If you’re a high school sophomore or junior, you’re probably starting to hear the question, “What colleges are you looking at?” Whether it has always been your dream to study acting, musical theater, voice, or dance in college, you’ve recently decided that you want to, or you’re still on the fence, creating a rock solid arts-based college list tailored to your wants and needs is the first step in pursuing your passion in college.
All of the options and constant stress of junior year (on top of keeping up your G.P.A., preparing for the SAT/ACT, and balancing all of your rehearsals, performances, and extracurricular activities) might have you feeling overwhelmed.
Here’s some quick advice: First, take a breath. Then relax; you’re not alone. And remember that this time next year, you’ll be celebrating some awesome college audition acceptances! To get started on creating your list, here are eight things to consider.
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 they don’t want you to go to college all the way out in California, but they’ll let you look as far as Philadelphia. If you live in Oklahoma, maybe you only get to look as far south as Austin.
Either way, there are tons of great colleges all over the country and you have the rest of your life to live in New York or Los Angeles. At the end of the day, it will be so much easier to start creating your college list and narrowing down your options if you create specific geographic parameters.
2. Campus size
Some students love the huge campus feel of the University of Southern California or the small town vibe of Ithaca College. You have to feel comfortable at the college you end up at—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 flights to discover that you hate “city schools” or “rural campuses.”
What do you want your college training to be like? In your initial searches, you’re probably seeing a lot of degree options come up: B.F.A. Musical Theatre, B.F.A. in Acting, B.A. Theatre-Acting Concentration, B.A. Theatre-Musical Theatre Concentration, B.M. Voice Performance, B.FA. Dance, B.A. Dance, etc. Do you want training 24/7 (conservatory)? Do you want 75 percent training/25 percent general education requirements (B.F.A.)? Do you want to major in performance but have the opportunity to double major in English, History, Communications, etc. (B.A.)? Although some B.F.A. programs allow you fit in a minor (it's even easier to do this if you come in with AP or college credit), a double major is typically only possible in the B.A. scenario.
4. Study abroad opportunities
Do you want the option to study abroad during your time in college? Because the curriculum in B.F.A. programs is very structured and you have to take a sequence of courses with your classmates, many programs have limited study abroad opportunities. Some don't allow you to study abroad at all; some allow you to study abroad for a semester, during the summer, or a few weeks during a faculty-led study abroad trip.
5. “Top 10” lists
There are a bunch of lists out there that claim to list the “Top 10 B.F.A. Musical Theater Programs” or “25 Best Drama Schools.” They can be a great source to wrap your brain around some options, but be very careful to rely on these lists alone to create your “best fit” customized performing arts college list.
Remember that a lot of other students are looking at these same lists and applying to the exact same colleges! Think of the schools that appear on these lists as essentially the cream of the performing arts crop and only apply to the ones that truly fit what you’re looking for. For example, the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, and Boston Conservatory end up on a lot of students’ college lists because they’re on those “top schools” lists, but they are very different from one another in terms of campus size and location, so they probably shouldn’t all be on the same prospective list.
6. The numbers
There are hundreds of B.F.A. and B.A. programs out there, so sometimes it can be a challenge to narrow down the list. It’s good to have a healthy mix of B.F.A. and B.A. programs, targets and reaches, and a potential safety or two. When putting together a cohesive and diverse class, there are so many subjective factors (i.e. type, look) that come into play that make it impossible to call any audition-based B.F.A. program a “safety.”
When adding audition-based programs to your college list, try to avoid putting too few (it can be risky, especially if they’re “top programs” and you really want to train at a B.F.A. program) or too many (remember you have to audition at all those programs) on the final list.
At Polish Your Passion, we started working with students on creating customized arts-based college lists because so many of our students and their parents felt like their high school guidance counselors didn't understand the B.F.A. audition process. Your guidance counselors and traditional college advisors will help you get a sense of academic reach and target colleges based on GPA, test scores, transcript, etc., but sometimes they only can recommend B.F.A. programs based on name recognition. Ask your directors, music and drama teachers, coaches, etc. for suggestions.
8. Friends and alumni
Have members of your drama club, dance team, or choir auditioned for performing arts colleges? Where? What colleges 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 him or her on campus for a long weekend and see what the program is really like.
If you are having any trouble weighing your options or don't know where to begin,
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*This post was originally published on Backstage. Click here to read the original article or read more of Tom's Backstage articles.
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.