Your strategy is perhaps THE number ONE most important thing in the process of developing an architecture/ design portfolio. Think of it as the initiation phase of any project. Be it in architecture or any other field, the initiation process of the project carries more risk than any other phase. The reason for that is that the it defines the broad strokes/ the trajectory of the whole effort.
Here are a few important things to consider when you develop your strategy:
1) Your background:
Your background is the foundation of the whole process of portfolio development, not only because it is very likely that your choices of schools and programs are very likely to be based on your background, but most importantly because your background defines the type of work that you have already developed. No one likes to start from scratch, and even if they do, it is not recommended. Schools want to see what you have accomplished and base their evaluation on whether their mission matches your background.
2) The type of work that you have developed:
If you are interested in sustainability yet the work you have produced is hard-core brutalist utopian, then there is a bit of a disconnect between what you say you want and what your work demonstrates. Never forget that your work must be a visual manifestation of all the good stuff that you will discuss in your essay, so there must be some sort of connection between work and intention. If not, it is not the end of the world, but then you will have a bit of a harder time painting a clear picture of yourself. In short, if you manage to somehow connect what you believe interests you and what your work says about you, you will have an advantage over others whose work doesn’t match their interests.
3) Your Objectives:
In any journey it is extremely important to have a destination. The same is true for architecture and design-school applications. It does not mean that you will commit to this destination for the rest of your life of course (well … some of you might), but it is important that you at least set a destination for now. Your destination can be as specific as “I want to be able to develop affordable single-family clay-houses in North African communities”, or as wide open as “I want to be involved in the development of sustainable neighborhoods”. Is there a way to define the perfect objective? Well, the truth is that most schools would not want you to be too specific, because that would mean that you are either narrow-minded or hard to teach. On the other hand, you would not want to appear too out of touch with specifics or reality either. So, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
4) The school(s) that you are applying to:
“Different strokes for different folks”, and in this case “schools” as well. Not all schools offer the same type of programs, not all schools use the same approach to teaching design, and frankly not all schools are flooded with applications from students allover the world. If you are applying to the GSD or MIT SAP, it is highly likely that you will be competing with hundreds of applicants for your spot, which means that you cannot get away with a mediocre portfolio. If you are applying to a program in Design and Build (some schools offer special programs like this) you will have to slightly adjust your application to demonstrate interest in the field, etc. In short: understand the schools you are applying to, find connections between their programs and what you are interested in, and then find common denominators in all of them, according to which you will build ONE portfolio.