An important aspect of M Arch I advising is the Vertical Portfolio Review. Here, on a day soon after Final Reviews each semester, M Arch I students are asked to pin up their latest studio work, a sampling of completed projects from earlier studios, and their entering/admission portfolio. In a private discussion lasting around 20 minutes with a three-person faculty group called a “dialog team” (which includes the student’s current teacher), the arc of the student’s development as a designer is discussed. The student’s strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, and obstacles are assessed. Academic career advice is offered, based on the work, and feedback is invited about the experience of the Vertical Studio program. 

Participation in Vertical Portfolio Reviews is required for entry into the Advanced Design studio sequence. The process is administered by the Coordinator of Vertical Studio Sequence in concert with the participation of a cross-section of other graduate faculty members designated by the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. This process occurs at the end of the student’s third semester of Vertical Studio, rather than fourth, so as to allow students time to redirect their efforts should the committee determine that an adjustment or redirection should be made.

When are portfolio reviews?

The exact portfolio review date for each semester is announced as part of the final review schedule. Each student is scheduled for a first portfolio review at the end of their penultimate vertical studio.

  • If a student is waived from two vertical studios, the first portfolio review will be scheduled at the end of the first vertical studio.
  • If a student is waived from one vertical studio, the first portfolio review will be scheduled at the end of the second vertical studio.
  • If a student is waived from no vertical studios, the first portfolio review will be scheduled at the end of the third vertical studio.

Vertical studio instructors receive a list of the students in their studio who are scheduled for a vertical portfolio shortly after the studio lottery, with a copy of any previous review forms. The latter is to allow students and their teachers to address whatever shortcomings—and capitalize on whatever strengths—were noted at the portfolio review.

Portfolio review day

Each student will have around 8 linear feet in one of the school’s review rooms to pin up the current semester’s work and earlier work. Include your name on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper with your work. If all the previous work doesn’t fit on the wall, students may use a brochure, and/or put material on the floor in folders. Models should ideally be on boxes. Also bring your admission portfolio.

A team of faculty reviewers (all the vertical teachers and a selection of advanced design teachers) together, and without student participation, do an hour-long tour and discussion of all the work shown. Their aim is to get a sense of standard achievement levels that semester and to identify students that might be underperforming, and thus reduce variability among the 'dialog teams' later in the day.

Faculty reviewers then conduct personal dialogs with each student. 20 minutes are allocated per person, but students should be available at least one person ahead of them should the review not run the full time. Printed schedules are made available. Students may pin down after the last review in 'their' respective room is done.  

Portfolio review form

The dialog teams will fill out a Portfolio Review Formfor each student to report on their interview. 

Student work is assessed in two categories. The first and more important one is design, and it follows achievement in the "Four Streams," which in turn helps in advising. The second category is visual communication. The comments section lets reviewers add nuance and specifics. 

A copy of the completed form will be given to each student for their records. 

PORTFOLIO REVIEW OUTCOMES

The portfolio review process provides an assessment from a panel of faculty. The outcome is distinct from each semester's studio grade. 

There are four possible outcomes from the portfolio review:
·       Complete a fourth vertical studio and advance without a re-review
·       Complete a fourth vertical studio and re-review
·       Take a fifth vertical studio and re-review
·       Advance to advanced design studios following a re-review

Although it varies from semester to semester, on average, around 30% of students are asked to complete a fourth vertical studio and re-review. Of those who re-review, the vast majority go on to advanced studio. Although it is possible that a student who has received grades of B and better in their two previous studios, and who is receiving the same for their just-completed (3rd) studio, will be asked to re-review, it is unlikely, as can be seen from the percentages. The reason that it can happen, however, is due to the fact that the Vertical Portfolio Reviews are not designed to look at the student’s work the same way individual studio instructors do. Instead, the review process considers a student’s body of work as a whole, and its main concern is advising for individual success. It is able to see the student’s longer-term trajectory while identifying his or her evident talents. It aims to develop a better understanding of the performance of the Vertical Studio sequence in realizing the potential of the students, for their own benefit, the school’s, and ultimately the profession’s.