We have put together some resources for pupils interested in pursuing a degree or career in art, design or architecture. This information is all freely available online and will help you develop your knowledge and understanding of your subject area(s).
This page is for all pupils interested in pursuing a degree or career in art, design or architecture, and not just those registered on the ACES programme.
Choosing a programme
Applying to a creative degree programme requires lots of careful consideration. It is important that you have a solid understanding of what each degree involves and where it could lead. It is helpful to do some research before you apply.
Some things you might want to consider are:
Reading printed material
Order or download college, conservatoire and/or university printed guides.
Use college, conservatoire, university and/or UCAS websites to search for important information.
Talking to people
Reach out to school, college and universities and/or attend careers fairs.
Visiting college and universities
Depending on what degree programme you take, you could be studying for up to five years, so it’s important you feel comfortable in this new place.
Visit as many of your options as you can, and attend Open Days to see how you feel when you’re there.
Questions to help with your research
What is the location?
- Where is the college, university or conservatoire?
- Is it in the city, on the outskirts, in the countryside, by the sea?
- How does this fit in with your lifestyle and the things you like to do?
- How will you get there from home?
What facilities are on offer?
What facilities are available? Have a look at:
- Sports facilities
- Music facilities
- Clubs and societies
What is the accommodation like?
- Is the accommodation or where you will live close to where you will study?
- What are the transport links?
Is there finance and funding available?
- What funding and finance is available?
- Are there scholarships, bursaries or grants available?
You can study creative programmes at:
However, the programmes are often taught differently depending on where you choose to study.
There are three main ways to apply for art and design degrees:
UCAS (for university)
For degree level courses at university, you must apply through UCAS.
The deadline for applying to most degree programmes through UCAS is usually 15 January in the year that you intend to begin study. For example 15 January 2020 to begin in September 2020. This deadline normally occurs at the beginning of S6. However, in 2021 the UCAS deadline has been postponed to 29 January 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some art and design programmes have a later deadline, so please make sure you are familiar with these dates.
You can apply for up to five different programmes on your UCAS application, although you do not need to use all five choices.
UCAS Conservatoires (for conservatoires)
For conservatoire degree programmes, including degrees at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, you must apply through UCAS Conservatoires. Your UCAS Conservatoire application is separate to your UCAS university application.
Conservatoire application deadlines differ between programme, so check online for full details of when to apply.
You have six choices on your UCAS Conservatoires application, although you do not need to use all six.
Direct application (for college)
For college courses, you apply to each college directly. These are separate to your UCAS application(s), and do not count as one of your UCAS or UCAS Conservatoire choices.
‘Art College’: college or university?
Some former art colleges become part of larger universities, and so require a UCAS application. This can be confusing, as they are often still referred to as 'art colleges'. For example, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) is part of the University of Edinburgh and is no longer an independent college.
You apply to art and design programmes at ECA via UCAS.
Edinburgh College also offer art and design programmes, but is a separate college and not part of the University of Edinburgh. You apply to Edinburgh College directly.
School vs. university
Creative courses at college and/or university are often quite different to how they’re taught in school. Usually, you are encouraged to explore and experiment with materials, techniques and ideas. You work independently and create your own projects.
Check that the programme(s) you are applying for is representative of what you're looking for. For example, 'interior design' at university-level is often an interior architecture course.
Different programmes at different institutions
Creative programmes may also differ across colleges and universities: the way a certain programme is taught at one place might be quite different to how it's taught elsewhere.
Each will have something unique to offer, so it can be helpful to know what's important to you. You might find it useful to research these areas, to help you make your decision:
- How is the programme structured and is it flexible? Look at what you are taught in each year and whether you can take additional subjects from across the university
- How is the programme taught?
- How many students are there in each year? Do you work independently or in groups?
- How much contact time is there with tutors?
- How is the programme assessed? Will you have exams? When are the deadlines? Which marks count towards your final grade?
- What facilities are available for art students? For example: workshops, studio space, libraries, exhibition space
- What additional costs are there for your course? For example: material costs, costs to use the workshops, printing costs, etc
- What are the links with industry, and what employability opportunities are there?
- Are there any trips or chances to study abroad?
- Who will be teaching you? Look at the tutors’ work and/or their own practice
Your school academic performance forms a large part of your creative application.
It is important to research each institution carefully for full details of their entry requirements and selection procedures. You can either:
- go directlyto an institution's website and/or
- use the search tool on the UCAS website to help you explore the full range of university and conservatoire courses on offer.
- For college courses, check out each college’s website for information about the courses they offer.
Minimum entry requirements
The majority of applicants are expected to have achieved the standard academic requirements to be considered in the application process. However, applicants who meet specific widening access criteria may be considered on the minimum academic requirements. To find out more, contact each university directly.
What about my S6 choices?
If you achieve the academic entry requirements by the end of your S5 year, it can be tricky to know which course choices to make for your S6 year. ACES are here to help! We offer 1:1 advice and guidance to support you with your S6 course choices.
ACES Partner Universities
In addition to the universities below, creative courses are offered at a number of other Scottish universities, conservatoires and colleges, and at many more across the UK.
Follow the links below to explore the courses offered at the four ACES partner universities.
UCAS Course Search
Use the UCAS course search tool to explore creative courses across Scotland and the UK.
Please remember that these are university-level courses; for college courses (including HNCs and HNDs), you will need to visit individual websites to find out what they offer.
You might also find it helpful to look at graduating students' work. This will show you what students get up to on their programmes, and might give you an idea about whether they are something that you would like to study.
On the ECA Degree Show website, you can look at the work that students have produced for their Degree Show. You can access work from a number of years and can search by subject and by year.
ECA Degree Show
How to apply
Most creative courses ask you to provide a portfolio of work. For some, this is a digital portfolio that you submit online; for others, this is a physical portfolio, which you hand in in person.
Portfolio requirements and submission deadlines often vary by institution. Check each institution’s website carefully so that you know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it.
The work that you create in school may be suitable to include in your portfolio, but you should definitely include extra-curricular projects too. A strong portfolio submission will show evidence of independent work beyond school/college projects.
Most universities publish their portfolio assessment criteria online. This can help you work you what the tutors are looking for.
There isn’t a set formula to creating a portfolio, and what you include will depend on the course(s) you are applying for, as well as the institutions’ specific requirements.
Generally, tutors are looking to see:
- Research – the images and ideas you collect to get you started
- Experimentation – how you explore materials and techniques
- Development – how you develop your ideas, through experimentation and further research
- Resolution – how you select your best ideas and bring them to a conclusion
- Drawing skills – including observational drawing (from real life) as well as the things you imagine
This is where you demonstrate how you gather your ideas from the world around you and how you develop your knowledge of other artists whose interests are similar to yours and use these to inform your own work.
In your portfolio, make sure you include images, sketches and photos in your sketchbook that show your starting points.
Include some images of work by relevant contemporary artists, designers and/or architects from reputable sources (NOT Pinterest / Wikipedia / Instagram):
- Visit your school or local library.
- Attend exhibitions at galleries and museums.
- Read relevant magazines / journals / website
- Think about the materials / presentation / colours / themes / context of the work.
Make sure that your references are directly relevant to your work and demonstrate how their work has influenced your own work.
Remember to credit your references in your annotations.
Tutors want to see that you can use a range of materials to help you explore your visual ideas and generate possibilities for further exploration.
Ensure that your portfolio includes examples of ways in which you have used a range of materials and techniques to explore your ideas, ensuring that some are directly relevant to your chosen subject. For example, in a portfolio for Interior Design, include some 3D work and show how you engage with space. In an Animation portfolio, include drawings that show a change in state over time, or indicate a storyline to show that you can work with a timeline.
Tutors want to see your creative process, how you explore your ideas in a structured way. This includes:
- How you generate ideas
- How you respond to challenges
- How you develop your ideas further
- How you refine your ideas
- How you resolve your project and bring it to a conclusion
Include a balance of development work and finished pieces, so that tutors can see the result of your creative process. Tutors do want to see your ‘workings’, so that they can get a real sense of the way that you work.
Drawing from real life, or observational drawing, is an important part of portfolios for all subjects, including courses like Animation and Illustration. Try to include a real variety of approaches to drawing, in which you approach different themes or subject matter using different materials, such as ink, charcoal, paint, mixed media and collage.
Selecting work for your portfolio
- Think carefully about what you want your portfolio to demonstrate.
- Make sure each piece has a purpose, and you know why you are including it.
- If you’re unsure whether to include a piece of work, use a viewfinder to select the areas you like best. Cut out these sections and use them to explore a particular area, e.g.: colour studies.
TOP TIP: Tutors often view digital portfolios on their laptops so don’t overfill your slides.
Structuring your portfolio
- Use a storyboard to play around with the order of your work / your slides
- Group work by theme or project
- Arrange work chronologically to highlight your progression and/or the development of your ideas
- Give your final pieces a whole slide or board so that they really stand out.
How to use annotation / text
- Use a clean typed font
- Size 12 max
- Align your text with your work
- Keep it very brief; the content should be simple and informative
- Use the text to add new information. You could talk about:
- Your influences
- Your decision-making process
- Your ideas
- Any challenges you faced
- Do not use the text to talk about something that is clear to see from your images or factual things like size or the materials you used.
How to create a digital portfolio /e-folio
Some universities only ask for a digital portfolio, so this is your one opportunity to showcase your work. Others use your digital portfolio to decide whether to invite you to interview, so treat your digital portfolio as your highlights and include additional work in your physical portfolio.
Scanning your work
- For smaller work, use a scanner rather than photographing your work
- This is also useful if you want to include pages from your sketchbook
- Most public libraries will have scanners that you can use. Remember to bring a USB.
- ACES pupils also have access to the scanners and computers at the ECA library
- For bulky sketchbooks, you might need to press the book down as you scan to ensure a clear copy and avoid a shadow along the spine of the book.
Photographing your work
- You will need a clean space with good lighting: natural is best if you don’t have professional studio lights.
- Place your work against a large sheet of white paper, or tack it to a clean, white wall (the corridor walls near our studio, E18 at ECA are particularly good for this)
- A digital camera is handy, but your mobile phone camera may well be good enough.
- Turn the flash off and if possible adjust the white balance of your camera to match the light you are using.
- You might want to use a tripod, stand or flat surface to ensure your camera is still.
- For flat work: take your photographs as close to your work as possible rather than zooming in.
- Make sure you have plenty of space around your work
- You might want to photograph it from different angles
- You might want to play with different sorts of lighting to create shadows
- Experiment: create a curved background with large white paper against which to photograph your work
Editing your photos
- Use a photo editing tool like Photoshop to make small changes and adjustments to your images
- Keep it simple and minimal: straighten, crop, align and adjust brightness or white balance where necessary
- Don't spend too long on this
- Once you've scanned or photographed all of your work, open up PowerPoint and create a blank presentation
- Save this as a template
- Drag / copy in your images, and start to create your stucture
- Think about the layout of each slide, as well as the overall structure of the portfolio
- Once you're happy with your structure, add in annotations
- Save your work regularly and in multiple places e.g.: onto your computer (if it's your own) and a USB. You might want to email it to yourself too.
TOP TIP: You will probably need different versions of your digital portfolio for each university or college that you apply to. Make sure you have one 'master' presentation or template, and save each additional presentation that you make, keeping them separate from each other
How to create a physical portfolio
Not all universities ask for a physical portfolio. Those that do, often look at your work in different ways. Some ask you to drop your portfolio off for tutors to look at on their own. Others ask you to talk through your work as part of your interview. Make sure you know what to expect!
- Use A1 or A2-sized thick white card, paper or mount board
- Make sure work is properly aligned, and cleanly cut
- Check you are completely happy with the layout of your sheets before you stick anything down
- Use double-sided tape or Pritt Stick to affix your work. Place a clean sheet of paper on top of your work, and work the glue across your piece. This will prevent you from smudging your work
- Use a needle and thread to affix any textile work
- Check nothing is loose. Once you have finished, try holding each sheet up to check your work stays firmly in place
- If your sketchbook is full and you are happy to show it all, leave your sketchbook as it is.
- If you want to highlight particular pages, scan + print /photograph them / tear them out and stick these on boards as you would for other pieces of work.
- If your sketchbook is not full, or you would prefer not to show certain pages, tape these together.
- This will need remounting. Carefully remove or cut off the borders and double mounts, then stick down as you would for other pieces of work.
3D or large pieces
- Photograph larger pieces that would be tricky to take with you, and treat these photographs as you would other pieces of flat work.
Film or video clips
- Include photos of clips
- Take it on a USB / DVD
What to expect
The interview is a two-way process for the selectors to find out more about you and your suitability for the course, and for you to see if this is the right course and place for you. There are usually 1 - 2 interviewers, and there might be an observer. It is normally short and it might be part of a fuller programme including a tour or a talk about the courses available.
Booking your interview
Pick a date that will give you time to prepare properly. Make sure you know where you are going and leave plenty of time to get there! Decide how you will get to your interview, and check how long it will take. Allow time for travel delays / heavy traffic and for the fact that you will be carrying a heavy portfolio!
Getting ready: do your research!
Research the course(s) you are being interviewed for. Look at:
- Teaching + assessment
- Industry links + employability
- Travel opportunities
- Graduates’ work + destinations
What do you want to know? Asking questions is a good way of demonstrating your interest and research. Make sure you ask a genuine question, which you cannot find out on their website.
Talking about your work
- Turn your portfolio so that it is facing the selectors – this might mean it’s upside down for you
- Slide each board across once you have discussed it
- Be clear, concise and take ownership of your work. Don’t assume prior knowledge
- Use accurate language. Is it: a sketch / colour study / experimentation / research / pattern idea / development work / resolved work / proposal?
- Curate your sketchbook: use post it notes to mark pages that you want to discuss
- Talk about your strengths and how you have demonstrated these in your portfolio
- Think about what you would like to develop and why
It is useful to predict what sort of question you might be asked at interviews and explore how you might answer them in advance. Make sure you are confident talking through your portfolio – practice by yourself or with a friend or family member. Ask for feedback.
- Why this college / conservatoire / university?
- Why this course?
- Talk us through your portfolio
- Which is your strongest piece and why?
- Tell us about your influences
- Talk us through your creative process: how do you generate ideas? How do you research?
- Tell us about an exhibition that you have been to
- What are your plans or ambitions?
- What are your wider interests and hobbies?
- Print any documents you will need and go over these in advance. Look at your research - you can take your notes into the interview if you want
- Find the contact number and save it to your phone in case you get lost or are running late
- Take some water with you
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Take an umbrella and coat if it might rain
On the day
- Make sure your phone is turned off or on flight mode before you go in
- Ask your interviewers to repeat the question and check your understanding if you are unsure what the question means
- Be enthusiastic! Smile and make eye contact where you can. Nervous energy is better than silence.
Expanding your knowledge of other creatives is a vital part of your growth as artists, designers and architects. Learning about how they work, what challenges they face, what their work is about and how they respond to things is important! It will influence your creative development, teach you new things and help you to explore your own artistic practice too.
If that’s not reason enough, remember that all colleges and universities look for good artist research as part of a successful portfolio!
TOP TIP: Find videos of artists talking about their work and life, or in conversation with someone, online. You can learn lots from watching and hearing them talk.
How to look at art
Ask yourself questions about what you’re looking at.
- What sort of work is it? (Painting / sculpture / video / etc.)
- What is it made of?
- How is the work installed?
- How many pieces of work are there within the overall work? Do they seem to relate to each other?
- Can you describe the work in a few words?
- What do you like or dislike about it?
- How does it make your feel?
- Does it make you ask questions or think differently?
- What do you associate with the materials / images / colours in the work?
- Do you think the artist is trying to say anything in particular in the work? Why do you think this?
How to record your findings
Take notes in a sketchbook. This process keeps you in engaged in what you are doing. It also makes your research easier to find, later on, and easier to show off in an art school interview.
Include images of the artist’s work. If you don’t have access to a printer, save the image, and leave a space with a note of that the image is and where it’s saved.
Websites we like
Some galleries and museums have really great resources available online! Below are some of our favourites.
- The Art and Artists tab has some amazing resources including interviews with artists and - if you scroll all the way down - a podcast too!
- The 'Tate kids' section, whilst designed for younger children, has some brilliant insights into artists and art movements and is good for a quick read!
- I also love the walk through British Art, where you can explore a selection of hand-picked works from their galleries
- Finally, Tate Shots: short video interviews made by the Tate Gallery with some brilliant artists!
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- MoMA's learning resources have all sorts of useful information!
National Galleries of Scotland
- Click on the 'art and artists' tab at the top!
- Each week they share a featured artist, a featured artwork and an article to read through!
- Scroll back through our grid for a wide range of Artists, Designers and Architects featured in our #CollaborACES project
Here you will find resources - a mixture of articles and videos, from a range of sources - to help you explore the importance of creativity...
... and the impact of the creative industries on the UK's economy.
Reflecting on your research
Regardless of the subject, whenever you are undertaking work experience or subject / career exploration, it is extremely valuable and useful to reflect on your experiences. This helps you to put what you've learnt into perspective and to develop your understanding of your experience, by relating it back to yourself.
The University of Edinburgh has produced a Reflection Toolkit, aimed at helping staff and students develop their reflective skills. This toolkit may also be useful for you when thinking about what reflection is and how to do it.
A go to for new design
For all things design, architecture, and art
Commentary on contemporary art and culture
Browse the Glasgow Women’s Library online archive
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
Online and print magazine about architecture
Architecture News and Building
Design and Architecture Magazine
We will continue to add to and amend these resources regularly. If you notice any errors with links outlined on this page, please contact the ACES Edinburgh team using the information below: