How to Apply To Portfolio School

Portfolio schools all basically do the same thing: help create amazing campaigns to blow the minds of creative directors and get you a job.

The thing is, portfolio school is nothing like high school or college. No one is going to make you go to class or make you push your ideas more. The grades barely matter. There is no extra credit. Your entire experience depends on you. No matter which school you go to, you are the one constant and the one thing that will determine how far you make it. 
Seeing that you're about to commit your whole life and being to creating your portfolio, you should pick a school that best fits your needs, personality and goals. You're going to be spending a lot of time (and money) there, so do your research to make sure you're in the right place.

Don’t limit yourself by cost or location. Look at the culture, environment, agency liaisons, internship and placement opportunities, teachers, students, awards and the work of recent graduates. Find where you fit in best and then roll your sleeves up and get ready to work.

I interviewed some admissions folks at Art Center (AC), BrandCenter at VCU (VCU), The Creative Circus (CC) and Miami Ad School (MAS) to get information on the application process and gather some tips for how you can make sure you get in.

When to apply:
AC: Any time. Classes start September, January and May.
VCU: January through May. Classes start in every Fall.
CC: Any time. Classes start January, April, July and October.
MAS: Any time. Classes start January, April, July and October.

What you need to apply:
AC: A portfolio, application, application fee, essays, high school or college transcript.
VCU: A series of assignments based on your track (Art Direction, Communications Strategy, Copywriting, Creative Brand Management, Creative Technology), the Brand You questionnaire, bachelor degree (any degree, doesn’t have to be advertising), college transcripts, 3 letters of recommendation, application and fee, GRE/GMAT (for Creative Brand Management and Communications Strategy only)
CC: High school diploma or GED equivalent, admissions interview (to see if The Circus is the right fit for the student and if the student is the right fit for The Circus.) Application and fee, essay and portfolio.
MAS: A checklist with various, fun assignments to see their ideas and creativity. Along with the regular requirements of an application (contract, letters of recommendation, etc) we require an assignment, creative samples and a video component having them show us how they are creative. 

Who reviews your application:
AC: Admissions staff and chair of the relevant major
VCU: Brandcenter professors
CC: Admissions reps and department heads for each program
MAS:  An admissions person from the specific location

What they look for in your application:
AC: Fresh ad concepts across different mediums (print, web, etc). The ability to connect in a quick, impactful and relevant way. Drawing, graphics and typography skills.
VCU: Creativity. Smart Thinking. Passion.
CC: Passion and drive. Those are attributes we can’t teach.
MAS: Ideas and creativity are the most important. We can teach the skills needed but we can not teach creativity.

Ways to win them over:
AC: Layered meanings. Unexpected solutions.
VCU: Interesting perspectives and life experiences. Humility. Humor.
CC: Enthusiasm. Humility. Talent.
MAS: Ingenuity. Organized applications. Packaging - when I tear open the postal package to find a neat hand-made box or collage binder inside, it shows the effort. 
Ways to turn them off:
AC: Shock value for the sake of shock value. Bad spelling/grammar. Pieces with no idea behind them.
VCU: Typos. Immature/ unprofessional communication. Having their mom call me.
CC: Thinking you know more than you do. Not listening.
MAS:  Poor time management. Applying to more than one location. Doubting yourself.

Tips & Advice:
AC: Include finished pieces and sketches and process pieces that lead up to the final ideas in your portfolio.
VCU: Simplicity is best. Just like the industry we serve, we look for diversity in our candidates. Not only racial and cultural diversity but also diversity of life experiences. 
CC: Our most successful students don’t need to be reminded or cajoled into completing their work because they are passionate about it. They do it because they love it.
MAS: If you want to be a writer, submit writing samples - a fun Twitter account or insightful blog. As an art director, you do not necessarily need to be a painter/drawer - things like photography or a Tumblr with everyday things that inspire you show insight.
When you’ll hear back:
AC: Within two weeks.
VCU: Six to eight weeks.
CC: Within two weeks.
MAS: Usually withing two to three weeks of receiving the complete application 

What if you’re accepted:
AC: Work out your financial aid, put down your deposit and start counting down. 
VCU: New student orientation in late August.
CC: A whole bunch of paperwork and financial aid. Start reading and preparing. Get lots of sleep.
MAS: They start getting correspondence about housing, financial aid, software etc. I also try to invite them to our various FB pages so they can start meeting/interacting with current students. 

What if you’re rejected:
Try again. All schools give feedback, make recommendations and encourage students to reapply.
Special thanks to
Shannon Cobourn, Director of Marketing and Admissions at the Creative Circus
Karen Berndt, Admissions Coordinator at VCU Brandcenter
Kit Baron, Vice President of Admissions at Art Center 
Katie Lever, Admissions at Miami Ad School, Miami