Mar 29, 2008  •  In Art/Design, Career, Education, Personal

National Portfolio Day

A few days ago, LifeClever posted an articled called Portfolio Day might make you cry, but it’s worth it. I suddenly had a flashback…

As mentioned in my “About” page, I once was a very serious artist who was hell-bent on attending a good art program at one of the nation’s top art schools (RISD, Cooper Union, UCLA, Art Institute of Chicago, and MICA were my top choices). During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I was a regular fixture at my art studio, attending portfolio class every weekday from 12pm-3pm. I would often stay overtime to finish up and discuss my work and options with my beloved instructor.

Most art programs require 10-20 pieces demonstrating a student’s technical and creative abilities. I’m not sure about others, but my pieces often took 20+ hours from inception to completion, and I had 17 pieces in my portfolio…you do the math. I still remember the moment when my art teacher handed me the slides of my completed work and I nearly cried from joy.

I was ready to start applying to the said schools. But first, I had to go woo the top dogs at a National Portfolio Day:

National Portfolio Day is an event specifically for visual artists and designers. It is an opportunity for those who wish to pursue an education in the visual and related arts to meet with representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Representatives will be available to review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. High school students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and college transfer students are encouraged to attend.

Unlike the AIGA Portfolio Day mentioned by LifeClever, National Portfolio Day is sponsored by the NPDA and is targeted for high school students and college transfer students.


National portfolio day @CCA by kenichi.tanaka at Flickr

All high school students interested in attending an art school are HIGHLY encouraged to attend a National Portfolio Day.

I talked to some older friends who gave me tips:

  1. Get there early!
  2. Scope out the list of schools attending beforehand and choose 3-5. You will most likely only have time to attend 3, since the lines for the more popular schools can get VERY long.
  3. Bring food, drinks, and a friend or two who can keep you entertained and hold your place in line when you have to pee.
  4. Never, EVER leave your portfolio unattended.

I was not able to attend the portfolio day held in NY due to scheduling reasons, so my parents and I woke up at 5am one Sunday morning to drive down to Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, Cooper Union and UCLA were not attending this particular portfolio day. So I narrowed my list down to RISD, Art Institute of Chicago, MICA, and Carnegie Mellon. My friends were correct – the lines were ridiculous! I think my parents and I waited 2-3 hours for each school.

I remember being a big miffed that RISD had only sent one associate professor and some students. Being the top art school in the nation, they were a bit snobby and frankly, treated me as if I were just a number.

I also remember how the rep for Carnegie Mellon was very patient and extremely nice…and even made me blush a few times by the comments he made on some of my pieces.

My overall impression of National Portfolio Day was a bit overwhelming. I had never quite realized how popular and competitive the art world is…and I was discouraged by the blasé response I’d gotten from some of my top choice schools.

However, the experience was not without benefits because few weeks later, I received a letter from Carnegie Mellon. I had made such a great impression on Portfolio Day that if I could provide an official transcript confirming a GPA of 3.0 or higher, I would be admitted with no questions. No essay on my application or anything like that! They even offered a very handsome scholarship. :-)

In the end, I was accepted to some of the top art programs in the country…but I decided to go another direction. This decision will be the topic of a future post.

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