NACAC 2016: Portfolios Highlight a Changing Concept of Creativity

SlideRoom frequently receives inquiries from High School teachers and counselors asking how they can help creative students showcase their skills as they are applying to college. The following letter is one example:


I teach high school science and in many of my classes (Physics, Robotics, etc.) my students generate some excellent physical and digital content. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about SlideRoom and the fact that your platform could potentially offer a way for my students to showcase some of their non-traditional academic skills by uploading this content to SlideRoom and the common app when they apply to college.

However, I have contacted a number of admission reps. from the schools listed and many have said that their school only uses slideroom for stuff like art, music, architecture, etc.

I was kind of disappointed by this and wondered why more schools have not incorporated SlideRoom into general admissions? Could you please comment on this?

I love your platform and would like more of my students to be able to use it.


[Name Kept Private]

This letter illustrates a broader social transformation: the changing concept of creativity. At this year’s NACAC Conference, SlideRoom hosted a panel called “Accepting Portfolios for Admission: Lessons from Early Adopters,” whose speakers illustrated the fact that creativity isn’t confined to fields traditionally labeled “creative;” rather, it is a universal capacity that emerges in everything from the arts to the sciences to entrepreneurship and humanitarian work. Portfolios help make the many kinds of creative work that students are already doing visible to Colleges and Universities. The increasing use of portfolios in admissions to STEM programs, like MIT’s Maker Portfolio, is just one testimony to this cultural shift.

Dale Dougherty, CEO and founder of Maker Media, put it most simply: “Everyone’s a maker,” he said. He went on to emphasize that making isn’t something that teachers have to coerce or cajole their students to do; it’s already happening. Teachers just need to help connect students with receptive institutions and potential mentors:

People were already doing this. Making occurs not because they’re doing it for school or assigned it. Making happens because this is who they are and this is how they express themselves. This is how they connect to other people. This is how they learn about the world around them. And so my argument is, why doesn’t that have a place in school or in evaluating people for opportunities in higher education?

Along these lines, Natalie Smolenski, Cultural Anthropologist at Learning Machine, stressed that younger generations engaged in making and other creative pursuits are already aware that presenting their work will help them find opportunities in line with their talents and passions. However, they may not know that institutions like Colleges and Universities also value the creative work that they value:

Portfolios are a reminder that imagination is not simply an add-on, but in fact constitutive of any professional trajectory. They are also part and parcel of the new media economy, where you have generations that have grown up online, who have been self-presenting, who have been self-curating since childhood. It’s second nature to them … all we need to do is create a place for that to land and convert into opportunity.

Some schools may worry that students will be discouraged from applying if they offer the option to submit a portfolio. However, admissions officers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon, who also spoke at the SlideRoom panel, stressed that students were actually more likely to apply and matriculate if a portfolio option was offered, because it demonstrated to them that the school valued what they considered to be their most important work.

To attract your most creative and forward-thinking class, it pays to accept portfolios as part of the admissions process.

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