’re tired and/or stressed.

Taking too much time off school

If you plan these days well and stay off Facebook these can be really productive. However, missing too much time off school should be avoided.

Beating yourself up

You might think your work isn’t any good, but it’s probably better than you give it credit for. If you beat yourself up you won’t do any positive work. Give yourself a break and wait for the magic to happen.

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