Better Portfolios for a New Age: A Cross-Disciplinary Discussion About Helping Applicants Distinguish Themselves

RJ Nichol
May 28, 2020

In admissions, some things never change. And that’s fine. Applicants to programs in a wide variety of disciplines — ranging from the performing arts to business management to architecture and beyond — have long been required to submit portfolios of their work. That’s not going to change.

At the same time, however, we’re witnessing dramatic changes in the world at large and in the world of higher ed admissions. In order to reduce the uncertainty and missed opportunities the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak might bring, adhering to best practices regarding the way applicants submit portfolios and faculty members review them is now more important than ever.

A better way to spot potential

Your failure to recognize that fact and innovate accordingly could put your program at a significant disadvantage when it comes to identifying and enrolling the “best-fit” students who will bring the most to your school — and get the most out of it.

“Our portfolio is kind of a hybrid,” says Blaire Moody Rideout, director of Undergraduate Admissions at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “We do a lot of case analysis in the business school world, so the first component is what we call the business case discussion. This is a way to understand a student’s critical thinking, essentially. There is also a second component to our portfolio, which we call the Artifact, which is very open-ended. Students submit something that shows their learning and their actions. It helps us get a better understanding of how they learn. We’ve seen blogs, we’ve seen skits, we’ve seen pictures of things that are meaningful to applicants. In this way, the portfolio has become the differentiator we needed.”

Cross-campus sharing

“As one of the premier music schools in the country, we obviously have very strong performance programs, but we’re also known for being really innovative and forward-thinking,” says Karen Kerr, director of Admissions at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.

“All of our portfolios have one required component: a video presentation of the student performing on their instrument or voice so faculty can assess their music skills. But then some programs — like composition and media writing and production — have supplemental pieces of the portfolio that can include additional videos, audio files, PDFs or even fully scored orchestrations. Students can also link to social media, YouTube and SoundCloud, for example, so faculty can get a good idea of what they’re really involved in and how they employ entrepreneurial skills.”

“When I arrived here, we were still receiving paper applications, CDs, DVDs and videos as part of the application process,” Kerr says. “I decided that we quickly needed to move into electronic submissions. That improved the management of the process significantly. It allowed us to measure a more broad range of factors and to be more individualized when assessing an applicant because no two applicants are the same. The technology also helped us share all these different components across different areas of the School.”

Learn more about SlideRoom™, the technology that Rideout and Kerr rely on to host their portfolios and streamline the review process, at

RJ Nichol

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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.