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ETpro's avatar

Masters in Media Arts -- is a portfolio a critical part of the application for the master's program?

Asked by ETpro (34208 points ) May 27th, 2012

I’m hoping those of you who have completed graduate programs in the arts or media, or who evaluate applications for graduate programs, can give me some advice on how my younger son should apply for the upcoming fall semester. He wants to apply to MIT and USC for their Master’s program in Media Arts. But his portfolio is now 4 years out of date and he knows he could now do better.

What should he do? Write a killer application essay and not include a portfolio, include the portfolio as it is (if it’s missing it stands out like a sore thumb but if included it’s hardly reviewed), or work not only on the application but on updating the portfolio and making it strong?

He really wants to get accepted at one or of those two schools because there are not many schools that even offer the Masters in Media Arts and that’s the degree that takes him where he wants to go as a game or media producer. He feels strongly that the cachet of those schools would position him to land the job he wants.

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6 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

I need some clarification. Is your son applying to film school? Applying for the MFA program at the University of Southern California? I don’t see that they offer a Masters in Media Arts; just a Ph.D at USC.

Edit. LOL. Maybe you mean the USC as in South Carolina?

ETpro's avatar

@lillycoyote Definitely USC as in University of Southern California. I am not sure what their Masters program is called, but I would assume it is whatever leads into their PhD program. He’s more interested in game development and p[production than film.

And I know for a fact it’s not the University of South Carolina, fine institution that it may be.

lillycoyote's avatar

O.K. I was kind hoping it wasn’t and MIT and the University of Southern California… because now I’m going to have to say: Are you fricking kidding??!?

First, getting one thing out of the way … if a portfolio is required and your son doesn’t submit a portfolio, it won’t just “stick out a sore thumb;” it will stop him dead in the water. His application will be incomplete; he will not have submitted everything required and they won’t even consider his application. End of story. Not including it is not an option. Whatever the program, anything that is required as part of the application is, well, required.

USC and MIT are the best, the two top rated schools in the country for game design. The competition for the dozen or so spots in these programs is beyond intense.

Your son needs to submit, absolutely, the strongest application he can possibly can, including his statement of purpose or personal essay, whatever it’s called at those schools and his portfolio if he has any hopes of getting admitted. These are arts programs; of course the portfolio is critical. In any art program they will want to see what you can do, of course.

So yes, he has to submit his portfolio, yes he has work on it and make it the very best he can, yes it is critical and yes, they most certainly do review it.

He also might look into some other schools, besides the top two :-). But even then, he needs to submit his best work and in an arts program that includes, always, a good portfolio. Schools, in any field of study, not only want to find qualified applicants but want some evidence that the applicant has the capacity to do the work required of them and finish the program. They don’t like setting people up for failure, nor do they like their attrition rates to be sky high.

ETpro's avatar

@lillycoyote Thanks. The portfolio is listed as optional, but my reaction matches what you said. As I understand it, these two Grad. Programs take about 10% of the people that apply each year. And yes, a Statement of Purpose is required. He’s working on that.

bookish1's avatar

I have slightly different experience in grad education to bring to this discussion. I’m in a PhD program, so I think the entry process is different. For instance, it made a big difference to my acceptance prospects that I applied to departments that had professors in my field who were willing to take me on as a grad student. I might even have been accepted into my current program because of one of the professors pulling for me. After the grad student/department match, I think the most important things in my favor were my application letter, GRE scores/resumé, and my writing sample (equivalent to an art student’s portfolio, I suppose).

But in response to your question, I’d say your son needs to have both a killer application essay and a killer portfolio. I think it would indeed stop him dead in the water if he applied without a portfolio. If it would help him come up with some more recent work, perhaps your son could take 6 months or a year off from the grad school application process to work on some projects. But in any case, I would estimate that having a first rate portfolio is more important than having an ok portfolio of very recent work.

And I’d like to strongly second a previous suggestion that he not only apply to two programs!!! I myself had very competitive GRE scores, college grades, recommendation letters, writing samples, etc., but grad school acceptance rates/competition as well as internal departmental politics being what they are, I was rejected from every place I applied to but one, where I was waitlisted and then accepted. (Strangely enough, the place I was waitlisted I had considered my “safety school”—and yet it turned out to be the best match for me! A strong individual match with a department is as important as, if not more important than, the ranking of the program, IMHO.) Lucky that I applied to 5 or 6 schools! This is called hedging your bets :)

Finally, I’m not sure how important it is in the field of art, but it can’t hurt—I recommend that your son contact professors with whom he envisions himself studying at these schools. Not necessarily to pose questions, but just to introduce himself and make his name and interests known to people who might be reading his applications in the future.

Best of luck to you both !!

ETpro's avatar

@bookish1 Thanks for your excellent feedback. He targeted the schools he picked because he has some very specific goals in the area of pushing the state of the art in game design and the integration of nariative into the game to make gameplay on single-player games seem more real. He’s looking for programs that can teach him not just what has been done, but what could be done. But I would bet there are more than just two schools out there working at expanding the envelope of game design and game theory.

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