Why is a Portfolio Important?
If you are planning to DSA (Direct School Admission) to Junior College or EAE (Early Admission Exercise) into a polytechnic of your choice, you will need a well-rounded portfolio to stand out among your peers.
A student portfolio is simply a collection of your achievements, awards, projects you have been part of, volunteer work etc.
Furthermore, if you are aiming to attain scholarships or enter the top university courses like law or medicine in Singapore, the university will definitely be taking into account your portfolio.
If you are planning to apply for universities overseas, besides just your academic grades, they will also strongly consider your portfolio and other relevant activities you have taken part in.
Building your portfolio is a tedious and strategic process as it takes time over years and needs to be planned in advance.
Good news is, we will teach you how to do so in this step-by-step guide!
1) Adopting a Strategic Approach
One strategy is having a recurring theme in your portfolio related to the course you are aiming for, especially if it is one that is very competitive.
For specific courses in polytechnic, it will be good to show your interest in the subject by doing relevant school projects, being part of school competitions, Olympiads etc…
While this might sound planned and mechanical, there should still be some level of passion, interest and enthusiasm in doing those activities in the first place.
For those who are not completely sure yet, do not worry as it is very common since most of us would still be exploring our interest in our schooling period. However, you should have at least some idea of what you like and what areas you will be interested in pursuing in the future!
2) Telling Your Personal Story
A portfolio is a form of showcasing your personality and your story. Below are some examples for certain fields of studies.
If you want to get into medicine related courses and your story is about helping people, you can show this passion through your initiatives such as volunteer projects or even your CCA. This can translate to medicine in terms of saving lives. It can also translate to other fields of studies like sociology as well.
If you are more interested in science, you might want to show that you have a keen interest in maybe like clean energy by doing things such as beach clean-up and participating in science Olympiads.
If you are an athlete, you can also showcase your passion in sports which speaks volume about your grit and determination. You want to show that you are an individual that is capable of devoting your time and effort in what you put your mind to. You can even show that you are a person with initiative by taking up leadership roles, especially in making your team better.
Most importantly, your portfolio needs to be true to yourself. Don’t try to fluff up things that are not representative of your true self.
3) Showcasing your Passion
If you are from sports and performing arts, your portfolio should show your passion and the various activities you have engaged in your school CCA or externally.
For the performing arts, you can show your passion in creative expressions in terms of choreography, being involved in Chingay, for example.
All this can be shown as your passion and belief in arts as a form of giving back to society as well.
Imagine two people going for an interview for a highly competitive course. One only has straight As and normal participation in CCA. The other one has volunteering experience overseas, local involvement at old folks’ home and participated in chemistry and biology Olympiad. The latter will stand out and have the advantage as the school will look out for all-rounded individuals.
What if I do not have any leadership roles?
Even if you do not have any leadership roles, do not worry as by showing strong commitment and putting in effort, it can show your hardworking personality and determination in giving your best in what you do. It is about how you market yourself with your personal story.
Team players are always welcomed and it is not realistic for everyone on a team to be a leader so do not be overly-concerned about it. The most important thing to note is that you do not want to be someone who only studies as a portfolio that only shows academic results is not a great one.
What to Avoid
1) Avoid only showing academic results.
2) Avoid talking about certain interest without any evidence of it in your portfolio.
The portfolio building process can be a little deliberate but a lot of it depends on your actions and being proactive is always good, even if some choices are outside your comfort zone.
While you have to balance your time as student, you should not be too laid back until its too late and there is nothing to show for in your portfolio.
What can be included in my portfolio?
Do take note that activities does not need to be a school activity. It can be an external project as well.
Even if your team did not win or achieve a top placing, do include it in your portfolio as it shows your learning journey and personal growth. It might even show more of that than a project that succeeded.
Small things like setting up a weekend soccer league or starting a project to redesign your games are also relevant in showing your passion and initiative and what a portfolio should encompass. You do not want to be including things that are fake because it is easy to see through those lies, especially in an interview. Keep it real and authentic even if there is not much to write.
Nothing to write about?
Do something in school! Try taking part in something at least once a week. It does not have to be a passion but just merely something you are interested to try. It can be even just something like meeting people and talking about things to start off. Who knows it might even lead to you discovering your passion! If it does not, you can strike it off your list and move on to the next interest!
Building a portfolio can also be seen as a reflection of what you have done. Instead of approaching it as what you have to do, you can go about it as what you want to do. In my opinion, this is the much healthier way to do it. 😊
In a way, you are building your portfolio subconsciously but you must know that you need to take action. The world does not reward inaction so just do something. Anything!
When you go for interviews, they do not really care about your achievements if it reflect much about your character. Many times, they are actually looking to know your story and your purpose.
Purpose-driven individuals will stand out the most and interviewers are looking for individuals who can talk a lot about their 'why', their backstory and who they are. This creates a longer lasting impact than a generic candidate with straight As and you definitely want to differentiate yourself from them.
When is the Best Time to Build Your Portfolio?
One good time to consider it is during school holidays when you are removed from being stressfully focused on academics. You will have much needed breather time to focus on your interests, participate in projects and start new things.
Another time is when school opens up for competitions, you have to consider if you really want to participate in it. Though you might have the initial barrier of thinking you are not good enough, not 100% invested or not worth the time, just give it a try! Even if does not end up being on your portfolio, that experience itself will help you grow as a person and gain more perspective.
In addition, if you are ever given chance to take on leadership positions, do strongly consider it as it can really help build your character in terms of speaking up, communication, assuming and delegating responsibilities. You do not have to take up the highest role as just being part of the committee where you have to step up to a task will be beneficial.
While it is tempting to be more laid back, try to find a balance and put yourself in an area where you are uncomfortable as it is where you will grow the most.
Good Grades or Good Portfolio?
Unfortunately for those in Singapore, with the current education system, your academic grades still comes first. This is because grades form the baseline for entry into any course or school. If you have a stellar portfolio but your grades are not good enough, there is a high chance you do not even get an interview invite.
Of course, the ideal situation is that you have both good grades and an exciting portfolio. However, if your grades and portfolio are both weak, it is better to build up your grades first. As mentioned earlier, if your grades are good enough, there are some courses you can enter without needing a good portfolio. Thus, the truth is the baseline is your grades.
Doing well in academics can also show your character i.e., discipline, effort, consistency no matter if you like the subject or not.
Even if your grades are not great, it can show a person capable of putting in hard work while reflecting improvement, attaining a certain base level and then focus on external learning. Just like a game, you go through the first stage before going onto the next stage.
Overseas education is generally more holistic and well-rounded but try not blame Singapore’s system. Instead, focus on your own effort and you can still build a stellar academic track and pursue your passions and developments at the same time.
While you might hate studying, reflect on what you can or should do. That is the only thing that would realistically change your path.
My personal journey
Truth be told, I personally was not the hardest worker but I knew where I wanted to go so i worked towards my goals. Fortunately, my A level results were enough to enter the course I wanted and I did not regret the times spent studying for it. Some of my friends who did not work hard enough did not get into the school or course they wanted and it was quite saddening to see.
While academics first, I am also a strong believer of holistic education as you can learn a lot more beyond the books in your CCA and passions.
On a side note, passion can be a blessing as well as a curse because if you are not accepted into the course that you really want, it will be devasting. However, there are still other places you can go like private universities or overseas for passions in arts or technology etc.
Some people might not even need the traditional university path as they are already talented in their own field like a tattoo artist or coding. In fact, there are many people who are working in a field not related to what they had studied so don’t be disheartened if you are studying something you do not like.
As a student, focus on taking care of your academics and when it reaches a good enough level, you can dedicate the time to your passions and interests and naturally your portfolio will be built up!
Hopefully this articles gives you a better idea of how to build a stronger portfolio that can help you stand out among the rest for your DSA/EAE/university interviews!
As always, here at OVERMUGGED, we want to be here for you every step of the way! If you need help academically, our team of tutors will be able to help get you on track and working closer to your academic goals!
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