Essential Ingredients Every College Portfolio Needs

5 min to read
A high school student preparing college portfolio.

If your student is college-bound, a college portfolio can be an essential part of the admissions process. A college portfolio highlights a high school student’s accomplishments and is one way for them to show off their talents, passions, and goals.

To stand out from the other applicants, students will need to know what to put in a portfolio as they apply for college to keep their application at the top of the pile. 

What Goes into a Portfolio?

While a portfolio can be an excellent addition to the admissions process at many schools, it is a requirement for some schools. Before they even begin the application process, have your student research to see exactly what their prospective college is looking for. Some colleges make it easy by clearly stating what to put in a portfolio.

If the school does not specifically state what they want in the portfolio, here are some common items to include:

Cover Page & Resumé

This will include essential information like:

  • Name

  • Address

  • Phone Number

  • Email Address

  • High School Name 

  • Graduation Year

Keep the cover page simple so that college admissions counselors know the basics and can easily contact your student.

Athletic Accomplishments

Include information about any awards, certificates, or trophies earned. Your student will also want to include whether they were captains of any teams. This can help to show leadership qualities.

Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation can help to show the values a student has and give more insight into their character.

Certificates of Academic Achievements

Be sure to tell the college admissions staff about any academic achievements, including any honors societies they belong to.

Creative Work

If a student is applying to any type of art or design school, they will want to include examples of creative work. This also goes for video or media projects.

Community Service Projects

Volunteer work or any type of community service projects are good to mention because they can tell a lot about a student’s character.

Remember, the items included in a college portfolio should help to show that your student is a well-rounded person and someone who can contribute and benefit to their program. While test scores and good grades are important, they don’t give the whole picture of a student. A portfolio helps to fill in the gaps and answer the question, who is this student?

When to Start Working on a College Portfolio

Throughout their high school career, students should start to document their involvement in activities and keep track of anything that highlights their achievements. Saving pictures, awards, or anything else as they go along is much easier than trying to remember everything as they get ready to organize their portfolio. It’s also a good idea to look at a college portfolio example to see if they’re on the right track with the items they are gathering.

Typically, students begin to organize and design their portfolios in their junior year or anywhere from four to six months before they start to fill out college applications. This gives them time to make sure everything is in order before sending it off.

An online school student preparing a college portfolio. 

How to Make a University Portfolio

There are several ways of making a college portfolio. Students may find that one method works better than another for them.

  • Categories

Students who want to highlight their strengths in several areas may want to organize their portfolio by category. For example, they may want to organize by different sports, extracurricular activities, and community service projects.

  • Chronological 

Organizing a college portfolio by date is another way to make a college portfolio. This is easy to follow and can show growth in a specific area over time.

  • Thematic

Some students find that developing a theme for the entire portfolio helps to unite their portfolio items.

College Portfolio Formats

Once your student decides how they’re going to organize their portfolio, it’s important to consider the format. Creating a PDF or website are the two most popular routes.

A PDF is easy to look at and organizes all the elements in a simple way. It can be attached to emails or uploaded with other documents. Students can find this easy to create with design and desktop publishing tools. The only drawback to the PDF format is that it is not ideal if your student wants to showcase videos or audio files.

Creating a website is another option for students trying to figure out how to make a college portfolio. This format allows students to be as creative as possible. They can include video, text, photos, and other art. While this can be more complicated than creating a PDF, it can show admissions officers how tech-savvy your student is, especially if they intend to go into that area.

Ways to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out

Besides simply knowing what goes into a portfolio, your student needs to know how to make their portfolio stand out. Here are some tips:

Don’t use a basic template.

College admissions teams look at hundreds of portfolios. They may be likely to glaze over a template they have seen repeatedly. Create a unique design or have your student change the template so much that it can’t be recognized.

Provide insight into accomplishments.

While your student may have all the elements of what goes into a portfolio, they need to provide some depth. They should reflect on what they learned, any problems they solved, and how the example can influence their future college plans and beyond. Doing this can not only provide the admissions team with valuable information but can also give a glimpse into a student’s personality and values.

Make visuals stand out.

While your student doesn’t want their profile to look too busy or distracting, they do want it to have the “wow” factor. Color contrast, bold type, and a strategic layout can also help to make this happen.

One final tip…before hitting the send button, have a learning coach, teacher, or parent look over the college portfolio. This is to check for spelling and grammatical errors and provide feedback. Your student wants to put their best foot forward and give the admissions team a clear picture of who they are.

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