High School Students Get Art School Application Advice at National Portfolio Day

Students showed their work to representatives from over 50 colleges of art and design.

A student hands over work for evaluation. (William Atkins/GW Today)
A student hands over work for evaluation. (William Atkins/GW Today)
November 19, 2018

By Ruth Steinhardt

More than 500 aspiring art students as well as their teachers, families and mentors packed the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Saturday for Washington, D.C.,’s National Portfolio Day, hoping to have their work critiqued by representatives from art and design programs at 51 major universities.

Devised by the nonprofit National Portfolio Day Association in 1978, the annual event gives high school artists an edge in the art school application process. Students bring their work to be evaluated by professional artists and instructors, representing institutions as distant and prestigious as the California Institute of the Arts and New York City’s Parsons School of Design.

“It’s both difficult and inspiring to be surrounded by all these other artists,” said Abigail Wiggins, a junior at Tuscarora High School in Pittsburgh, glancing around the packed, noisy second floor of the Flagg Building.

“It was an honor to host this year’s National Portfolio Day in Washington, D.C., and to be a part of an event with so many excellent arts institutions,” said Dena Hudson, assistant director of recruitment and admissions at the Corcoran. “It is exciting to meet so many talented students, to see their work and to be able to give feedback to the next generation of artists and designers.”

Many students said their teachers encouraged them to attend, and for many, it was a repeat experience. David Bohannon, a senior at Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, Va., was attending his third Portfolio Day on an official trip organized by his school. Laughing, the aspiring fashion student said he’d been critiqued so many times that he now looked at the event as a field trip. But he said there was still a lot to learn.

“It’s always a good thing to get feedback from other schools, especially out of state,” he said.

Kofo Folo and Ashley Sydney, senior classmates at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., knew each other’s critiques almost as well as their own. Ms. Folo, an aspiring animator, was asked for more observational work, while Ms. Sydney said she’d gotten positive—and very specific—feedback on her painting of a cloudy sky.

“She said not many students get the cloud,” Ms. Sydney said. “But she told me to make the highlights stronger.”

So would either of them be changing their portfolios? Ms. Folo and Ms. Sydney shook their heads. Like Mr. Bohannon, they’d been evaluated so many times that they already knew how to select and arrange their strongest pieces.

“But she’s going to add those highlights,” Ms. Folo added.

(Photos by William Atkins)

Arts & Culture