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Top tips: the best advice to prepare for your university interview

Looking for advice on preparing for your university interview? Our lecturers give their top tips on what they look for in a successful applicant.

At Plymouth College of Art we offer something for everyone looking to explore new creative pathways, further their artistic practice, and work towards establishing a career - whatever that career may be.

Innovators, dreamers, grafters and problem solvers, our creative graduates emerge from our courses with skills that transfer across disciplines and subjects, allowing them the freedom to adapt to the ever changing world we find ourselves living in.

Whether you’ve got a definite career path in mind, or you just want to experiment to discover what you’re passionate about, we can provide you with the support and guidance you need to find your way.

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Once you’ve chosen the university and course that you feel is right for you, and you’ve been offered an interview, you’re taking the next step into an exciting creative journey.

We know this can be daunting, so we caught up with some of our Senior Lecturers and Subject Leaders to get their advice on how to get yourself prepared for your interview - which may be online or in person (depending on current national restrictions), as well as some top tips on compiling your creative portfolio or showreel.

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Gayle Matthias - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Craft and Material Practices; Subject Leader MA Glass

“I would advise a student to show us work or a project that they think exemplifies their thought processes, skills and ambitions, and to be able to discuss the development of this project through their sketchbooks, portfolio, models and possibly a more resolved solution (or photograph of the finished work), and reflect on what they thought was and was not successful about this project.”

“There is never a perfect portfolio - in fact the ones that seem less perfect are sometimes the most interesting! We want to see evidence of an applicants' creative thinking and problem-solving…”
Steven Paige, Senior Lecturer & Subject Leader for Postgraduate Studies

Kirsty Smith - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication

“We are looking for candidates with a knowledge of not just our subject, but on global issues and how they may impact on fashion practises.

“We encourage interview candidates to engage with more than just fashion magazines and online bloggers and vloggers. We are looking for candidates that have a sense of where things are moving. This might be evidenced in a written piece, or part of a project they have undertaken, a discussion during their interview about a visit to an exhibition or to another country.

“Specific to our course, we ask students to bring with them a visual portfolio that examines their critical thinking, demonstrating the way they have approached projects visually and through annotation.

“We are keen to explore each student's investigative process outlining the resources they have used to draw their conclusions.

“We also ask them to bring a written example so that we can discuss their interests and see if they align with the course. In the interview we are looking for passion in students voices, those who will genuinely love what they are studying.”

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Richard Kenton Webb - Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking

"My advice is for students to do the virtual tour to get a feel for Plymouth College of Art, our incredible facilities, and the college’s position in the city, right at the centre. Research the location of the college, taking note of how we are right by the sea and near the imposing and inspiring space of Dartmoor National Park. Check out the award winning staff who will be teaching you - look at our profiles as artists on the internet. The team who teach you are so crucial to your success.

"With all this in mind, try to imagine yourself at Plymouth College of Art. It is a big decision. Then for the interview be yourself, be at ease, we want you to enjoy your interview; we like you, we want to know whether you are the right fit.

"It's a great adventure being at art college. I believe this is the best painting school in the UK. That is why I moved here in November 2020; it is my dream job. What is important to understand is that this is a joint adventure and you are the artists of the next generation, so as teachers and artists we want you to embrace that destiny and ambition."

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Steven Paige - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for Postgraduate Studies

"There is never a perfect portfolio - in fact the ones that we see that seem less perfect are sometimes the most interesting! We want to see evidence of an applicants' creative thinking and problem-solving that manifests in their making. For example, in Fine Art, reflective thinking around material development is key to driving ideas forward, where taking risk and trying things out is highly productive process."

"We want to see sketchbooks; workings out, experimentation, moments of inspiration that eventually lead to accomplished and innovative work. What is also important when thinking what to include in a portfolio is one or two pieces that might have been a challenge or is not completely resolved. Being able to describe a solution to a creative problem or how the problem inspired a new direction is a very effective narrative in an interview."

"We expect to be able to see a connection between the students' making and thinking that is evident in how they describe their approach to what they are presenting. This not only means talking through their material explorations, but how they go about researching; what exhibitions or artist they have found inspiring, how they evidence the depth and range of their interests but also sustain their practice. We are looking for students that are driven by a passionate desire to make but also to fully explore their chosen topics."

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Mohini Chandra - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for BA (Hons) Photography; Subject Tutor for MA Photography

“In photography, we are looking for an inquisitive and creative approach to photographic practice. We want to know why you already do photography and how we could help you develop your practice both in terms of techniques and ideas.

“When you come for interview we would like to see examples of your photographic work and hope to find interesting and sustained projects that you have developed over time. We are really interested in what you can tell us about these projects, like how and why you made them.

“While you might have some really great images that you are really proud of in your portfolio, we also want to talk to you about your willingness to experiment and try something new – we’re all about pushing boundaries and broadening your knowledge of photographic practice.”

"In the interview we are looking for passion in students' voices, those who will genuinely love what they are studying.”​
Kirsty Smith - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication

Neil Rose - Lecturer, BA (Hons) Sound Arts

"Sending us a digital folder of your work before the interview takes place is really useful for your interviewer, as it gives them time to check out your portfolio or files before we chat to you - we don’t want to keep you waiting on a video call whilst we watch your films, look through your files, or listen to your compositions! However, we’re not averse to having links to your work shared during the interview itself, take the time to check your links and have them organised and ready to paste into the chat if your interview is being conducted online.

"For our newly launched BA (Hons) Sound Arts course, we don’t necessarily want to see work related to sound, so don’t worry if this isn’t an area you’re experienced in - we’re just as interested in seeing a portfolio of drawings, paintings, films or photographs.

"What's important to see in your portfolio is some evidence of your creative ideas, and your passion for making. We would advise that you select some interesting creative work that you've done either at school or college, or in your own leisure time - you could use Instagram, a website, a digital folder, or a soundcloud account for example, to collect some work together in one place. Your interview is a chance to talk through some of this work, and to talk with the tutor about the Sound Arts course and what possibilities it offers you, as well as you discovering whether or not it is the right course for you.

"You can also discuss the alternative courses on offer at Plymouth College of Art if you are unsure how to make the right choice. Our tutors love talking to you about your ideas, your work and your aspirations."

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Lucy Leake - Principal Lecturer & Assistant Head of School Arts + Media - BA (Hons) Film and Screen Arts and BA (Hons) Film Studies

“Show us your ideas and enthusiasm – this could be through photography, scripts, artwork, film reviews – you don't need to know how to make films yet!

“If you do have films then upload them to Vimeo/YouTube so we can watch them during the interview.

“Know what you want to show us BEFORE you get here – sections of work are often more valuable than whole films, and be prepared to tell us the strengths and weaknesses of your work, it doesn't need to be perfect!

“And finally, we love to hear your ideas!”

"It's a great adventure being at art college, and I believe this is the best painting school in the UK..."
Richard Kenton Webb - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking

Martial Bugliolo - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader and Terence Maughan, Lecturer for BA (Hons) Animation and Games

"We are looking for candidates with clear ambitions on how the BA (Hons) Animation and Games programme can help you to achieve your goals."

"During your interview, we would like to see examples of your traditional and digital drawings, including character and environment compositions. In your portfolio we’d like to see your work on facial expression and body pose drawings, and any flipbooks or comic strips are a plus.

“It's always great at interviews to understand your thinking process. We like to see any sketchbooks or notebooks that give us an insight into your creative process. Please include any sketchbooks, bound loose drawings, or observational studies you may have done. This can include doodles and notes - anything that can help us know more about you.”

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Stephanie Owens, Head of School Arts + Media, BA (Hons) Creative Technologies

"BA (Hons) Creative Technologies is a discipline and course of study for creative thinkers who have both a very active "right" brain (spatial, fluid, emergent ideas) and "left" brain (ordered, rational, logical ideas). They have a great facility and love for patterns, numbers, structures, and algorithms as well as a wild, vivid imagination that seeks new and unknown expressions. They are fully-ignited, quick learners and thinkers who seek the hidden meaning or invisible rationale in what they observe in the world through making.

"An applicant in Creative Technologies should arrive at their interview with any evidence of this dual nature of their thinking and their creative work. They should gather together their own original sketches, doodles, studies, perspectival drawings, figure drawings, landscape drawings, paintings, weavings, sculptures, bits of coding, 3D modelling, design and technology projects, self-made websites, digital images, evidence of hacks, digital audio samples, and social media designs to show to us.

"What matters most in preparing your portfolio for applying to our programme in Creative Technologies is the evidence of your curiosity about the relationship between art and technology as a creative thinker and maker."

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Cathy Freeman - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Textile Design

"Come with a portfolio that gives examples of your drawing skills and shows an interest in collecting and using visual imagery. You also need to be able to talk about pattern and colour as well as have an interest in fashion, interiors and design in general. Be enthusiastic and be confident to talk about your own work and why you are interested in textiles in particular – we don't bite!

"It is also important to show that you like to experiment and manipulate materials, like paper etc, and be able to show off your design and making skills. An enthusiastic and curious nature, and the ability to be able to talk about your work alongside an interest in design, fashion and craft would be good."

"Sending us a digital folder of your work before the interview takes place is really useful for your interviewer, as it gives them time to check out your portfolio or files before we chat to you."
Neil Rose - Lecturer, BA (Hons) Sound Arts

Tim Gundry - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Commercial Photography

"In Commercial Photography we like to see a well-considered portfolio that shows a good range of visual and technical skills. Whilst we're not expecting technical accomplishment, we do want to see that applicants can work a digital camera, can get their images in focus where they need to be, with some control over exposure and depth of field. As a lot of commercial photography, especially fashion and editorial, involves people, we like to see shots of people, either in the studio or on location."

"Beyond the technical and compositional skills, we are also interested in ideas. We want to hear about an applicant's interests, influences and the thoughts and concepts that drive their work. Sketchbooks and journals are great to bring to the interview so that we can see your research, your thinking and your working methods. Within this we also hope to see some written work to gain some sense of how you are able to explain your thinking."

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Marie Dunaway - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Costume Production

"Your portfolio should include mood boards, research findings, and rough drafts and experimentation to show your process. We like to see photographs alongside drawings and sketches, as well as images of final costumes or garments. You can include other examples of your work - for example, paintings, sewing items, garments, costume props, cosplay items, or textile pieces.

"If you wish to show us a particular costume or garment that is light and small enough to carry, then you can bring this to the interview as part of your portfolio. However, if something is quite large, then make sure you can show us photographs and/or small cuttings of fabric that you used for it. If your interview is taking place online, make sure you have a clear full length and close up photo of your costume/garment or items, and include these images in your digital portfolio.

"We like to see a range of work that shows off your skills using different media, such as digital, sewing, paint, printing for example. Ask your peers to review your selection of work before making your final decision on what to include in your portfolio. It helps to get another person's point of view. Above all, show work that represents you and your creative journey!"

You can be really inventive with your digital portfolio! We’ve seen everything from a time lapse of students making work, to a simple pdf of images.
Sarah King - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Fine Art

Cathryn Bishop - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling

“You've put all that amazing hard work into your portfolio and now you have to show it virtually? Don't worry, the main thing to remember is that we love seeing your work! There are lots of ways to show us virtually, some students use Canva to present images, Powerpoint is straightforward, you could also direct us to view your Instagram or Pinterest account, but set up a separate one for your work.

“Take good quality images of your work, take photographs in daylight near a window and crop them as needed, you might take a shot of a whole piece and also a close up of a detail and present them together. Make sure text is big enough to read on a laptop where people are seeing your work generally at A4 size.

“Holding work up to the camera isn't the best option when your work is mostly flat (for example sketches or drawings), as it can be blurry and hard to see.

“Explain your work in bullet points. Including lots of text can be off putting to your viewer; state the obvious, you know your projects inside and out but your viewer doesn't, so tell us the project title, what you liked about it and what you'd do differently next time.”

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Sarah King - Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader, BA (Hons) Fine Art

“Our applicants send their digital portfolios to us in a variety of ways; you can be really inventive! We’ve seen everything from a time lapse of you making your work, to a simple pdf of images.

“We want to see not only your strongest work, but also pieces that didn't go to plan.

“Images of sketchbooks are also important, and we are really happy for students to show photographs of work in their digital portfolios. In online interviews, you can also hold pieces of your work up to the camera so we can see them on screen - this works particularly well with 3D work, objects and stitched work which we may not get as clear an impression of in a photograph.

“We also really like to see digital work - sound and/or video - you can send links within your digital portfolios.”

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Still have more questions?

I've chosen the degree I want to do, but I'm still struggling with my application - help!

If you are struggling with your application, check out our How To Apply page, read this blog post about how to write your UCAS application, or get in touch with our Admissions Team for bespoke advice and guidance tailored to your specific application.

There are many ways you can get in touch:

Did you know you can also live chat with our current students on Unibuddy? To start a conversation with someone who has recently been in your shoes click here.

It’s also a good idea to follow us on social media for the latest news on student successes, industry collaborations, events and opportunities. Follow us on Instagram @PlymouthCollegeofArt and tag your work #PlymouthCollegeOfArt to join the conversation.

When is the deadline to submit my application, and when will interviews take place?

Our main interview weeks will begin from the middle of January 2021, but if you haven't made your choice yet, then don't worry. We still accept and interview applicants throughout the year – providing we have places on the course you want to do.

So whilst it’s important to try to apply as early as you can in case all the places on the course get filled, if you don't meet the newly announced deadline of 29 January 2021 (it’s usually 15 January, but UCAS recently announced that they’d give applicants a little extra time to apply this year) then there’s no need to panic.

Still need help making a decision on which degree to apply for?

An Open Day is a great opportunity to find out more about our range of study options, explore our studios, meet current students and staff, and see what we can offer you. Our Open Days will be held virtually until national lockdown restrictions are lifted, with video tours of the campus and facilities, live talks from the lecturers who will be teaching the course you’re interested in, and the chance to chat to students who are on the course already.

Check out our Open Day page to see when the next event is due to take place. You can register online now, and you can book tours of programme-specific areas and find out everything you need to know about the courses you're interested in.

Virtual tours are another great way of exploring our university campus - you can explore at your own pace here, or register for a one-to-one online walkthrough with a member of our Student Recruitment team here. To find out more please visit our ‘Book a Tour’ page.

We love to show off our facilities, and give you the chance to talk to our students and expert staff in person. That’s why we’re offering you up to £80 to help pay for your travel expenses when you eventually get the chance to visit us in person. These visits can take place before or after your interview, or even as part of your interview. To register your interest in visiting us and be one of the first through the door when travel restrictions and lockdown rules have lifted, click here. For more information on our travel bursaries click here.