Establishing an Undergraduate Portfolio
What is a portfolio?
A portfolio is not necessarily a collection of something physical, as an artist might carry a collection of sketches and paintings. Instead, it is a collection of knowledge, skill and experiences. Your goal should be to develop a portfolio that demonstrates competency in your field, but which is also broad, reflecting a variety of skills and experiences to buttress your academic performance while in the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University.
Advice on developing an impressive portfolio:
- Focus on academic performance. Academic performance in your classes is the most vital aspect of your overall portfolio. A good G.P.A., especially in your major, is important. While extracurricular activities are important and work (for many) unavoidable, your top priority should always remain your performance in classes.
- Join honors, either in the Lee Honors College or in political science. Graduating with honors sets you apart from the crowd.
- Pick a minor that complements your major. There are many good combinations, depending on what your career plans are. Popular choices are:
- Develop skills. Be an excellent writer. Learn a language. Learn how to speak in public. Take methods courses not only in political science, but in another department.
- Get involved in an extracurricular activity. There are many activities on campus and in the area in which students may get involved.
- Interested in politics? Join College Democrats or Republicans, or one of the smaller parties. Participate as a volunteer in a campaign.
- Care deeply about environmental issues? The status of political prisoners and refugees around the world? Sweatshops that employ women and children for low wages? Gender or racial equality? Local branches of national and international organizations operate right on campus.
- Engage in a research project. Solid research skills (and their natural counterpart, good writing skills) are highly prized by employers, law schools and graduate programs. You'll develop some research skills in classes. Think about taking on a research project outside of class.
- Study abroad. Globalization is more than a buzz word. Knowledge of other cultures and how to communicate across cultures is highly valued in today's market. Study abroad is not just for International and Comparative majors, nor is it as hard as you may think. Consult your advisor and the Office of Study Abroad for information and ideas about places to study.
- Do an internship. Practical and applied political science, in the form of an internship, is great experience. WMU political science students have interned as close as Kalamazoo City Hall and as far away as the German Bundestag.
- Participate in a formal simulation. The department sponsors a mock trial team. Not to be taken lightly (it is a lot of work), but the learning experience is unrivaled.
- Do volunteer work. Employers, law schools and graduate schools value a student's commitment to volunteer activity. Pick your commitment carefully; it should reflect your abilities and the time you can realistically devote to it (be careful not to let it interfere with your academic performance).
A good portfolio does not have to include each of these points, but putting together the right combination to match your career plans is good strategy. Consult your advisor about the best set of skills and experiences to match your academic career as well as future plans.