Why a well-presented portfolio hugely increases your chances of getting on that course

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The Independent Online

Your work says a lot about you, so when putting together your personal portfolio for an art or design course interview, remember there's no particular look that an admissions tutor is after. A portfolio shows your abilities and interests, and any strong finished work will stand out. But don't throw out notes, sketches, notepads or any other media. Photographs, tear sheets and finished products act as useful references and show how you've developed your ideas and demonstrate your creative processes.

There are no rights and wrongs when it comes to your portfolio, but most colleges do offer written guidelines to help students and there are a few basic rules to follow. Talk to your personal tutor about the courses you are interested in and ask for help in organising your portfolio. Chris King, art teacher at Burford School, recommends that students present a wide range of work, particularly drawing in different types of media. So unless you have an enormous amount of work, don't leave out too much. "It's important to show your progression of ideas over the previous two years," says King. "It's worth organising your portfolio in chronological order, with the best and most recent work at the start."

Roslyn Cunningham, head of art at Queen Elizabeth School, Eastbourne, says presentation makes your work look better and it's easier for the viewer to understand. Her top tip is to include any extra work that you've completed outside school, especially from life drawing classes, and bring any sketchbooks and scrapbooks as these let people see how you think and what interests you.

Every college is different, so it's a good idea to research the course you are applying for and adapt your portfolio to impress without trying too hard to please.

Chris suggests the perfect portfolio should include "a selection of small work mounted together on white A1 cartridge paper to show a sequence of ideas developing towards a final outcome. Keep any photographs referencing finished work or ideas for finished work mounted in groups on A1 paper or card, or presented in display folders. You should also include any work that shows knowledge and use of colour in a range of media and work which is the result of experimentation with mixed media and materials other than pencil, charcoal or paint."

Evidence of experience in 3D, sculpture, ceramics or constructions of any sort is also valuable. Take photographs if it is too cumbersome to transport and display in a separate folder. Lastly, bring along anything that shows evidence of investigation and, most importantly, the development of ideas.

It also helps to be aware of issues in contemporary art and design. This will help broaden your field of reference. It will also help you feel more knowledgeable, and with knowledge comes confidence. Make a habit of reading art reviews in national newspapers, visit exhibitions and get yourself on gallery mailing lists so you can attend exhibitions, openings and events, meet artists and curators, and immerse yourself in the art scene.

Two routes to take

By Amy McLellan

If you're thinking of studying art or design in Higher Education, you'll need to know about the applications procedure. Unlike other subjects, there are two possible routes onto an art and design degree programme. Both are through UCAS but have different deadlines.

Route A is the same as the main UCAS scheme, where you can list up to six choices simultaneously. UCAS will send the application to each of the chosen universities at the same time. You can hold up to two conditional offers.

Under route B, you can list up to three choices, in order of preference. UCAS will send the application to the first choice, which will decide whether to invite you to an interview and then whether to make an offer. If the offer is accepted, UCAS will cancel the other choices. If the offer is declined or no offer is made, UCAS will send the application to the second choice, and so on. Route B applications have a later deadline, which gives those studying a foundation year more time to identify their specialisation and prepare their portfolio.

It is also possible to apply for courses through a combination of Routes A and B, with a total of six choices spread across both options. A maximum of three Route B courses can be chosen in any combination.

See www.ucas.com for a breakdown of all application and interview deadlines.