College Bound Issues For The Theatre Student

College-bound Performing Arts Students

While this is not a typical "Psychology" article, I felt it would be beneficial to include as the college application process, and the audition and/or portfolio process especially, often creates a lot of stress for students' and their parents, and it is difficult to find this type of informaiton elsewhere. For high school students seeking acceptance to a university drama, dance, or music program, it is a different universe, and one which many guidance counselors are just not that familiar with. Applicants to these programs have an additional set of requirements that take a lot of preparation, rehearsal, and great organizational skills to navigate. Nonetheless, it can be an exciting and exhilarating experience! It can also be a bit costly, so it’s a good idea to start preparations as early as possible.

  1. Your student will be comparing the BFA (more “conservatory style” or outright “conservatory” programs) versus a more traditional liberal arts BA degree. Some music majors will be looking at BM (Bachelors of Music) degrees. Your child will need to evaluate whether they want to primarily pursue courses in their chosen field, or whether they also want a broader liberal arts education, and possibly a double major. BFA programs tend to be very intense and leave less time for study in an outside field, although it is not impossible and depends on the specific university and also whether a student in coming in with AP credits that can help dispense with some of the general education requirements.
  2. For most BFA and BM programs, the audition is going to carry a tremendous amount of weight. Grades and test scores matter- but they often matter more in terms of the merit aid that is offered. This can make the difference in terms of whether your dream school is affordable or not. However, the highest scores will not outweigh an audition that is not what that particular department is looking for in that year’s crop of dancers, musicians, actors, etc;  On the other hand, an audition that is exactly what they need and want can tip the scales in your favor if your grades or test scores on weaker. Demonstrated commitment, passion, raw talent, intelligence, and a tremendous work ethic are going to be essentials in this equation.
  3. BFA (and BM) programs require auditions. For design and technical concentrations, an interview and portfolio review will be required. Start working on all of these early. Some applicants seek out audition coaches, and others will rely on their theatre, dance, and/or voice teachers for help with selection of monologues and song choices. Rehearsal is essential and follow the directions clearly in terms of length of selection (you do not want to get cut off, and you will) and type(s) of selections.
  4. Traveling from school to school get become very costly. Many applicants for theatre programs opt to concentrate as many of their auditions/interviews as possible around the dates of the Unified Auditions . These are held every winter in NYC, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Of course, not all schools will attend these, but it is not unusual for students to book 8-10 auditions during these gatherings. Know what works for you and don't exhaust yourself though. These appointments do need to be scheduled through the specific college departments in advance, although “walk ins” are often possible if there is an opening. The feeling is very much that of "Fame"- tons of kids warming up, chatting, and darting in and out of audition rooms in a large building filled with studios. You would check for walk-in slots on the day of auditions. There are a few consortium s as well, so check online for more of those.
  5. Many universities that are not part of the Unified or a consortium but are geographically close, will schedule at least one set of their audition dates around the same time to help make travel easier and reduce costs.
  6. It is often helpful to schedule at least one audition early for a school you are not terribly passionate about. You can think if it as a dress rehearsal and work out any bugs. Also, consider including a couple of rolling admission programs and apply early so you have some good news going into the winter break and the start of the heavy audition season.
  7. For visual arts applicants, consider attending a National Portfolio Day event. This is a chance to get feedback from faculty and working artists in the field before you have to present yours at an interview.
  8. While the audition/interview process can seem daunting, the great majority of kids emerge quite happy with their experiences. It is rare to find an examiner who was rude or disinterested, although that does occur.  For the most part, these faculty try very hard to be supportive, encouraging, and considerate. These are usually working professionals themselves, and they understand the psyche of young performers. And, they are also representing their university and it would be bad marketing to be rude.
  9. Schedule auditions early. Many schools are already posting their schedules and they fill up quickly. Check the specific department website for dates and for updates throughout the process which can last at some schools until April.  Some programs will have callbacks and others will not. Some will provide an indication immediately, and many will not. For some schools you can schedule your audition as soon as the dates are posted even if you have not submitted your college application. Others will require you to have submitted your application to the university first. Still others will actually require that you have been accepted to the university before they will schedule an audition date (those schools usually have rolling admissions). Be very mindful that this is a diverse landscape- many schools have very different deadlines and requirements. Read everything carefully, then read it again.
  10. Keep a spreadsheet or large poster or whatever works for you to help track deadlines, audition dates, how many letters of recommendation can be sent and whether some go to the department or all go to admissions, when you are allowed to schedule your audition, decision dates, etc; Some schools will also require you to submit an online  “pre-audition” video or portfolio. This seems to be becoming more common so don’t be surprised. And, don’t forger that your student still has to do all of the other requirements like submitting test scores, transcripts, writing essays, submitting applications, and sending in letters of recommendation. A head shot or some other photo will be required. Performing arts kids have more than double the work!
  11. Some students utilize audition coaches and others do not. It is very difficult to determine if this makes any difference in terms of acceptance numbers, but it may be of benefit for you to know that this service exists, some use it, and it's an option. Many of the well-known coaches are out of state and hold sessions by Skype. If your child, are having difficulty making decisions about monologues, song choice, etc..; and seems to be procrastinating heavily, or is highly anxious, this might be a service that is of interest.
  12. Consider brief counseling of the stress level is getting too high- some practice in relaxation training and/or guided imagery may be a helpful stress management tool to add to the performers toolbox. Many professional athletes use these strategies quite routinely. See it, be it!
  13. While student athletes often have their coaches to guide them and advocate and who also have NCAA rules to help guide them, student performers do not. It’s a lot to juggle. While kids generally don’t take this advice, it is best to try to keep the fall performance schedule light as they have a lot of travel to do. However, most don’t want to give up performing their senior year. So, do what you can to keep everyone’s stress level manageable.
  14. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to carefully review the curriculum for each program you are considering. They can vary a lot. Look at the general education requirements and also the total per semester load to see if it is realistic to graduate in 4 years.
  15. Consider including at least 1-2 non-audition "safeties". But, it's only a safety if you would be happy attending. Because the audition process is so unpredictable, many old-timers recommend including at least a couple of non-audition schools so that you know you are headed off to college in the fall.
  16. Also ask for a list of faculty and read their bios. Most performing arts programs include a lot of adjunct faculty, and that can be terrific because these are working professionals who bring real-world experience to the classroom. But, make sure there are enough faculty in your concentration.
  17. Ask to sit in on classes. Not all schools will permit this because it can be disruptive to the intimate nature of theatre classes. But, do what you can to get an inside view of the classroom experience. Talk with other students. How supportive or competitive is the atmosphere?
  18. Can freshman audition for roles? Can non- MT kids audition for musicals? Can non-majors audition for roles? How many performance opportunities are there per year? Can students audition and accept work outside of the school? Will the school give you time off if you are cast?
  19. Visit the campus and experience the “vibe” to see if it is a good “fit” for you. There are a tremendous number of excellent programs for performers of all types and what is essential is finding the schools where you will be happy. Consider the location, climate, male/female ration on campus, "gay-friendliness", cost, outside performance opportunities, etc;
  20. Keep in mind that because of all of this additional work, you are accumulating life experience that far outpace your peers and you will be enormously well prepared for those job interviews to come!
  21. Once the audition is over, move on to the next one., Every school looks for something different and there is often no rhyme or reason for who they take and who they don't. Most BFA programs accept very few students, and generally they need 50% guys and 50% girls. Sometimes they need a specific vocal range. Sometimes it's a particular height. Applying to a performing arts program is indeed a great window into show business. Have fun with it and congratulate yourself for the wonderful work you've done to get you to this point!
  22. As a parent, be prepared for some post-audition letdown- this intense period of togetherness on the road for auditions will come to an end and your teen will move on to enjoying their end of year performances and time with their friends. You have very likely been extremely involved in their shows for years, as a fundraiser, chauffeur, roadie, etc..; Now is the time to make sure you are stepping back carefully and giving them the space to assume the ever-increasing responsibilities of life and decision-making away from you.  Enjoy their happiness and be prepared to support their disappointments. This is  very, very difficult road they are taking. Be careful not to project your own wishes and needs on to them. Don't be a Mama (or Papa) Rose!


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