As shared in the last essay posted earlier this week – APPLYING, we discussed the elements of an application.  The one aspect that is probably the most worrisome is the PORTFOLIO.  Please note that this is NOT the definite resource on portfolios; additional resources on portfolios are listed at the bottom of the essay.

What is a portfolio? For admission purposes, it is a compilation of creative work you have done on your own or as part of a class.  It may include freehand drawings, poetry, photographs, or photographs of three-dimensional models or work.  A portfolio is a means used by the admissions office or graduate admissions committee to determine technical skills, creative ability, motivation, and originality.

Remember, there is a difference between what undergraduate programs may require and what graduate programs do require.  Unlike most other majors, undergraduate architecture programs may require a portfolio; this is especially true for Bachelor of Architecture degree programs. All graduate architecture programs will require a portfolio regardless of your academic background.  Requiring a portfolio does not mean you have to be a talented architect prior to admission.  Rather, the portfolio demonstrates your level of creativity and commitment to architecture.


Below is from an undergraduate architecture program; as you can see, the portfolio is a critically important part of your application.

A portfolio is a required and critically important component of the application. The portfolio should contain several examples of freehand drawings including sketches as well as fully developed work. In addition to drawing, a range of artistic media needs to be demonstrated, but each applicant should emphasize the work where their skills and passion are expressed most strongly. Painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, video, woodworking, and other crafts can convey artistic experience and aptitude.

The portfolio is a creative act, showing your skills and imagination, but it is also an act of communication and a tool for self-promotion.Harold Linton, Portfolio Design

If you are applying as an undergraduate, gain a better understanding of what to include by contacting the program.  Despite the temptation, it is typically recommended not to include any drafting or computer-assisted design (CAD) work; again, check with the individual school for exact requirements.  As a few programs have very specific requirements on the portfolio, be sure to follow directions; Cooper Union does not require a portfolio but asks candidates to complete a home test that includes drawing requirements.

Also, many undergraduate programs do NOT require a portfolio but may later have a portfolio review once you are in the program.


Probably more so than when applying from high school, the portfolio is an important criterion when applying to a graduate program.  If you background is NOT in architecture, do not worry about including architectural work, but rather include creative works – painting, studio art, photography, drawing furniture design, etc.  Completing a portfolio is a good reason to take an art or drawing course prior to applying.

When applying to a graduate program with an undergraduate degree in architecture, you must be your own critic to determine what work to include.  Again, follow the requirements of the institution to which you are applying. Some graduate programs may limit the physical dimensions and the number of pages; As expected, most programs including University of California at Berkeley request the submission of digital portfolios.  Below is from the UCB website:

A digital portfolio is required for applicants to all degree programs.  The portfolio may contain up to 12 pages (8-1/2″x11″-format) of design content. Please note that beyond 12 pages, your portfolio may not be reviewed.  Title page and/or table of contents may be submitted and will not count toward the 12 pages of content.  The digital portfolio should showcase recent, high-quality work, and will be judged on both content and overall design.  Applicants without professional training may submit work that shows other evidence of creativity (studio art, construction/renovation, furniture design, etc.) and clearly demonstrates interest in the proposed subject field.


Actually, your portfolio is more than just a collection of your creative work; it is an opportunity to show your design skills through its layout, organization and format.  How the portfolio is done says much about you as a future architect.  Bottom line solicit feedback on your portfolio from classmates, faculty and the institution to which you are applying.

One resource to consider is PortfolioDesign.com.  Both a website and book by Harold Linton, Portfolio Design provides guidance and insight on how to create your portfolio.  As well, you may want to learn the Adobe suite of software if you do not know it.  If you are early in your educational path, be sure to document your creative work from studio and other courses.  And, save a backup and another backup of your work to protect yourself.


Harold Linton, Portfolio Design (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.; 4th ed., 2012).

Katerina Ruedi Ray, Lesley Lokko, and Igor Marjanovic, The Portfolio: An Architecture Student’s Handbook (Oxford: Architectural Press; 1st ed., 2003)

Archisoup, The Portfolio Guide (Archisoup, 2020)


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