5 Tips for Putting Together a Killer Student Portfolio

Marianne Stenger
21st May 2018

If you’re taking a creative course, you’ll likely need to complete a final major project before the end of your final year to demonstrate your learning and progression.

Putting together a student portfolio is also important if you intend to apply for a degree, and it can even be a good way to show potential employers what you’re all about once you start looking for internships and jobs. After all, what better way is there to stand out than to present the highlights of your work in a professionally bound photo book?

Of course, while your student portfolio can be a great opportunity to get creative and describe and interpret what you’ve learned, it can also be a bit overwhelming. So whether you’re developing your final major project or are just looking to put together a strong portfolio that highlights your skills and achievements so far, here are a few tips.

1. Plan your time

Your first step should be to review the basic requirements and deadline, think about how you want to present your work and then try to be realistic about how long it will take you.

Of course, it can be difficult to know exactly how long a project might take you until you’ve actually gotten started, but breaking it up into smaller parts and setting aside a certain amount of time for each section will help the whole thing seem a lot more doable.

Keep in mind that your vision and ideas may also change and evolve over time, so it’s always a good idea to plan in some extra time for unforeseen setbacks or changes that may be needed midway.

Take a look at Linnea Ernofsson's book, Predators:Portraits of the Missing Link in the British Landscape, a visual introduction to the four large predators of northern Europe, wolf, bear, lynx, wolverine that once used to roam Britain.

2. Gather as much material as possible

The most time consuming part of developing your portfolio will probably be gathering all the relevant information, images, sketches and other content you want to include. Visit exhibitions and film screenings or read art reviews to gain a better insight into your subject.

It’s always better to end up with too much material than too little. Even if you don’t end up using all of it, the process of researching your subject in depth and gathering information will help you develop a clear vision and create a well-rounded final project.

3. Be selective

Once you’ve gathered plenty of information and material, it’s time to put everything together and decide what to include and what to discard. You want to show off your best work, while also demonstrating that you’re a well-rounded student or candidate, which means you’ll have to be very selective about what you include in your final portfolio.

Although your first instinct might be to organise your work in chronological order, this isn’t necessarily the best strategy, since your most recent work tends to be your strongest. Instead, look for the visual work that you feel best communicates your artistic skill and creativity.

Computer animation art student Anthony Faulkner's photo book, The Art of Skye, is a great example of how you can document any process used to put together your project. 

4. Tell a story

Another way to help your portfolio or photo book stand out is to find a way to tell a story through your images or sketches, rather than just making it a random collection of work you’ve completed. Of course, there are different ways to do this, and how you choose to go about it depends on your chosen subject. 

For instance, marine and wildlife photography student Rosie Dutton used her photography skills to tell the story of the problems facing wild bears in Europe today, as well as some of the projects that are being put in place to help them. Check out Bears of the Carpathian to find out more.  

5. Let your passion shine through

Regardless of how you choose to approach your final major project, the best way to stand out is to go above and beyond the basic requirements and use your project to demonstrate what you’re most excited and passionate about.

Find a way to bring your interests to life, whether it’s through photography, animations, sketches or 3D models. Even if your project isn’t the most polished, if you’re willing to take risks and let your creativity and passion shine through, you can be sure that it won’t go unnoticed.