Can an art portfolio affect your Reach, Target, Likely designations?

If you normally use GPA and test scores to rank schools you’re applying to by Reach-Target-Likely, how is that affected by an art admissions portfolio? It seems that you could be a pretty good student but the portfolio could overcome some perceived “weakness” in gpa or scores. Or, do they even look at your portfolio if you haven’t crossed the hazy gpa/scores threshold? We want to make sure we are hitting all three categories with applications, but do the same metrics apply regardless of portfolio?

My son applied to film programs. Some didn’t even want a portfolio. Some did. It really depends on the school. Talk to admissions is the best advice. Some film schools had specific information sessions on what they wanted in a portfolio.

I would look at acceptance rates for the programs as the best gauge. Then GPA/scores. Don’t use the overall acceptance rate at the school. It could be much different than the area you apply.

It’s a nerve racking process without a portfolio. Even more unknowns with a portfolio. My best advice is to just do your best, apply and move on. You can drive yourself nuts over analyzing your portfolio.

Might help to mention the schools.

are these for art or design schools? is the major art-related?


I seriously doubt that an arts supplement will make a less than stellar GPA or standardized test score seem less so.

BUT an arts supplement might be the thing that differentiates one top applicant from another.

Conventional wisdom is…submit an arts supplement if it’s outstanding…not some meh one.

I am more familiar with music supplements. My view (and experience) is that you have to meet a benchmark with academics like grades, but an arts supplement/portfolio can make quite a difference in admissions. And can make a difference even when rigor or grades is not tippy top.

Selective colleges are assembling a class, and along with socioeconomic and geographic diversity, diversity of talent contributes to the desired mix.

For indications of this, you may want to view Common Data Sets for colleges of interest. The importance of “talent/ability” as a selection criterion appears to vary substantially. As examples, Bowdoin marked talent/ability as “very important,” the highest level, while Hamilton marked this two levels downward, at “considered.”

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@thumper1 's advice is probably correct for most ‘non-specialized’ colleges, but the OP was asking about a portfolio in this art-school forum. (not a supplement)

For art schools, portfolios are very important and to some degree I do believe a very good portfolio will offset lower range GPA and/or scores.

As I’m sure you know, there are National Portfolio Days where you can get feedback on your work from AOs from the art schools. They can probably provide good info on chances.

good luck.

I didn’t think it was clear at all that the OP is applying to arts schools. Even non-majors can post in the art forum. It would seem obvious that a portfolio would affect “reach, target and likely designations” since most art schools want a portfolio. So that led to a few of us responding about a supplement for a non-BFA program. The OP never returned to clarify this despite the questions posed by @bgbg4us


Hello, I am the OP, and I apologize for not returning. I didn’t actually know how to find my own old posts, how dumb does that sound, nor see if anyone had responded. But aha! Thank you all for your comments and questions. My son is applying to primarily art schools but also to some liberal arts schools, ALL of which require a portfolio. He’s got a 3.9 gpa, a 32 act, and a 1400 sat, but not an assertive AP situation going on here. He’s building a portfolio and he’s doing pretty well at that. BUT, I am mentally going in circles about the reach-target-likely thing. We need 3-4 of each, right? So do we stick to GPA/test scores to categorize? I’m thinking so. And yes, we’re doing some NPD reviews as well.

I think you’re going to need to drill down on a school-by-school basis. For example see the following from NYU. I’m sure others differ,

  • An audition or portfolio for specific artistic program applicants to the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and Tisch School of the Arts. For applicants to these programs, testing is optional and a required audition or portfolio can be submitted in place of standardized testing:

I’ll bite.

If your son is applying to schools where a portfolio will be the major factor in admissions, the the whole “reach, match, safety” thing just doesn’t apply in the same way.

As with music or dance or drama majors, the audition is the key element for admission to these programs, not the GPA or SAT score. The audition is compared to all the others who are doing auditions. There is no way to gauge the strength of the admissions pool in advance.

This is the same for studio art majors who must submit a portfolio. This portfolio and the strength of it is often THE thing which determines acceptance to these schools.

So…exactly what are his schools using to determine admission?


If he’s going for an ART degree then the portfolio will be most important. Grades may factor in for awarding scholarship money but not necessarily for admission to the school.

As for “reach, target” criteria–it depends on what type of art major your son wants to pursue. Illustration, computer animation, graphic arts, game art, motion design, design etc.
As an example RISD is very prestigious for illustration ( “reach”)
Ringling and CalArts are prestigious for animation with very competitive admissions (and so become “reaches” in terms of admission for THAT major). And at the same time getting into Ringling as an illustration major is more “target”. Depends on what your son wants to do.

As you look at schools look at student work. Some schools are more “experimental”, some very “traditional” etc. See if you like the quality of work–they vary greatly.


Thank you, this is the best explanation yet.

@Beth_Lee you just need to check school policies. For my arts kid, there was one university he applied to where he had to be academically accepted to the university BEFORE his audition could be scheduled. And there were a couple of others where admission for academic bar needed to be met, or be very close to being met.

So do check. Find out whether the portfolio is the main thing (I’m guessing it will be for those arts schools much like an audition is treated for musicians).

You might find some help on this area of this forum as it includes visual arts.

Your son’s gpa and scores are well above the median for all art schools, even the most selective. And being a male will help too. So congratulations. Now just concentrate on assembling a great portfolio.

To categorize reach-target-likely, I’d use the male acceptance percentage of the schools (easily researched.)