A Guide to Acing a Portfolio Review

Surya Vaidy headshot
Surya Vaidy

Being in a visual communications graduate program certainly comes with its own set of unique stresses. There are production deadlines for photo and video projects, professional practice classes to complete and plenty more. Graduate school is supposed to be rigorous. However, out of all those things, I found none to be more stressful than the portfolio review at the end of the semester. Now, for those of you reading who may not know what a portfolio review is, for the visual communication students, it’s a collection of your best work — photos, videos or short films, designs — and should be indicative of your growth through the semester. Collecting and editing your best work though, is easier said than done.  

There are so many things to consider when you are preparing for a portfolio review, especially if you want to make the most out of your time presenting. It is, after all, a time to receive constructive critique and see where you may need improvement. It brings up all sorts of questions about which work to include. In an effort to pass on the tips and notes that were given to me, I’ve compiled four best practices to make sure you are more prepared when presenting your portfolio!  

  1. Keep it short and sweet: This is super important, but at the same time deceptively hard to do. Ensuring that you keep to a concise time is essential for allowing the people reviewing your portfolio (faculty, mentors, peers, etc.) to have enough time to digest what you’ve presented and offer a response regarding what they observed. I highly recommend writing a simple script or a set of bullet points about each major work in your portfolio. Doing so keeps you on track with time and helps with keeping your presentation’s information organized. 
  2. Introductions are very important: At the start of presenting your portfolio, you’ll want to give reviewers a quick insight into who you are and what you do. Give brief insights into your background and what your work focuses on. It helps reviewers get a sense of who you are as a creative and can help contextualize your work. 
  3. Always edit down: This is perhaps the most time-consuming part of preparing for a portfolio review, and it’s something I still struggle with today. Editing your work down to your best work is difficult because it’s your work. There’s always a feeling of wanting to share all that you’ve made, but that’s not conducive to an effective presentation of your work for review. Keep in mind: quality over quantity. In preparation, invest time into selecting what you think is your best work. Be broad and go with your gut in your selection. Then, ask your peers and teachers for their initial thoughts before a full review. Taking their opinions into consideration, create a more critical edit, making sure to that you stay concise while still showing off the breadth of work you’ve made.  
  4. Practice makes perfect: Trying to wing a presentation on the fly is never a good idea. I mentioned earlier that having notes or a script can make it easier for you to organize your thoughts and talk about your portfolio. This is certainly the case, but you still need to practice the delivery of your presentation. The necessary pacing and any adjustments you need to make will become apparent when you practice out loud. Ask your peers to listen to you before you have to officially present and time yourself! Making sure you know what you want to say inside and out is a great way to set yourself for a great presentation.  

Surya Vaidy is a student in the multimedia, photography and design master’s program at the Newhouse School.