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5 Tips For a Killer Graduate School Portfolio

Jan 17, 2021 By Elyse Economides

A portfolio is an essential piece of your graduate school application. It shows your skills, but more importantly, it demonstrates your level of professionalism in how you’re able to present yourself and your work.

Creating a portfolio is not easy. It takes time to decide how to focus and best showcase your talents. Putting together a portfolio requires you to sit down and realistically determine where your strengths lie, so you can organize your work in a way that makes it obvious to the reviewers that you belong in the program.

Al Sinoy, an alumnus of the Master of Digital Media program at Centre for Digital Media, was a MDM visiting faculty member and has worked for a number of Vancouver-based companies as a product manager and Scrum master. He is an expert in portfolios; he created one for his application to the MDM program and throughout his career he has reviewed portfolios for job applicants and MDM students. Here are Al’s top portfolio tips.

1. Know your audience.

Make sure your portfolio is aligned with industry and program standards. When applying for MDM, for example, it’s best to submit an online portfolio. An online portfolio is easier for reviewers to access, gives you more control in how your portfolio is presented and shows that you’re digital media savvy—something that the program is looking for in applicants.

2. Use more visuals than text.

Visuals attract attention. I recommend including a visual and a short anecdote for each project you’re presenting. In the anecdote include a short description of the project, what you did, what you used and, if it was a team-based project, what your role was and what you contributed to the project.

3. Showcase your top strengths.

If you have a wide variety of skills, be selective. Just because you like to paint, doesn't mean that you should include painting in your portfolio. Make your portfolio competitive and ensure that it best demonstrates your skills and talents. If you are skilled in both Photoshop and Illustrator but you’re stronger in Photoshop make that clear. Be honest with where your skill levels are.

4. Make your first page lean.

Include your name, your title (or what you want to be), 3 bullet points describing who you are, and your top 3 portfolio pieces on your first page. Reviewers look at hundreds of applications, so you want to quickly introduce yourself so that people reviewing your portfolio can easily get to the meat of your work.

5. Explain why the program will help you achieve your goals.

Make sure to clarify your goals and what you will get out of the program. Reviewers want to see that you are looking ahead and have future plans for your education and your career.

Bonus Tip: Make it look professional! It sounds obvious but it's surprising how many people spend all of their time selecting what to include and forget to polish and proofread their portfolio. A portfolio with amazing work doesn’t impress reviewers if it’s full of typos or presented in a cardboard box. When putting together your portfolio, think about the entire package.

Still have questions about your graduate school portfolio?

Check out our tips for preparing your portfolio for helpful information on what to include depending on if you have a background in computer science, information technology, art, design, business or marketing. Or watch this video on portfolio tips from our admissions officer, Ryan.

For even more insight about how to make your portfolio stand out, register for our final webinar before the February 15th deadline!

Note: This post was originally published in January 2014 and has been updated for accuracy.