Applying to Creative Programmes

Posted on 22nd November 2021

Applying to Creative Programmes

The range and quality of creative programmes in the US is nothing short of incredible. There are world-leading programmes in a huge range of disciplines including music, film, creative writing, fine arts, drama, dance, architecture, and animation, to name but a few. Applying to these programmes is a demanding process, which takes time, planning, and of course, practice. However, with the right level of commitment and preparation, you can ensure that you put together a competitive application.

The two main types of supplements to creative programme applications are portfolios and auditions. A portfolio – a curated compilation of your creative work - is used to assess applicants to programmes such as fine art, animation, design, photography, and architecture. Auditions are used to assess performing arts programmes such as theatre, dance, and music. 

Visual portfolio requirements vary between colleges but typically require you to submit anywhere between 6 and 24 pieces of your work. Each programme will have its own specifications for the portfolio, and it’s important to pay close attention to these. It’s a good idea to demonstrate your competence in a range of media, such as drawing, collage, or photography, but some may ask for greater emphasis on particular disciplines such as life drawing, self-portraiture, or 3D modelling. While technique is important, ideas are crucial, too. Admissions officers want to see students who are unafraid of tackling big themes such as identity, religion, or politics, and the thematic content of your work will be assessed as much as the technical.

When planning portfolio applications, it’s a good idea to start putting together a collection of your work at least six months before submission, which gives you time to think about which pieces could feature in your portfolio and where there are gaps you need to plug. Some pieces will naturally come from art or design classes (assuming you are taking these in school), but it’s a good idea to showcase some of your own personal projects too. Don’t be afraid to take risks and to experiment with different forms and ideas. You should aim to develop a bank of around 30 pieces from which to select those that best fit the portfolio brief for each college. Each of these will need to be labelled according to the medium used, the dimensions of the piece, and a sentence or two about its creative inspiration. Most colleges will ask you to upload your portfolio to SlideRoom but be aware that the specifications for each college will vary. It’s therefore important to understand the requirements in advance and leave plenty of time to complete the submission process for each college.

Before submission it’s a good idea to have a professional look at your work and advise you on curation. For instance, you might have a series of photographs that are linked thematically and could be displayed on one slide, or there might be artworks that stand out as particularly strong and should be a statement piece in your portfolio. There may also be pieces that are weaker technically or thematically that should be removed from the short-list. You can get your portfolio reviewed for free through National Portfolio Day events that take place throughout the autumn and by uploading your work to the AICAD Slideroom account (a service the Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design provides for free). Here at UES we have specialists who can review your portfolio in depth.

The other main way in which students are assessed for creative programmes is through live audition. Some programmes such as music performance or drama may ask for recorded pieces or monologues at the pre-screening stage before selection for an in-person audition. Again, requirements for these auditions may vary, so you will likely need to plan your repertoire several months before pre-selection. In the US, standards at the top conservatories are extremely high, so it’s a good idea to get feedback from professionals in the field and gauge where you should be pitching yourself in terms of the standard and selectivity of the programmes.

It’s not just fine and performing arts programmes that accept creative submissions, however: many undergraduate colleges without an affiliated fine arts school or conservatory like to see students’ ability in the creative arts during the admissions process. After all, they don’t just have classes to populate, they have studios, theatres, and concert halls to fill as well. Some colleges may also give the option for submitting poetry or prose as part of a creative writing portfolio. And while the standard for a portfolio or live recording to supplement an application to a liberal arts programme may not be as high as one for a fine arts programme or conservatory, they should still be approached a high level of preparation and care. 

Here at UES we have a network of professionals with expertise in a range of different genres of creative disciplines, including classical music, jazz, and contemporary music, visual arts, architecture, animation, theatre and dance. If you would like a free initial consultation with our Head of College Counselling, Simon Lewis, to discuss creative applications, then please use the link here:

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