Special Holiday Guide: Starting Your College Arts Portfolio

red rose flowers bouquet on white surface beside spring book with click pen and cup of cofffee
Sheelah Bearfoot
Sheelah Bearfoot

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

This holiday season, highlight your leadership, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Taking time to create works of art will demonstrate your aptitude and dedication to learning new skills! These are quality character traits whether or not you plan on majoring in the arts. On the other hand, it’s also a great way to start your college arts portfolio if you haven’t done so already. Let’s get building.

Extracurriculars in the Arts and Humanities

Activities under the arts and humanities umbrella usually need to be self-started. This is because of how systematically underfunded these disciplines are. Nonetheless, if you have an artistic passion, there are plenty of ways for you to demonstrate your aptitude.

The holidays are an excellent time to use your skills in the arts for charity, for three reasons:

  1. People are looking for gifts, and tickets to a local play or a handmade, sustainable trinket make touching presents (hint, hint, family and friends). 
  2. ‘Tis the season where we are more likely to support good cause organizations. The holiday season and cold weather inspire empathy, gratitude, and generosity. Take advantage of some free time over winter break and high levels of goodwill in your community.
  3. Holiday get-togethers and time off mean that people are looking for family-friendly things to do. Attending your community music performance or art exhibit could meet that need.

Ways to Highlight Your Artistic Prowess


Do you make crafts or jewelry? Consider opening up an Etsy account, or partnering with local maker fairs, consignment or thrift stores. If your art is culturally informed, consider organizing an exhibit at your school, library, or community center to show off your work and the work of other artists. This doubles as an opportunity to educate members in your community about the tradition and history behind the art they see before them.  

To include these works in your college arts portfolio, be sure to photograph or scan the pieces. Additionally, document the reach of your work and the size of the audience(s)!


For almost any kind of art hobby, you can even host a workshop to teach others about your techniques. Taking this route allows you to exemplify leadership, ingenuity,  and maturity with your creative passion. Teaching others a process also helps you master that process yourself, and can spark ideas for more efficient methods that you hadn’t considered before. This is an especially good way to share art made out of previously discarded items, known as up-cycling. Demonstrating to others how to innovative and recycle would-be trash can permanently change their habits to be more sustainable, sparking far-reaching impact. 


Auctions or silent auctions are another versatile tool to use art to help a multitude of causes. Organizing one showcases some entrepreneurial spirit. Partnering with a charity organization through a silent auction lets you seamlessly turn your art into community service and leadership. Smaller organizations are likely to have less red tape to navigate, so consider partnering with a local community clinic, for example, rather than a nationwide operation. You can ask companies and stores for in-kind donations, meaning they donate an item at their wholesale cost, allowing you to auction the item for its retail value. Companies are often more willing to donate their products or store credit for a cause rather than cash.

For example, if you are putting together self-care or hygiene kits for the homeless, or auctioning off a weekend getaway trip,  you could ask your dentist for in-kind donations of toothbrushes and travel size toothpaste tubes, rather than asking them to donate money. For a brief overview of some of the rules involved regarding donated items for auctions and tax-deductible perks, see this article.

Of course, if you’d like to document this for your college arts portfolio, take good notes on the total amount you fundraise, and the impact of your work on the community.

Performance Art.

Some community venues are happy to partner with high school students showcasing artistic talents for a good cause. If you have difficulty securing spaces like art galleries, you can always use your living room or school library. To avoid any awkward chats with the IRS, you won’t be able to technically charge admission. What you can do is make a suggested donation amount, and ask patrons for donations with an inviting jar or charming top-hat by the door. For anything spoken-word poetry related, you can exchange customized poems, chapbooks or holiday cards for a suggested donation. I’ve seen multiple student organizations do this repeatedly with high rates of success.

Finally, ask a friend or family member to record your performance so you can revisit and use the footage later if you need it.

Logistical Foresight

It’s impossible to anticipate all scenarios in this article, so you’ll have to do a little bit of research on local rules and ordinances about the guidelines for collecting admissions or making sales. Logistical and event planning are great skills to highlight in college applications as well because they demonstrate initiative, attention to detail and user experience. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind:

Advertising Your Event.

As far as advertising, remember that social media is good, but word of mouth is usually better. If you’re partnering with an established organization, see what kind of contacts they have and which outlets have proven effective. Here are a few established charity organizations you may like to support. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a helpful lead. 

DesignThink and Iterate.

Don’t get discouraged if less people show up than anticipated; this is extremely common, even for experienced event-planners. Gather feedback from people who attended about their experience in order to improve upon the next event. Here are some tips from the Stanford D. School on how to collect feedback and iterate on a process or event to continuously improve it. This is relevant for hosting workshops, too. This document goes over some different types of interview styles to help you generate relevant questions for guests who attend your event. It features a cool graphic comic about how to observe users in their natural habitat to gain perspective on needs they may not even be able to verbalize when asked about, or contradictions between what they say and what they do. Inform and deepen your user experience and curation skills. 

Try to establish a tradition of your event continuing annually and train a successor to pick up where you left off to carry on your ongoing legacy.

Have fun this holiday season wherever your creative projects may lead! With some extra planning, you can use your talents for good, and start building a college arts portfolio. Of course, if you need a little extra support or guidance on your projects, don’t be afraid to reach out. Our expert counselors are ready and waiting to support your dreams.

Questions? Let us know!