Portfolio Design and strategic Admissions Consulting for Schools of Architecture


by Evangelos Limpantoudis

The truth is that there are several schools of thought as far as how to approach a  design school application. One approach is to make sure that every single part of your application is perfect, or sounds perfect to the admissions officers. The fact is that this would be fantastic in any occasion, but how often does it really happen that you have perfect everything? The truth is that as great as having perfect framing of recommendations and a perfect resume etc, they will fall apart if they do not build a very specific idea in the minds of the examiner about you, your work, your interests, your position in the school, your position in the world, etc. In essence, if in the fifteen minutes in which the examiner will go over your package you do not manage to build up an image that could sum you up in one sentence, then you have lost the game (unless of course your grades or your portfolio are absolutely 100% perfect, which usually doesn’t happen unless you are already LeCorbusier, or Koolhaas or Dali, or a bookworm). What kind of sentence? Something like “the sustainable architecture guy”, or “the dude with the fabric models” or “that guy that thinks everything is a bridge” or “the social architecture girl” etc. When you manage to build a profile that consists of a bunch of different ideas all converging at one point (the essence of your package), then you have managed to win the battle before it has even started.

The strategy above is not unlike the type of strategy that they use in marketing. In fact, what you are doing when applying to architecture school, is positioning yourself as a competitor of all other applicants, in the environment of the architecture school that you are applying to. It is a type of personal marketing, and whether you like it or not, it is the most effective way of making sure that you communicate exactly who you are to the overworked and over-bored admissions officers, who will be flipping through your portfolio for a few minutes (if you are lucky) and then will be moving on to the next one.

Bottom line of all this, is that you should never start with your portfolio. Always start with the first draft of your essay. Begin by addressing four issues: 1) who you are. 2) Who/ what do you want to become. 3) How will architecture school help you get there, and 4) How will this SPECIFIC architecture school (GSD, MIT, GSAPP, or whatever you choose) help you achieve your goal. See the process of writing not as an opportunity to use big cool words, because this is not going to be read by admissions advisors (yet). This is an exercise for you and just you to understand yourself, so your vocabulary must be as simple and to the point as you feel comfortable with.

After you are done writing your essay, try to find the key sentences that encapsulate the essence of what you are looking for in your education, how you will contribute, etc. After that, compose a single paragraph that captures your own essence. This paragraph will be the core of your whole application. And after you decide on it, and are happy with it and the idea it communicates, you will proceed to the development of the rest of the material, ALWAYS making sure that everything is connected with / grounded on the core paragraph.

Developing a portfolio is a multistage process, which requires good judgment and thinking, but the first step before developing it is getting the main idea very clearly specified in your head. After that, you can start thinking how and what type of work to develop, or how to arrange and present your already existing work. We will cover that in different articles.

Portfolio Design and strategic Admissions Consulting for Schools of Architecture


Your strategy is perhaps THE number ONE most important thing in the process of developing an architecture/ design portfolio. Think of it as the initiation phase of any project. Be it in architecture or any other field, the initiation process of the project carries more risk than any other phase. The reason for that is that the it defines the broad strokes/ the trajectory of the whole effort.

by Evangelos Limpantoudis

Here are a few important things to consider when you develop your strategy:

1) Your background:

Your background is the foundation of the whole process of portfolio development, not only because it is very likely that your choices of schools and programs are very likely to be based on your background, but most importantly because your background defines the type of work that you have already developed. No one likes to start from scratch, and even if they do, it is not recommended. Schools want to see what you have accomplished and base their evaluation on whether their mission matches your background.

2) The type of work that you have developed:

If you are interested in sustainability yet the work you have produced is hard-core brutalist utopian, then there is a bit of a disconnect between what you say you want and what your work demonstrates. Never forget that your work must be a visual manifestation of all the good stuff that you will discuss in your essay, so there must be some sort of connection between work and intention. If not, it is not the end of the world, but then you will have a bit of a harder time painting a clear picture of yourself. In short, if you manage to somehow connect what you believe interests you and what your work says about you, you will have an advantage over others whose work doesn’t match their interests.

3) Your Objectives:

In any journey it is extremely important to have a destination. The same is true for  architecture and design-school applications. It does not mean that you will commit to this destination for the rest of your life of course (well … some of you might), but it is important that you at least set a destination for now. Your destination can be as specific as “I want to be able to develop affordable single-family clay-houses in North African communities”, or as wide open as “I want to be involved in the development of sustainable neighborhoods”. Is there a way to define the perfect objective? Well, the truth is that most schools would not want you to be too specific, because that would mean that you are either narrow-minded or hard to teach. On the other hand, you would not want to appear too out of touch with specifics or reality either. So, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

4) The school(s) that you are applying to:

“Different strokes for different folks”, and in this case “schools” as well. Not all schools offer the same type of programs, not all schools use the same approach to teaching design, and frankly not all schools are flooded with applications from students allover the world. If you are applying to the GSD or MIT SAP, it is highly likely that you will be competing with hundreds of applicants for your spot, which means that you cannot get away with a mediocre portfolio. If you are applying to a program in Design and Build (some schools offer special programs like this) you will have to slightly adjust your application to demonstrate interest in the field, etc. In short: understand the schools you are applying to, find connections between their programs and what you are interested in, and then find common denominators in all of them, according to which you will build ONE portfolio.