Tell a compelling career story with the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences Senior Portfolio

The online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) degree is designed to integrate the traditional methods and values of an Ivy League liberal arts education with opportunities to develop career-enhancing practical and professional skills. One of the culminating requirements to complete the degree is a Senior Portfolio, a digital collection of materials compiled by each graduating bachelor’s degree student to showcase their academic abilities and make connections to their current or future careers.

But what should be included in a Senior Portfolio? How do you demonstrate the education you’ve earned to employers—especially the soft skills and conceptual or problem-solving abilities that many of today’s jobs demand? The Senior Portfolio component is designed to fulfill that very purpose.

What is the purpose of the Senior Portfolio?

“The BAAS is a career-focused program, and the Senior Portfolio is a signature of that initiative,” says Kristin Sowden, associate director of career advising at Penn LPS Online. The Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree was developed in part with feedback from an employer advisory board made up of representatives from local and national organizations such as airlines, cable providers, and hospitals. “We wanted to make certain that our curriculum was informed not just by what we thought would be helpful to students, but also by what we were hearing directly from employers who are responsible for developing job opportunities and making hiring decisions in different fields,” says Kris Rabberman, assistant vice dean and director of academic affairs at Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies.

To that end, the Senior Portfolio is a tool to ensure that each BAAS student’s academic studies align with their unique professional goals and personal aspirations—and for that reason, no two Senior Portfolios are alike. For transfer students who are preparing to complete their bachelor’s degree requirements, the Senior Portfolio is an opportunity to look back at all they learned and accomplished during their college education, to tell a story about the resultant skills and knowledge they’ve earned, and to reflect on how they can continue to apply those lessons after graduation. For new BAAS students just starting out or returning to college, Rabberman expects that the Senior Portfolio will help students take charge of their academic journeys and define their goals as they go. “As students work on their Senior Portfolios, they can bring them into conversations with their academic advisors and use the requirements to figure out what direction they want to go in, or what they want their culminating projects to be,” she says. Rabberman also points out that the process of curating a personal portfolio is itself an analytical skill. “The more reflection students do, the more they’re thinking deeply about making connections between their goals inside and outside of the classroom,” she adds.

To best summarize your academic progress as well as your future plans and aspirations, the Senior Portfolio requires several different types of documents or materials. Assignments and materials from coursework—including but not limited to academic papers, exams, and videos—showcase your fulfillment of the eight core competencies, or learning outcomes of this liberal arts degree. Polished professional documents, including an up-to-date resume, an optimized LinkedIn profile, and a virtual interview are included to demonstrate career readiness. A short written final synthesis ties everything together and demonstrates your ability to make connections between your life, your career, and your interdisciplinary education.

What is “career readiness,” and how do I demonstrate it?

Career readiness, as Sowden defines it, is the demonstration of competencies or outcomes that prepare college graduates for the workplace. For Bachelor of Arts and Applied Sciences students, many of whom are already working professionals and are pursuing a bachelor’s degree to open new doors, demonstrating career readiness may entail preparing to advance in an established career or to shift into a new field.

Although the Senior Portfolio as a whole is intended to enhance career readiness, your Senior Portfolio includes several items that spell out career intentions in definite terms. The first two will be familiar to most BAAS students: a LinkedIn profile and a resume. Whether you intend to use these documents for an active job search or simply update them in case of future opportunities, the inclusion of a LinkedIn profile and resume in the Senior Portfolio encourages you to spell out your professional skills and competencies—and also gives the career development team an opportunity to review your job application materials with a trained eye. "LinkedIn is a great way for students to practice building and refining their professional brand in a dynamic virtual space," says Sowden. "It teaches students the importance of networking, and encourages them to consider their professional identity as a living document that can always be revised."

Before the pandemic, virtual interviews were popular for first- or second-step screening calls. Now, almost every job interview has a virtual component, and some interview processes take place entirely online. The virtual interview component of the Senior Portfolio gives BAAS students an opportunity to conduct a mock interview in a safe space so they can work through logistics such as background, lighting, and camera angles. Students can also perfect their verbal and nonverbal processes as they work towards concise, effective responses to common interview questions such as "How has your education prepared you for this role?" and "What are your long-term career goals?"

Along the same lines, the final synthesize document helps students develop a compelling narrative of their educational and professional trajectory. The final synthesis is a concise, written reflection that summarizes your knowledge, skills, abilities, and aspirations. “The employer advisory board thinks it’s important for students to have the ability to tell their own story—that is, to look at the experiences they’ve had, decide which ones to talk about and how to frame them, and to make a connection between what they’ve learned and what employers are looking for,” explains Rabberman. “The Senior Portfolio requirement gives students some training and practice in that kind of storytelling.”

The final synthesis will probably be the last thing you write for the Senior Portfolio as you prepare to graduate and reflect on what you’ve just accomplished, as well as what lies ahead. While many students enroll in the BAAS degree in order to move forward in their careers, some BAAS students completing the Senior Portfolio are on the cusp of retiring or have already retired from full-time work. "In those cases," says Sowden, "the Senior Portfolio is a wonderful opportunity for an individual to look back on how they designed their career trajectory. These students seem especially grateful for the opportunity to reflect on a professional life well lived."

What is a “core competency,” and how do I document it?

As a liberal arts degree, the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences is designed to encourage students to dip into a variety of subjects in order to approach complex problems with a range of perspectives and problem-solving tools. The bachelor’s degree core competencies are broadly defined categories of knowledge and skills that help prepare students to be informed global citizens as well as professionally capable and academically accomplished graduates. They reflect the intersection between the core arts and sciences knowledge areas identified by the Association of American College and Universities and the career competencies defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
The eight core competencies include:

  • Analytical and critical skills include evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting a variety of source material, from best practices in data literacy to determining the credibility of sources to defining a persuasive argument or unique perspective that takes multiple viewpoints into consideration.
  • Communication is the exchange of ideas or information using written, oral, numerical, or graphic media. The ability to communicate clearly, persuasively, and professionally with different audiences is an asset in any context.
  • Creativity and innovation invite students to synthesize ideas, images, or knowledge in original ways. Exploring creativity in the classroom enhances your ability to think, analyze, innovate, and consider complex problems from a variety of perspectives.
  • Digital literacy is defined as the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, which is both a cognitive and a technical skill.
  • Ethics entails a deeper understanding of what it means to be socially responsible and to influence positive outcomes as both individuals and as community leaders.
  • Global citizenship and diversity encompass a variety of skills that range in scale from interpersonal communication across cultural or ideological difference to global perspectives on history, economy, environmental impact, and cultural change.
  • Historical perspectives offer students the opportunity to understand, interpret, and contextualize historical sources—and better navigate the present through advanced knowledge of the past.
  • Scientific process and problem-solving skills help students understand how scientific knowledge is developed and communicated as well as develop, test, and revise their own theories.

For the Senior Portfolio, you choose one artifact to represent each of the eight core competencies. The artifact for a given competency could be an essay or report you wrote, an exam you completed, a presentation you gave and recorded as audio or video, an individual or group project you submitted for a grade, or another document or media file that exemplifies the skills or knowledge you developed. Most if not all of your artifacts will come from your coursework, but you may include one or two examples from your personal or professional pursuits; these co-curricular artifacts might include a conference program featuring a panel you spoke on, a work project, email correspondence, or a certificate of completion. For example, one student who focused on organizational studies included an email that demonstrated her communication skills in her capacity as a role in a professional committee. Another student included a software patent that he developed professionally.

You may choose to share your Senior Portfolio with prospective and current employers to provide examples of your accomplishments or career-adjacent skills. For many students, however, your best examples of academic achievement at first might not seem directly relevant to your workplace to outside readers. Hence the final synthesis: in your written reflection, you can tell a cohesive story that explains the connections between your course. For another example, one BAAS student included an artifact from a course on folklore studies to demonstrate her readiness for a career shift into financial consulting: The ethnography project, she explained, helped develop her interview and interpersonal communication skills.

“A lot of the artifacts I’ve seen so far are based in the liberal arts—from religion, from creative writing,” says Sowden, who is among the program team members who review and assess Senior Portfolio submissions. “Students are taking abstract concepts and finding ways to connect them to their lives.”

So, what goes in a Senior Portfolio?

In total, your Senior Portfolio must contain the following: eight artifacts that symbolize the learning of each core competency, an updated resume and LinkedIn profile and profile review, a virtual interview, and a final synthesis document.

But while your Senior Portfolio needs to include all of these components, the way you select and arrange them is entirely up to you. Senior Portfolios range widely in format as well as focus: Graduating students have submitted purely written Senior Portfolios as well as multimedia Senior Portfolios with video and sound; submissions have included gratitude journals, travel narratives, and personal reflections as well as coursework and co-curricular artifacts. “The Senior Portfolio is designed to reflect you and your journey at Penn,” emphasizes Sowden. “You can’t make a wrong choice—it’s about showing how you’ve learned what you’ve learned.”

"Through the Senior Portfolio, students have shared that they found their life’s calling as a result of earning their degree," adds Sowden. "They were able to find their professional voices and uncover interests they didn't even know existed. Even folks who consider themselves experts in their fields developed a clearer understanding of how they can help propel the industry forward as a result of their deepened knowledge. In this degree, students are given the time, space, and resources they need to determine how to best configure their knowledge, skills, and abilities for the problems they are interested in. Then they go out into the world and find solutions."

To learn more about how the Senior Portfolio fits into the online bachelor’s degree, visit the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences Degree Requirements. For examples of how two graduating students mapped their journeys through the Senior Portfolio, read "Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences students shine in the first annual Senior Colloquium."

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