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Academic Portfolios

Ernest L. and Zac E., Writing Center tutors

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

An academic portfolio is an organized record of a student’s academic history, including his or her achievements and professional development over a period of time. It contains a collection of documents that exemplify the quality of the work that you are able to do. Additionally, academic portfolios include reflective essays on the writing you have included as well as your overall progress as a student throughout an academic quarter or career. In an academic portfolio, these reflections should critically analyze your development as a student. While reflecting, highlight your strengths as demonstrated in the portfolio while also acknowledging areas in which you can still develop. 

Portfolios come in a variety of forms. Traditionally, academic portfolios tend to be kept as physical hard copies in folders or binders divided into sub-sections. Today, however, this emphasis on the physical academic portfolio has declined. Electronic portfolios are a growing trend and are often preferred now because a student can easily include various forms of media such as images or sound recordings.

Selection Process:

Choosing what to include in an academic portfolio can be difficult because students often have a large body of work to choose from. When deciding what will be in an academic portfolio, it is important to carefully choose a short collection of work which highlights and summarizes your development as a student. The St. Martin’s Handbook recommends that students limit themselves to five to seven documents.

Documents to include:

Requirements for academic portfolios differ, yet most include the following: 

  • Cover Letter: Cover letters give you the chance to reflect upon the work you have included as a whole as well as individually.
    • Explain why you have chosen to include the various elements of your portfolio. How do they demonstrate your best work?
    • As you worked on the portfolio and selected what to include in it, what did you observe about your strengths and weaknesses?    

  • Reflective Essays: While the cover letter can be considered a type of reflective essay, some academic portfolios may require that you conduct an in-depth reflection on a specific work in your portfolio or a certain experience in a course. Such essays allow you as a student to honestly evaluate your own work.
    • Click here for a more detailed explanation of reflective essays. 

  • Exemplary Work: Deciding what types of work to include will largely depend on what skills and abilities you need to demonstrate in your portfolio. Exemplary work will demonstrate your growth or success in a specific academic area. It is important to note that while most portfolios include written documents, others can contain non-textual elements such as pieces of art. Because most academic portfolios tend to focus on pieces of writing, examples of exemplary writing can include: 
    • An academic essay which shows your ability to claim an argument and effectively defend it. Click here to find out what makes a strong academic essay.
    • A piece of writing based on your own research, showing your ability to make an inquiry and find the resources needed to answer that question
    •  A piece of writing for a community project, club, group, or campus publication.

(St. Martin’s Handbook, 6th edition)

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