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Matt Ledwidge, left, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, discusses one of his works with Gene Daniels, a professor with the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sitting in front of her exhibition at Etobicoke School for the Arts, Vanessa Di Staulo, 17, prepares herself for the criticism. Her film and photo work from four years worth of schooling is on display for visitors who could influence her entire future.

"It's good to hear what everyone's talking about, everyone's different opinions," Ms. Di Staulo said. "I would take [new opinions]as inspiration. "

ESA held its second annual Portfolio Day on Friday, an event in which professors and officials from art schools and university arts faculties around the world advise the students, scout talent, and perhaps offer lucrative scholarships to entice them to their campuses.

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Last year's event drew representatives of 20 schools and more than $1.6-million in student scholarships. This year, the number of schools has increased to 45, and includes institutions in Los Angeles, London and New York.

"This started a few years ago when we tried to get two students accepted into Parsons [in New York]and they both got accepted. We thought we had done our job, but then we realized they both had to pay for it somehow," said Matthew Varey, 42, the ESA teacher who organized the event. "One of them was able to pay for it, one of them wasn't, so I got to see one person's dreams come true and [another's]heart break."

Many of these officials will attend a similar event at OCAD University on Saturday for students from several high schools. The ESA event, where students have their own space in which to display their work rather than lining up for a few minutes with the visiting officials, is considered a richer experience.

"Students [at ESA]are actually getting a priority," said the artist known as Evergon, who is a professor at Concordia University in Montreal. "We're looking to see who's who. We can make suggestions, and we might follow up on certain students. ... It's a chance to seduce them as much as it as chance for them to seduce us."

Students have a chance to talk to the school representatives, accept criticism and discuss what influences their work. Networking is key, with many exhibiters providing business cards and demo DVDs in the hopes that they will be remembered by recruiters.

For some, staring their futures in the face isn't intimidating.

"I'm very confident in the work I've prepared, and I think the school prepares us incredibly well," said Alex Bailey, 17, who showed his videos. "Everyone works well off of concepts and philosophies, so everyone is very passionate about what they're talking about.

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"Because of that, it feels very natural to talk to people."

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