What to Do When Preparing to Apply to Art School- A Post for All High School Juniors

Recently I got a comment on my latest blog asking what advice I would give to a prospective student getting ready to apply to an art school like Parsons. This is a common question I get on campus tours and daily in The New School Welcome Center and instead of replying to just her, I thought it would make a great blog post for all y’all!

It’s stressful applying to schools and even more so applying to art school. In my case, it seemed completely foreign to me to create a portfolio instead of doing what my friends were doing – writing essays and sending transcripts. All of sudden there was this whole other major component that I couldn’t get help with because no one knew how to put one together. I was out on my own researching and trying to figure out how to actually apply to art school correctly and with the best portfolio I could put together. So I can understand where y’all are coming from and hopefully with a couple of tips I can help you start preparing to apply to art and design schools, like Parsons.

A peek into my sketchbook!

1. Start Sketchbookin’– If your going to go show your portfolio in person (such as at National Portfolio Day or at an admissions appointment), admissions counselors love to see your sketchbook!  A sketchbook allows them to see what you are actually thinking about and how you think creatively- it’s really the most exposed you can be. I suggest to newbies in the sketchbook game to set aside 15 minutes a night and start doodling. And when I say a strict 15 minutes a night, I mean from 9:00 to 9:15 you are going to sketchbook. Not only will this build your sketchbook, you’ll get better at drawing and have more ideas for final pieces you may want to include in your portfolio.

2. Take a College Class– A lot of universities and art schools offer portfolio prep classes for high school students on the weekends. So if you live near a major city like I did, they are easy to find or even some local community colleges offer them. My high school use to get scholarships for classes but on average a class will be around 200 dollars. These classes not only give you more training but will help you create more pieces to choose from for your portfolio.

3. Make, Make and Make– If your summer is full of nothing but your butt on a couch, start making! When it says put together a portfolio of 12 pieces, it doesn’t necessarily mean just make 12 pieces. It’s easier to just make, make and make and then narrow it down to 12 pieces. Not only will you have more to choose from, an admissions counselor during a portfolio review can help you decide what to submit for a final application. So don’t limit yourself, just create!

4. Be You– My advice for any student is to create what you want to create. Art schools aren’t looking for the next Van Gogh – they are looking for someone with new ideas and fresh talent. So don’t think you need your portfolio to be all traditional landscapes, silly fruit still lives and pictures of hands. Liven it up, include things you like to do because once again it’s going to show what makes you different than any other applicant. So if you like to draw comics, write graffiti, make sculptures out of trash, or paint murals – submit it. I like to give the advice: when you are making your portfolio, have half of your portfolio show technical ability (like the  landscape, a self portrait or a still life) and then the other half be completely you and what you like to do. So don’t hesitate, the wilder the better!

I hope these tips help all prospective applicants out there and best of luck on creating your portfolios! If you have any questions or up coming blog suggestions don’t hesitate to comment below!

About Katie

Hi there y'all! My name is Katie and I am an Admissions Counselor here at Parsons. I am a recent graduate of Parsons, I majored in illustration and I am currently getting my Associates degree in Graphic Design. When I'm not at Parsons, I am a avid baseball watcher, park sitter, book lover and an aspiring hoarder.


  1. Your tips are welcomed and helpful, thanks.They clearly reinforce what I’ve been advising my students to do, though we do not wait until junior year.
    “So don’t think you need your portfolio to be all traditional landscapes, silly fruit still lives and pictures of hands.”
    This sentence had me a bit confused, at first. Perhaps it would more clearly communicate your intent if it read, “So don’t think you need your portfolio to be *exclusively* traditional landscapes …” It has been an ongoing battle to demonstrate to students, parents, counselors and administrators the value of some tradiitional education in the visual arts. At portfolio day, my students and I have found your school, especially, to be adamant about a traditional portfolio with figure drawing being the key focus.
    It is only *after* your school, and nearly all of the others, have seen traditional technical ability demonstrated do they embrace comics, graffiti, and other “enlivened” pieces. I would agree that thinking beyond the traditional approach to genres or techniques is a worthy direction for foundation pieces but a strong foundation in traditions is certainly necessary for consideration by serious schools and for serious scholarship money. Line, shape, form, value, space, texture, color, time, etc. may be questioned or even turned inside-out but if ignored, the student is advised to, as I also advise them, take a figure drawing class, do lots of observational pieces and come back at another time.
    I would like to pass your tips on to my students, their parents and, in particular my administrator. I am, however, concerned that your intent, as it is currently written, will be misunderstood. Your assistance in this matter will be greatly appreciated. Portfolio directives from college admissions representatives carry substantial weight.
    Please stop by our Facebook page to see photos of our work. I welcome your input. Thanks.

    • Hello and thanks for your comments. I’m an Admission Counselor for Parsons and can say that Katie’s post (admittedly from a current student and tour guide’s perspective) is on point for what the Admission Committee is looking for in portfolios. She acknowledges that we are looking for a balance between skill and concept, though in the light language of an Illustration student. Obviously, the best advice is individualized, which is why we stress going to portfolio reviews to see what each school is looking for and how to highlight stronger areas.

  2. Hi all,My name is Meghana.I am an Engineering graduate.I am interested in doing fashion designing at parsons can some one guide me about admission process?I just want to know do i need to attend any desining courses?

    • Hi Meghana, Parsons has 3 fashion design degree programs (BFA, AAS, and MFA). Each has a different set of admission requirements, which you can find online. Just judging quickly from your previous education background, I would suggest you look into the Fashion Design AAS program, since the majority of students have a previous undergraduate degree. I also interviewed a current Fashion Design AAS student, Sam, here on the blog.

  3. Pingback: Nov. 1st Deadline is Coming Up | PARSONS ADMISSIONS

  4. Hector Deleon

    Hi! My name is Hector and I studied Architecture for 3 semesters in El Salvador but I decided to leave it and study my second option which is Interior Design. Next year I am moving to Los Angeles, California and I am really interested in continuing my studies at Parsons , here are a few questions I hope you can answer: What do I need to apply to Parsons( high school and university transcripts, TOEFL) ; In my portfolio , can I use the designs I made while I was in the university ? Thank you for your time , have a good day 🙂

    • Morgan Ersery

      Hi Hector! Thanks for your interest in Parsons. As you may or may not know, Parsons offered the first Interior Design program in the country, and with that, we bring a great legacy while still pushing design forward. All application requirements can be found on our website here: http://www.newschool.edu/parsons/subpage.aspx?id=83946

      You will submit a portfolio of 8-12 images of your choosing, so, if you would like to use designs or projects you’ve worked on at your previous university, that’s completely up to you. If you have additional questions, you can email us at thinkparsons@newschool.edu.

  5. Shivani

    Hi, I was wondering if I could apply to Parsons next year when I’m 15 years of age after completing my sophomore year in high school?

    • Morgan Ersery

      Hi! Thanks for reading our blog. You must be completing high school at the time you apply for college and cannot enroll in our Bachelor’s degrees without a high school diploma, GED or something equivalent. If you’re still in high school right now and want to learn more about Parsons, I suggest looking into our summer programs! They’re offered both in New York and in Paris and are a great way to gain skills while building a portfolio.

  6. Esther Kim

    Hi! I’m currently junior in highschool and I’m interested in applying for parsons for fashion design!
    I wanted to ask few Questions for my admission:
    1. Whats BFA, AAS, and MFA?
    2. What do I exactly have to prepare for my portfolio?
    3. What is educational requirements? (like SAT scores, GPA, etc.)
    4. Can I still get a scholarship even if I’m from west side? (California) If so, can i get a full scholarship?

    • Syd

      Hey Esther, thanks for following the blog! Here’s some answers to your questions.

      1. BFA and AAS are both acronyms for different undergraduate degrees, while MFA is a graduate degree. AAS stands for Associate of Applied Science and MFA stands for Master of Fine Arts. In your case, you’d be applying for a BFA in Fashion Design, which is a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

      2. Information about the application process can be found here. This includes a portfolio of 8-12 pieces, an artist statement, as well as the Parsons Challenge.

      3. Due to the nature of the programs, admission is based upon various factors that include your academic achievements such as standardized tests and your GPA, but also your portfolio.

      4. Yes!!! Check out this page about financial aid.

  7. Hey. I am a 12th grade student from India. We have Physics, Chemistry, Math, English, and Informatics Practices at school. Can i apply to Parsons? PS I haven’t done Highschool with art!

    • Morgan Ersery

      Hi there! Thanks for reading and for your question. Anyone can apply to Parsons. We recognize that our students come from very diverse backgrounds which sometimes means not having as much exposure to art/design as others and that’s ok! Do keep in mind, however that if you apply to one of our BFA programs, you will need to submit a portfolio of some sort of art work. If you feel that you don’t yet have the skills to put together a portfolio, you can take some skill building classes in the meantime to help you with rendering and composition. It’s helpful to do plenty of research no matter what schools you are applying to in order to be sure that you know what they’re looking for. If you have more questions you can contact us at thinkparsons@newschool.edu.

  8. Wow, marvelous blog structure! How long have
    you been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy.

    The full look of your site is wonderful, let alone the content!

  9. Chenique Anthony

    Hello. I am currently applying to Parson to major in fashion design. For the portfolio I understand the I am to submit the 12 pieces that it requires but I am Just not sure or certain as to what the pieces are suppose to be. Can anyone please tell me what exactly these pieces are to be? I just want to submit a great portfolio that I may be able to be seen as someone who will make it well into Parsons new school.

    • Katie

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment and your interest in Parsons the New School for Design!

      Our 8 to 12 piece portfolio is meant to include fine art studio work that you have created within the past year of two. We love to see technical pieces that show strong concept as well. You can submit anything from drawing, 3D sculpture, collage, video and etc. This is your chance to show off what you do so take full advantage of it!

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