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UAL: The Perfect Portfolio

Last Thursday, Senior students from Wenona and Monte attended a presentation from world-leading University of the Arts London (UAL) to learn how to develop a successful portfolio.

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When applying for an art, fashion, communications or design degree in the UK, it’s not just the interview you need to think about; impressing your prospective tutor with your portfolio is vital for securing a place.

Ranked second in the world for Art and Design, UAL has a world-class reputation, with six of its colleges regarded as global leaders of undergraduate creative education: Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion and Wimbledon College of Arts.

It also boasts a dazzling list of alumni, some of whom have gone on to win Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAS and the BP Portrait Award. Half of all Turner Prize winners, over two thirds of the winners of British Designer of the Year and many of the fashion designers that showed at London Fashion Week attended UAL.

With its state-of-the-art facilities, its inspirational teaching and its variety of cutting-edge courses, it’s hardly surprising that UAL can have its pick of the best and the brightest students. With places highly coveted, students need to make their work stand out from the crowd if they want their application to be successful.

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Last Thursday afternoon, Director of Student Opportunity and Career Education, Ms Samantha McFetridge organised for leading UAL academic, Cath Johnston to visit Wenona. Ms Johnston gave a presentation in the Independent Theatre to Senior College students - and approximately 10 students from Monte - to outline what she looks for in a portfolio. Students were encouraged to bring along their own portfolios for Ms Johnston to review.

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Ms Johnston explained that the best portfolios always tell you something about the person applying.

“We’re looking for a sense of the candidate, and it’s really great to see their own personal projects,” she said. “A portfolio should be professional AND human. We really want to see you amongst the pages.”


She emphasised that tutors want to see more than completed school projects. Satisfying a brief means that a student is competent, but it doesn’t show that they are excited about anything. Tutors want to see imagination, individuality and drive, so if a student can demonstrate their passion for a subject, it’s a great way to impress.

She encouraged the students to attend exhibitions, write blogs, sign up for summer school courses or get involved in community art projects to demonstrate their commitment and passion about their chosen field.

She also recommended that art and fashion students practise life drawing by attending extra classes or doing it in their own time.

She also explained that she likes to see scrapbooks of things that excite them – it could be samples of knitting or weaving. “There’s no template for the perfect portfolio. We want to see your potential and your skills.”

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She highlighted that it’s also important to present rough work – sketches, doodles, notes – which helps to showcase creativity, thought processes and a willingness to experiment and take risks.

It also helps tutors to see how a student has arrived at a finished product. Rough work is an opportunity to show self-reflection and areas that a student would like to change or develop.

And she suggested that it's always a good idea to label work with contextual information, so that tutors can readily understand concepts, inspiration and intentions.

Ms Johnston said above all, a portfolio should show a student’s genuine love for their subject.

It was a fascinating presentation that left the students - and teachers - inspired to find out more about courses at UAL.

Encouraging more students to study overseas is something Ms McFetridge is keen to support, and she has a wealth of information and advice for any students who are interested in pursuing this.