Tips For Creating An Architecture Student Portfolio

Posted by Brenda Ronan on Feb 13, 2020 11:33:58 AM

Creating a great architecture student portfolio is one of the most important steps toward getting into a college architecture program. But putting together your portfolio can be challenging, especially as a high school student. The unfortunate truth is that most high schools don't offer courses specifically geared toward architecture. Luckily, you can still create an architecture student portfolio that will make you stand out. 

A great portfolio does more than put your artwork in front of college admissions officials. It serves as an introduction to who you are—your interests, your skills, and your unique perspective—and gives you an opportunity to make a memorable first impression. Take advantage of that opportunity, and use these tips to put together an architecture student portfolio that leaves its mark on anyone who sees it. 


Keep Formatting Simple

A lot of architecture students put a lot of time and effort into creatively formatting their portfolios. While this can be beneficial up to a point, a lot of that effort is misplaced. At the end of the day, it's the simplest, cleanest layouts that are the most effective. The focus should be on the work itself, and that comes across best when the layout is straightforward and consistent.

This is equally true of traditional physical portfolios as it is for online galleries of your work. A plain and simple binder is often the best choice for physical portfolios, and online templates such as those offered by Squarespace work great, allowing for simple navigation and clear full-size image viewing. For online submissions, creating a PDF version of your portfolio is also the method of choice for many design schools. 

Understand the Purpose of Your Portfolio

Take some time to consider what you want your architecture student portfolio to accomplish, and how to make it as effective as possible. What do you most want to show off? How do you want people to respond after seeing your portfolio?

Sometimes it's great to include a chronological arrangement of your work, so that your progression and development are clear. Other times, it's better to only display your best and most up-to-date work. Keep in mind also that different colleges may have different expectations of what your portfolio should contain, so be prepared to tailor your portfolio to each individual situation. 

Include a Variety of Work in an Architecture Portfolio

High school art classes seldom focus on architectural design, and those that do, do so sparingly. Admissions officials understand this, and they won't penalize you unfairly for the opportunities you haven't had. That said, it is important that your portfolio display a wide-ranging interest on your part, one that includes but isn't limited to architecture. 

architecture-portfolio-pencil-drawing Pencil drawings from Architecture: Summer at Penn students during the Skills & Free Drawing Session

Include work in a variety of mediums—pencil, pen and ink, painting, sculpture, photography—and branch out into digital mediums if you can. If you have the opportunity to do so, try to get some experience with 3D modeling. Include work that you've created for classes and projects, but also your own personal work that you've done on your own time. This will show that you have an interest and passion for architecture that extends beyond the classroom. 


This video shows the 3D Models high school students create while working at Architecture: Summer at Penn. They are professionally photographed and offer an excellent addition to any aspiring architect's portfolio. 

Learn to Photograph Your Work

Whether it's 2D or 3D work, being able to photograph your art well is essential to a great architecture student portfolio. So much can be lost in a bad photograph of a painting or sculpture, that it can seriously harm your portfolio. If you haven't had much experience photographing your work before, there are many helpful online tutorials, and your art teacher will surely have some excellent guidance to offer. 

Photograph using a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera if you can (a smartphone can work in a pinch, but only if it has a truly exceptional camera). Use resolution no smaller than 5x7 inches at 300dpi, and make sure the light balance settings are right for the setting. Take multiple pictures at different exposures, and take your time until you get the right shot. Avoid over-adjusting your pictures on Photoshop after the fact; make only the adjustments necessary to make your work appear as natural as possible. 

Emphasize Quality Over Quantity

A long portfolio is by no means better than a short portfolio. In fact, it's often quite the opposite. Colleges receive hundreds, even thousands, of portfolio submissions, and going through them all from front to back can be a challenge. So avoid the temptation to over-stuff your portfolio with as much work as possible, and focus on what you really want to be seen.

Include broad enough spectrum of work to showcase your interests, abilities and creativity, but don't overdo it. Include only work that shows your talent in the best light. It's also wise to prepare for the possibility that your portfolio won't be looked at in its entirety. Put your best work at the front to make a lasting first impression, and choose a great piece to close it with at the end.

Limit Text in Your Architecture Portfolio

The "less is more" approach is also true of the text component of your student portfolio. Including the title of each piece and a few brief descriptions is great, but don't pack out your portfolio with lengthy blocks of text. It's exhausting to read it all, and the truth is that many college officials will only look at the images and skip most of the text. 

For the text you do include, use a crisp, clear, easy-to-read font, and keep it consistent throughout. Use bullet points or lists to sum up key points about a project if necessary; just don't include so much text that it takes away from the main attraction—your artwork.

Gain Experience Over the Summer

Many colleges and universities offer architecture summer programs designed to give high school students useful real-world architecture experience. From developing your creative process to learning specific architectural design skills, these programs offer high school students a chance to immerse themselves in the world of architecture, and get a taste for what studying architecture in college will really be like. 

Summer programs also provide an opportunity to explore cutting-edge architectural tools like 3D model making. The work you create here can help you build your architecture student portfolio, and give you a leg up when it comes time to apply to colleges. 

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Topics: Architecture at PennDesign

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