If you’re a high school Junior, you’re hearing, “What colleges are you looking at?”…A LOT! If you’re a high school Junior interested in studying the performing arts in college and trying to answer that question, you’re Google-ing and seeing B.F.A. Musical Theatre, B.F.A. in Acting, B.A. Theatre-Acting Concentration, B.M. Voice Performance, B.FA. Dance, B.A. Dance, etc. in your initial college searches…A LOT!
All of the options and constant stress of Junior year (on top of keeping up your G.P.A., taking SAT prep courses, and balancing all of your extracurricular activities) might leave you feeling something like this:
Here’s some quick advice. 1. Take a breath. 2. Relax. 3.You’re not alone. 4. Remember that at this time next year, you will be celebrating some awesome college acceptances!
Ok, now that you have calmed down, here’s...
How To Make a Performing Arts College List that Fits You!
1. Avoid the Top 10 lists
There are a bunch of lists out there that will tell you the “Top 10 BFA
Musical Theatre Programs” or “25 Best Drama Schools.” They can be a great source to wrap your brain around some options, but be SUPER careful to rely on these lists alone to create your customized Performing Arts college list. These lists don’t often take into consideration the hundreds of BFA and BA programs across the country. Remember that everyone else is looking at these same lists, and most likely, applying to the exact same colleges! Think of the colleges that appear on these lists as essentially the Ivy League schools for the Performing Arts. These colleges typically fall into the “Reach Category.” If you apply to 10-12 schools, it’s a general rule that you allow yourself to apply to 2-3 “Reach Schools” (MAX!). So follow the same rule and only choose the few top Performing Arts colleges that you ABSOLUTELY love and fill the rest of your college list with target schools and “safeties.”
2. Location Location Location
Before you start brainstorming your college list, sit down with your parents and have a real heart-to-heart about establishing your geographic boundaries. If you live in Massachusetts, maybe your parents don’t want you to go to college all the way out in California, but they will let you look as far as Washington, DC (Don’t forget that plane flights across the country cost way more than a car ride on move-in day). If you live in Oklahoma, maybe you only get to look as far south as Texas (Trust me, there are tons of great schools in these areas and you have the rest of your life to live in New York City). At the end of the day, it will be WAY easier to start creating your college list and narrow down your options, if you create specific geographic parameters.
3. Campus Size
Some students love the huge campus feel of University of Southern California or the small town vibe of Oberlin College. And you know what? That’s ok! The same principle applies to where you land after graduation. Some people love New York City or Los Angeles; maybe a smaller major city like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco will be a better fit, or a small city like Portsmouth, New Hampshire (My hometime! They even have an agency now!). You have to feel comfortable at the place you end up at and your happiness is just as important as the program you are applying to/auditioning for. You may already know the answer to the “campus size” question, but if you don’t, make a list of a range of colleges that are within driving distance (small, medium, large; rural, suburban, urban) and visit them (even if you don’t plan on applying there). This could save a lot of time/money on plane flights to discover that you hate “city schools” or “rural campuses.”
4. Ask friends or recent alumni
Have your drama club, dance team, or choir friends auditioned for performing arts colleges? Where have they auditioned/applied? What schools did they like/not like? Your friend/alumni network might be the best resource for insider info. Is one of your friends attending one of your potential dream performing arts colleges? Great! Ask to shadow that person on campus for a long weekend and see what the program is really like.
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Tom Morin is a NYC-based acting coach, co-founder of Polish Your Passion, and a professional actor/singer. He holds a B.A. in Theatre & Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.F.A. in Acting from Ohio University and has been teaching for the past 9 years, advising and coaching students through the college audition process and beyond. He loves coffee, Shakespeare, and YouTube.