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At schools like LMU- medium size, private, comprehensive universities, the role of the portfolio in admission to art or other “creative” majors, is somewhat variable. We are not a conservatory, and our students will need to demonstrate the accomplishment and the background necessary to succeed in a broad based, traditional liberal arts education, and to do so in our academic environment. Their studies in one of our creative or performing arts majors will be their major, but not their only focus. Thus, the review of their portfolio will complement the review of their traditional academic record and inform the admission decision, but not dictate that decision.

Portfolio requirements (that is, what the students should submit) as well as the actual review of the creative samples is the responsibility of the faculty, since the Admission staff doesn’t have the expertise or the perspective to handle either. We’re even a little hard pressed to answer detailed questions from curious students about what they are looking for. While this oversimplifies things a bit, it’s fair to describe the creative review and the traditional admission review as taking place independently, in parallel with each other.

Our faculty reviewers have access to our Slideroom account (Slideroom has an agreement with the Common Application which allows applicants interested in submitting portfolios to do so as part of their application). As we read the traditional application- the essays, the recommendations, the transcript, test scores, etc. – they review the portfolios. They rank the students on the basis of their review, and send us their rankings. The exact process from this point varies a bit by department.

In some of our departments, the portfolio has little impact on admission decisions, but is used primarily for placement purposes and for curriculum planning. In some other departments, final decisions are not made until both sides sign off. In still others, the portfolio has a large impact on many outcomes, especially the competitive but not clear cut decisions, but will not work miracles for the student who is not well prepared and competitive based on the traditional academic measures, and will not keep out a very strong academic student who shows only average talent through the portfolio.

Across all the departments, we make an effort to admit the students the faculty are most enthusiastic about, but in no case do faculty make admission decisions unilaterally. There are occasionally disagreements, and both the Admission Office and the faculty compromise to accommodate the expertise and the judgment of the other.

All in all, the portfolios and samples of creative work add a wonderful and informative dimension to our evaluation of candidates for these majors. We make better decisions with this information than we would without, and the opportunity to collaborate so closely with faculty builds good relationships and fosters goodwill. We also believe this process helps us select the very best candidates for our programs, all things considered, and that’s the primary goal.

By Matthew X. Fissinger
Director of Undergraduate Admission
Loyola Marymount University