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  • This video presentation provides general guidelines for all programs offered at Parsons School of Design. For more information on programs offered at Parsons Paris and portfolio requirements, please visit the Academics Undergraduate pages of Parsons Paris.

  • The portfolio is an important piece of the application. Parsons School of Design and Parsons Paris assess portfolios based on the technical and conceptual abilities displayed in the work.

  • Undergraduate Portfolio Requirements

    Part 1: Your Portfolio

    • Freshman and transfer applicants must submit a portfolio of 8 to 12 images.
    • Portfolios can include a range of media such as drawing, painting, sculpture, fashion design, animation, performance, graphic design, or sketchbook pages.
    • We encourage you to show experimentation and breadth, and the portfolio does not need to specifically address the major to which you are applying.
    • The portfolio must be completed online only.

    Part 2: The Parsons Challenge

    • The Parsons Challenge helps the Admission Committee understand how a prospective student develops ideas, visually communicates those ideas, and defends the work in writing.
    • Create a new visual work inspired by the theme within a piece submitted in your portfolio.
    • Support your process by writing one 500-word essay describing how your ideas developed.
    • You may also submit up to two additional visual pieces that document your process.
    • All forms of media are acceptable — drawing, video, photography, sculpture, 3D work, collage, and digital images.
    • The Parsons Challenge is completed online along with the portfolio.

    Importance of Self-Expression

    There is no one-size-fits-all portfolio!

    The portfolio should be a reflection of who you are. Personal and conceptual work is preferred over generic assignments. Like the personal essay, this is a way to introduce yourself to our committee. 

    Ask yourself:

    • Does this work represent my viewpoint or tell a story?
    • Are most or all of my explorations in media represented?
    • Does the portfolio reflect my process of ideating and creating my work?
    • Does the work include areas where I have taken artistic risks or stretched to meet a challenge?
    • Does this portfolio look like I made the work? (Or does it look like a collection of assignments similar to my peers in class?)

    Your Process 

    Students often mistake the term “process” for the technical execution of a piece of work. When the Parsons Challenge requires students to speak about process, the intention is to ask why you made the work, why you made the decisions you made, and what inspired you. While this can sometimes include a description of the actual materials and tools, it is only in service to the idea that this description has relevance. For example, a student who is thinking about climate change might decide that a time -apse video might tell the story better than a painting. 

    Each work should include dimensions, titles, and a short narrative about each piece. We encourage you to write a few sentences about each piece to explain why you made the work and what you had hoped to accomplish with the piece.

    Observational Work Is Not Required

    This may differ at some schools, but we do not require purely observational pieces such as still life drawings, figure studies, etc. That is not to say that technique is something you should not consider, but that it is not the only consideration. We recommend merging your use of strong technique in each medium into work that you consider as representing your personal vision in that medium. For example, a drawing that has elements from life but takes thematic risks is more useful to the admission committee than a pure life drawing that only shows the level of your technical execution. 

    Edit and Curate Your Work

    You should take care with documentation so that your work is shown at its best. Consider lighting, cropping, and grouping similar pieces. Our initial read of the work is on a computer screen and we cannot use the zoom tool to make the image larger. Use each image to highlight the work itself.


    • Each slide is an “image” within your portfolio and may contain one or more works of similar type or content.
    • Not every piece is well served by just one still image. Consider a short video of 3D work or turning the pages of a sketchbook. Perhaps one or two detail photographs might help us understand the intricacy of a work, in addition to the view of the work in its totality.
    • Do not use multiple images for the same piece of work. You only get to share 8 to 12 images and an additional 3 for the Parsons Challenge.
    • Consider simplicity over complexity. If we can’t see the details because there is so much going on in a slide, we may not get the full picture of your skills and thought process.
    • Each image in our portal has a space for details of each piece. We encourage you to write a few sentences about each piece to explain why you made the work and what you had hoped to accomplish with the piece.
    • Do not add text to the image of the work unless it is a part of the work itself. All context and explanation should be included in the additional space provided.
    • If you collaborated on a piece, credit your collaborator in the description of the work and clearly represent your role in the ideation and realization of the work.

    Documentation Is Important

    It is important for each image to be well documented in order for the admission committee to see your work. Investing the time and effort to create accurate images of your work puts your best foot forward. 


    • What is the best way to highlight this work? Is a still image the best representation or would a video or other media better display the work? For example, a video of turning the pages of a sketchbook can be more effective than still images.
    • Is the work easy to see? Crop out any extraneous imagery that may distract from seeing the work.
    • Craftsmanship. Your photography of a piece should be in focus, the work should be in the correct aspect ratio and orientation, and the color of the piece should be accurate.

    We Are Here to Help

    Editing a portfolio can be overwhelming. You can reach out for advice by email, meet us in person on campus, or throughout the country at events like National Portfolio Days.


    • This is your exhibit of work: Curate a selection of slides that speak to you.
    • Consider experimentation and personal making.
    • Documentation: Take care with how you present your work. Less is more.

    Transfer Students

    Students applying to Parsons who wish to be considered for advanced standing must also submit a portfolio that meets the portfolio guidelines listed above, but should consider including work within the major they intend to enroll in. The purpose of this type of portfolio is not only to assess the student’s conceptual thinking and technical mastery, but also evidence that the work completed at another college prepared the student to enter at the level requested. 

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To apply to any of our undergraduate programs (except the Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students and Parsons Associate of Applied Science programs) complete and submit the Common App online.

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To apply to any of our Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students and Parsons Associate of Applied Science programs, complete and submit the New School Online Application.


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