CMU School of Drama

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The rise of portfolios within college admissions

eCampus News: Learning Machine CEO Chris Jagers hosted a conversation about the growing role of portfolios during the college admissions process at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, Maker Media, and Learning Machine Research presented findings, told stories, and answered questions from High School Counselors and College Admissions Officers about the role of portfolios within admissions, classrooms, and society at large.

32 comments:

Katie Pyne said...

I fully support this idea of submitting a portfolio of work, but I feel like this could be a disadvantage to some applicants. What happens when you don't have the money (on top of the application fee) to print everything on photo paper and the like? Making portfolios isn't cheap, and we're not even talking about shipping. I spent so much money on portfolios on schools, some of which I didn't even get into. I had the privilege of doing this, but many people might not. Pricing aside, I think that this is a great way to really get to know the students that you're accepting into your school. It gives the applicants a chance to talk about things that they're passionate about instead of a standardized writing prompt on the Common App. On the other hand, this is yet another thing to add to the already heavy workload of senior year. Applying to college is difficult enough, and I think if we really want to do this, then we have to reexamine what exactly we're looking for in applicants.

Lia Jennings said...

I haven’t done much work with portfolios and sometimes it does intimidate me because I always second guess myself on if my work looks good enough. However, I do see how having a portfolio to talk about in an interview can help show how hard a worker you are and that you deserve to get into this school or job. It shows who you are as a person based on what you chose to share and how you organized it. I could see though, moments when the interviewers would get tired of looking at paperwork all the time because after awhile it all starts to run together. Which makes it important for those of us interviewing to bring something unique to the table and make sure we stand out and they remember us. I think that schools should start teaching their students about portfolios and how to put them together because I didn’t know anything about what I am supposed to put into mine until I took class while I was here.

Jacob Wesson said...

Portfolios have been a part of my life since I was a junior in high school, which is a scary thought. I needed to create a portfolio for a mock college interview at the end of a summer program at CMU, and I remember being incredibly stressed attempting to find the balance between showing off my work in a positive way and being overbearing. It was a hard line when I was 16, and it's still a hard line, and I'm sure it will continue to pose challenges as long as I'm working. Portfolios are comforting to have in an interview setting, though, as they can help to keep an interviewee on track whilst giving visual evidence to the words you say about yourself. The things you show also make it clear where your strengths lie, and allow them to speak for themselves. Now, I'm sure interviewers will see lots of portfolios in any given day, and finding a flair for your portfolio while still being utilitarian about it is just as important as any other factor to worry about. I agree with Lia that portfolio classes in education will be valuable as they become a more common ask for interviews, as having a specific place to workshop portfolios and a source to share them with will be a cool way to get feedback.

Michelle Li said...

I think this is a brilliant idea. Having a portfolio shows so much more than what a sheet of paper can say and I really do fully back this idea. And to comment on what Katie mentioned above about having to have money to print everything, there are actually online portfolio sites where you can upload your photos. I think that if we incorporate a portfolio into the more academic parts of the admission process, it would also de-stigmatize the feeling around how you must look good on paper and that is all that counts. It makes me happy knowing that the admission process is trying to take on more of a holistic approach in evaluating what makes a potential student. I'm sick of all the same type of resume being churned out-- being on the student board, going on a service trip to some third world country, being a star athlete-- its just boring! And everyone associates those "qualities" with going to a top school like Stanford or Harvard, but that's not all that matters. A portfolio would help students express the parts of them and their hobbies that wouldn't come through with a traditional application, and I feel like in this day and age, that aspect is becoming exponentially more important.

Alex Talbot said...

I really think that the expansion of portfolios to other parts of the admissions process is a wonderful development. While it may seem that it is just adding more complexity to an already complicated process, I think for many students the addition of a portfolio would really help them show their creativity and talent to schools in a way that it could not be represented by a high school transcript. So often, college admission is based on grades alone, and often grades do not show the creativity or interest that is very important in a college student. And transcripts also often don't show the kids who maybe have lower grades but are working twice as hard to get them and are truly interested and engaged in the classes. I don't like the reliance on grades rather than character for colleges, and I feel it creates a cookie cutter college student, while portfolios and interviews could create a great range of students, allowing for more diversity on colleges.

Xinyi Wang said...
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Xinyi Wang said...
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Xinyi Wang said...

Portfolios can definitely show a lot more about students' talent and passion than their transcripts and essays, but I think what a portfolio includes should not be limited by visual/physical projects. For example, other than things like art projects and robotics projects, students should be able to include writing samples that they are proud of, research papers in math and sciences, music arrangements they have done for A Acapella, etc etc. Not all students have the artistic talent and "builder" mindset that a regular art portfolio can show, so I think it would be important to expand the definition of a portfolio and encourage students of all interests and backgrounds to showcase their past experiences. However, as many others have pointed out earlier, building a portfolio is a very stressful process. Therefore, I think it is important for admissions to be clear that a portfolios are not be required for all students, and not having one should not put a student in a disadvantaged position.

Samantha Brown said...

I think that portfolios should definitely be used more in college admissions. I do not think that test scores accurately show students potential and whether they will be a good fit for a university. Most of the time the subjects on the SAT and ACT do not really have to do with the specific work a person wants to go into. Portfolios are extremely important for the arts because there is no way a student can be judged on their talent from a standardized test. I think it is very interesting that portfolios are starting to be used in engineering and computer science. It makes perfect sense because the skills and talent needed for those subjects is very specific and a student needs to show potential in that area for them to be considered a good fit for a rigorous program. More schools should definitely start using portfolios for different areas of study and rely less on one test score to admit a student.

Benjamin King said...

It’s an interesting debate, and one that I don’t think I would have ever expected to hear about if you were to ask me in my junior year of high school when I was looking at colleges. I initially thought it would be a good idea for students outside of the arts to create portfolios after reading this article because it would push students to learn how to curate and present their work at an earlier age and be then able to learn how to mold and form that portfolio throughout the rest of their career. I also am hesitant to encourage portfolios for those outside of the arts when applying for colleges because I remember for my friends that were applying to schools outside of the arts (a vast majority), the college application process was already difficult enough, mainly because of standardized testing. The article mentions that portfolios for subjects outside of the arts came up since there are so many schools that are becoming test-score optional, however this article does not mention any school that is test-score required and also encourages portfolios.

Rebecca Meckler said...

I think it’s great that more colleges are asking for portfolios. Though I understand the importance of test score when evaluating a lot of student, but it gives a very one dimensional view of student. I have a brother two grades below me who is about to start applying to colleges and, since he want to study biology, test score are extremely important. To the people in the admissions office, he’s just a number on a page. Those test score don’t show all of the other things that he does and what makes him the person that he is. It makes me feel truly lucky that theater programs want students portfolios and to interview us. It adds a human element to what can feel like a mechanical process. I have a higher respect for colleges that want to see portfolios because they not only care about grades but for the students character and passion. I hope more colleges adopt this approach to admissions because I would love to tell my brother when he sends his applications in next year that the schools really care about him, not just his GPA.

Sarah Boyle said...

I know that when I was starting to compile images for my application portfolio, I collected a bunch of photos that I hoped showed some kind of technical skill. But when I was really trying to pare down to the best pieces, it became less about what image itself and more about what I had to say about it. Even if you don’t do a portfolio review, I think it is beneficial to be forced to think about why you like something, is it the technical skill? The ideas? The process? Overcoming some challenge along the way? Leaving your comfort zone? I think it gave me a clearer sense of my own strengths, weaknesses, and interests, which actually made the rest of the application process easier. More portfolio based applications would pose problems in terms of costs and a more abstract (and therefore longer and more difficult) evaluation process. Even though there are issues, I think that portfolios paint a more accurate picture of what a student already knows and their learning potential.

Evan Schild said...

I personally believe in admission beside off portfolio and interview process. Even if the portfolio is not amazing the applicant can use this a talking point. The portfolio can give the admission panel more of an idea of who is coming into their school. With tests become more important I believe that this will make someone unique. That when discussing their portfolio they can tell who they are and what they have done. I know a lot of people who do not do well in test. And a lot of people who pay such expensive tutors to learn the tricks of the SAT and ACT. With the use of portfolio reviews candidates become more of a person than just a GPA and test scores.

Julian Goldman said...

I feel mixed about the idea of portfolios becoming a standard part of the college admission process, though I do think they are going to, regardless of whether I like it or not. If portfolios become a replacement for standardized tests, I think that is great, but I doubt that is what will actually happen. Realistically, even if portfolios start as an optional element people can add to their application, the competitive nature of college admissions will lead to them becoming standard, if not outright required. This would then serve as yet another hoop for students applying to college to jump through, on top of the ACT, SAT, SAT subject tests, AP tests, and a myriad of essays. Even so, I do think a portfolio would allow for people to show their talents and skills in a way they couldn’t with grades, essays, and lists of activities alone. It will allow people’s passions and interests, assuming those passions and interests are productive, to be a part of them that admissions officers see. I guess I feel like it is good to have a portfolio as part of the admissions process, but I think it should replace something, not just be added to an ever-growing list.

Angel Zhou said...

This article incites a lot of personal experiences and agreement; as a computer science major who came into Carnegie Mellon University with slightly lower credentials than the ‘average’ computer science student, it was difficult for me to adjust during my freshman year in particular. As a result, I earned a number of C’s in my computer science classes, allowing me to pass but not on a company-appreciated scale. Though my GPA is still very high and though I have an above-average amount of work experience, the second a recruiter looks at my transcript, I know my chances of receiving an interview are significantly lowered.

I have worked for four startups in marketing and software; I have worked for Hutchin Hill Capital and Bank of America Merrill Lynch as a software engineer; I have organized and hacked at multiple hackathons and even placed in the top 10 category in the most prestigious hackathon in existence: PennApps. But, the second a company sees my C’s, they throw my application in the trash and don’t think twice. This is not speculation—I know this because I have been told this.

This is why I believe in the use of portfolios for screening in certain situations. Yes, grades factor in to a person’s abilities on an educational level, but there is also an added element of real-world experience, something you cannot gain in a school course; or, as Daragh Byrne put it, “once you get hands-on with the work, it’s a much more tacit way of understanding, through the work, how [the student] has actualized knowledge and encoded the things they’ve actually learned into physical things” I am happy that CMU, MIT, and Maker Media are discussing this issue, but it needs to be more widespread than just in college admissions. I hope this discussion sparks a much larger audience in future years.

Sabrina Browne said...

I think that the portfolio is what is missing from the college application process. There is no way to know a student or understand what they're capable of simply by looking at their numbers and test scores. If I wasn't given the opportunity to show my portfolio when applying to college, I wouldn't be where I am right now (drafting on the floor of 33 in case anyone is wondering). While portfolios have been a staple of mainly arts programs, there's no reason it has to be limited to the arts. There are so many ways students can show what they've done and what they've worked on that goes far beyond the arts. Portfolios are one of the real ways for college admission offices to see who they are admitting beyond whether or not the student could afford an ACT tutor or where they ranked in their high school class. I hope to see the focus of the college admission process shift from numbers to students.

Jasmine Lesane said...

I think that this is an excellent idea and I’m so glad that so many higher education groups are choosing to do it because I think this is an excellent way to change mindsets in the High school level. I personally don’t think that all standardized testing should be thrown out of the window, although I would like to here others opinion on that issue, but I do think there is a huge problem right now in secondary education being organized solely around standardized testing. Teaching to the test is what I have heard it commonly referred to as, and that makes boring humans, and encourages memorization not innovation. By CMU and MIT asking to se portfolios with original ideas and original work it puts pressure on these schools to push their students to create instead of just bubble in test answers. This is a lot more conducive for fresh creative ideas.

Vanessa Ramon said...

my favorite part of this article is when the idea that creativity is essential in any setting and that this idea is important to us today because we live in a time where many of us have grown up in a society where we are always "presenting" ourselves. having not to long ago gone through the process of applying to college myself, I have noticed that it has become apparent to our society that looking good on paper and getting the best scores on the SAT isn't enough anymore. I think that the old way of assessing someone's acceptance mainly on test scores was never enough and I am happy that we are now realizing it. everyone is different and learns differently and I think that implementing a portfolio based evaluation system would be beneficial to both parties. It shows more skills than just your ability to solve answers right in a certain amount of time. Portfolios can show how a person works and really provide insight into a persons standards and thought process.

Natalia Kian said...

Having gone to an arts high school which considered itself a "pre-professional training program" and where portfolio reviews and updates were a constant, expected part of the life of students in multiple art departments, I often forget that portfolios are not so common in most peoples' lives. To me, having a portfolio on me all through high school and upon entering every college interview was essential to communicating where I was in my artistic development, what I had to offer, how that was ever-changing, and what I could do to improve. My portfolio was my stepping stone for every constructive conversation I ever had regarding my craft, a diary of my journey in theatre design. Better than that, it was a diary I had to be willing to share with people at any given moment, which taught me to be open to displaying and discussing my faults and failures. This openness kept me in touch with how I needed to improve, and how I had made strides in the past by which to continue to do so. It made me comfortable with calling myself a designer, and taught me to see flaws as opportunity. Whether or not a student intends to become a "maker" for a living, I think maintaining a portfolio through high school and into college can do nothing but benefit their self-awareness. Having that visual, tangible extension of myself was key to defining and expressing myself as an interviewee in the field for which I kept it. I can't even begin to imagine how it could help draw bigger, grander connections for students interviewing and auditioning in other fields.

Cassidy Pearsall said...

Portfolios for non art students are a good idea. I know when I began applying to schools, I applied at similar schools that my friends applying for say, engineering were, and they would ask my "Why are you putting paperwork in your portfolio? Shouldn't it just be your art?" And I would say "Well, schools usually like people who are more well rounded, so this allows me to show off my artistic skill as well as managerial," and they would be dumbfounded. So many kids strive to look well rounded on their resumes, but having an actual place to have to plan and showcase only your best work is pretty cool.

On the other hand, this could also be limiting. I know a lot of people very deserving of getting into good schools but didn't because they didn't volunteer at 200 charities and weren't valedictorian, etc, but focused really hard on what they loved to do. This isn't a dig at the schools - let in more students you don't think deserve it!- but more of thought on how people may want to showcase their work in different ways. Should portfolios be mandatory for college admittance? I don't know. I don't think... Anything beyond the basic application should be mandatory, honestly. If I ran a school, wishful thinking here, I would want everyone who applied to just "showcase your best work in the best way possible," because then I would get some cool ass results. Maybe someone would send me a video of them jet skiing or something. I would be super impressed by that.

Mary Frances Candies said...

This is an incredibly interesting debate. Coming from an arts high school, portfolios were all we had in our college applications. All we talked about in terms of applying was what we were putting in our portfolios. The debate of opening up portfolios to non arts majors never crossed my mind in that process. All we knew were portfolios, and we knew that kids in "normal" high school were only worried about their SAT scores.
If I were every an admission person at a college, I think that I would enjoy seeing portfolios for every student. Even if there was not any art, any form of expresses their interests would be intriguing. It's difficult to learn who a student is through their test scores and 500 word essays. I think having some sort of portfolio would be beneficial to being able to understand who the student is.

Zara Bucci said...

Putting together my portfolio for college interviews was absolute hell. I had a 3 inch binder full of blocking and cues and photos and paperwork and light plots and costume renderings. Not only did I have that binder full of virtually everything that I have worked on… but I had 3. I had 3 duplicate copies of the same portfolio. I thought that this would be a smart idea because this way the interviewer could look at one as I was following along on mine and one can be sent out to colleges that I was not able to be there for an in person interview. At one point- this is exactly how it worked too! My portfolio was in Boston, LA, and New York all at the same time. It definitely worked in my favor to be over prepared for the interviews. Interviewers were generally impressed when I literally rolled in with my rehearsal case (on wheels) that held my 3 portfolios.

Emily Lawrence said...

When I was putting together my portfolio for my interview with the School of Drama, I questioned it every step of the way. But then in the interview I completely understood it. In my interview, my portfolio was barely discussed which allowed them more time to ask me questions to see if the school was a good fit for me. Many universities today check the students grades alone then admit. In Texas, there is a top ten percent policy that allows automatic acceptance to most every school, with the exception of the University of Texas. I don’t agree with this at all because the acceptance process is so much more than grades. It is about talent, hard work and dedication, and I believe a portfolio shows this the best. A student who will put the time into creating a portfolio is one who is at least worth considering. It would also be interesting to see portfolios being requested by other majors other than art, because this will help show creativity, something I believe grades cannot. I loved talking about my portfolio with people, and I think it would be useful to every student if they had one.

Alex Kaplan said...


I think that this is a really interesting idea. Adding a portfolio review to technical areas seems great, especially in reference to the ideas mentioned in the article, but it brings up some interesting problems as well. Currently, most portfolio reviews are performed by smaller fields and programs such as Art and Theatre Design and Production (hey, look at that!). This allows time for the professors/ admissions counselors to talk to the prospective students and spend the time looking at their portfolios. However, putting a portfolio review step into bigger programs might end up being more of a hindrance than a help. I fully believe that everyone has the capacity to make a portfolio of their work and that the creativity it reveals is important, but the amount of time it would take to review hundreds and possibly thousands of applicants portfolios could present a problem with scheduling and being able to remember and differentiate applicants. I think if programs are small with a smaller number of applicants, a portfolio would definitely help in the decision process. This idea is a good one overall, but could use some tweaking to make it plausible.

Zak Biggins said...

I fully support portfolios as an integral part of the college interview process, however, I do agree it disadvantages some. Portfolios are obviously very personal, time consuming- and expensive. Creating a portfolio is an endeavor that took me nearly 3 consecutive weekends to complete. Although I had a lot of fun creating mine, for some people it seemed to be the "bane of their existence". Nonetheless, I do believe that there is an extraneous amount of pressure associated with the admission process. Senior year, for me, only became fun after I was admitted: I was lucky because of early decision. I watched my friends every single day obsess and cry over SAT/ACT scores, AP curriculum, college applications, etc. In my opinion, we should not be making the college process harder, rather we should be making it easy enough to encourage students from across the world to apply. The more a college education is accessible to students, the more holistically trained we will become. An advantage to having a portfolio is that admissions counselors now have a face to a name. In a time where almost everything is dependent on how you are perceived on paper, having a portfolio would change the admissibility of an individual candidate. In summary, having a portfolio will add breadth and depth to your college application but it can possibly prohibit other qualified applicants due to their respective demographic or economical standing.

Sophie Chen said...

I can definitely see why colleges are starting to look into portfolios for non-artistic majors. Portfolios are a great way to show the personalities of the applicants, something that standardized test scores can't do. The inclusion of portfolios will also force the applicants to be thoughtful and think creatively in order to apply what they've learned. This reminds me of an opposite phenomenon that's happening in China: there are no portfolios whatsoever - even art students all have to take a test where they all draw the same thing in the same room in order to get into art school. It is common knowledge that the local high school students just take endless practice standardized tests at school every single day in order to get into college. As a result, a lot of new graduates aren't familiar with the ability to think creatively and independently, which can happen here too if all the emphasis is put on standardized tests. Another reason why I think portfolios are important is because it teaches applicants that knowing how to do good on tests isn't the only thing that matters - knowing who you are and knowing how to apply the knowledge you've learned in class in a creative way is just as important.

Chris Calder said...

People have been adding personal touches to their college applications for years, whether it be because they don’t look as good on paper as they do in reality, or because they want to stick out when they come across admissions desk. With more colleges eliminating the requirement for a standardized test and focusing more on a case-by-case basis, more students are trying to find a more appealing way to show off their work. The college application process was definitely not an enjoyable process for me as I’m sure it wasn’t for anyone. I am a firm believer that the portfolio I put together for my college interviews was the main reason I was admitted to CMU and the other schools I applied. But a theater portfolio is very different in comparison to something an MIT student is preparing. I am actually having a hard time understanding what these candidate would include because so many come from having no background in their field. So I can't say I see this a becoming a standard but definitely a rise in popularity.

Amanda Courtney said...

I was one of the the second to last generation of high school students to take the unrevised SAT. At the point I was applying for colleges, I was dealing with an antiquated system. Colleges had *just* started to question the SAT, and I think only about two college I had actually heard of had made the application process "SAT optional". It was the dawning of an age wherein a more holistic process was pursued. As someone who did a rote college application process, but also has had to present a portfolio, I can say unequivocally that I felt more thoroughly represented via a portfolio. In a way, the subjectivity of a portfolio reveals more about a student. Not only does it reveal the quality of their work, but it also demonstrates and directly reveals just what they value or think is important. I am glad to see this kind of evaluation on the rise.

Drew Himmelrich said...

I have varying thoughts about portfolio review for college admission. All in all, I think it is a great tool and is arguably more representative of the passion and rigor that a student will bring to a program. On the other hand, it can give students who had more experience in the past due to their high school, or living situation an unfair advantage. Students who come from a high school where coding is largely taught will arguably have a more refined portfolio then a student who taught himself the basics. Both students in that situation are impressive but it is important to analyze that one has more experience, but the other has passion enough to teach himself. As someone who brought a portfolio to my CMU “interview/portfolio review” I know that there is a sense of pride you have when displaying hard work, rather than showing good grades. Yes both come from your hard work, but you can’t learn much about someone from some letters on a transcript, its great to see what they can produce, so long as you look at everyone keeping in mind how they were able to produce the work you see.

John Yoerger said...

Oh, of course we'd have something to say about this one! I'm foremost proud to see that Carnegie Mellon (like always?) is on the forefront of innovative admission decisions like leading to a test-optional approach that encourages portfolio reviews. With only the considerations on test scores and academic GPA, an admissions decision can rest a lot on a student's writing ability and how well they do in a timed assessment. I'm not even talking artistic portfolio reviews at this point, I'm talking about general admissions: I think this is a great idea. The stress culture surrounding the college admissions process nowadays is huge because college isn't really "optional" anymore. (It is, but it isn't). Some students even see going to Yale over a State University to be a deal breaker that would destroy their path towards the career they want. That's why I think admission offices need to go out of their way to find everyone they can who would positively contribute to their university's environment. So what if they had lower grades because their homework distracted them? What if they are geniuses you'd only see if you evaluated their "maker" work. What are they actually doing, creating, with their hands? How can that positively change this university--and later--the world? That's the style of thinking we are *slowly* moving to. Hopefully, in the future such a positive tone on the admissions process will exist that allows for the fate of a life to not hinge so desperately on a SAT score.

Cosette Craig said...

This is incredibly interesting to me because I applied to many a college and a wide variety of universities a couple of years ago. When I was applying, I noticed that most universities opted for test scores, transcripts and numeric indicators of my success in high school. Some schools however, wanted more than that. Interesting enough, it was all the schools ranked highest on "best colleges" lists. By adding a portfolio or essay element, they gathered a well rounded group of students from diverse backgrounds that were smart in ways that couldn't be measured on tests. I am glad that we are moving away from very regimented college applications because it gives more opportunities for artists and the like to express their aptitude in subjects not covered by the SAT.

John Walker Moosbrugger said...

I think including portfolio’s in more admission’s contexts, even if they are simply a PDF attached to the application is an incredibly good idea. I also think if it becomes a large enough portion of the admissions to college it could lead to a big change in high school education. So much of how we teach high schoolers, as someone who was one not too long ago is about how to take tests. What if we were able to focus on the making side, an engineer who knows how to tinker, to understand the application of the physics might be far better at actually solving problems that don’t come neatly on a sheet of paper. There isn’t one correct answer in real life and portfolios allow students to show exceptional problem solving and creative applications of their knowledge that we will never get through a standardized test.

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