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Making the Decision: Choosing a College Program for the Performing Arts

Written By Aileen Bergin—

So, you’ve made it to the final stage of the College Audition Process. After months - or maybe even years - of creating a targeted school list, filming pre-screen auditions, and eagerly awaiting your results, you finally have some acceptances in your hand.

The decision can feel like a daunting and pressurized one. The weight of this decision is often compounded by the voices of family, friends and teachers asking where you will be headed to in the fall, as well as your own feelings, fears, and desires.

First, remember this: You only need one school.

Here’s a list of questions and exercises that may help you narrow down your options and come closer to deciding where you will pursue a degree in the performing arts…

What are my options?

This may sound redundant, but take a real stock of all of the acceptances and wait list offers you have on the table. Often, we are quick to count out schools and programs before truly investigating what they have to offer.

For example, maybe you got into a school’s BA in Theatre Arts program, but applied for a BFA in Acting. It may be worth investigating whether you can re-audition the following year for the BFA program.

What do I have to consider financially?

Loans, scholarships, and tuition rates may or may not play a huge factor in your decision. As painful as it can be to potentially have to turn down a dream school due to finances, it’s important to be realistic about how finances will affect your decision.

If you find yourself in this position, a carefully-worded email to a department head or a call with a financial aid representative may make a difference. Additionally, it’s worth looking into local scholarships, work-study programs, and the loans or grants available to you. It’s also very important to factor in how student loans will affect you down the line. How soon after you graduate will you have to begin paying back your student debt… and will that affect your ability to audition, pay rent, or attend graduate school?

What are my needs, wants, and nice-to-haves in a program and school?

There are lots of methods to weigh pros and cons, but it may be worthwhile to consider how those factors may not be weighted equally. For example, if you are a championship-winning tap dancer, perhaps the strength of a school’s tap program is something you might prioritize, whereas to other prospective students, it might be more of a “nice-to-have.”

Some factors to consider:

  1. The program’s curriculum, and how flexible it is

  2. Performance opportunities (Be sure to also look into local theaters and apprenticeships!)

  3. Can you pursue other academic or extra-curricular interests, such as double-majoring or double-concentrating?

  4. Can you study abroad? Or get credit for summer internships?

  5. Department and program size, especially as it relates to class sizes & registration

  6. Are there other strong programs within the school’s theatre / performing arts department? And how do they interact? (i.e. Can you take directing classes with the directing majors? Are there lots of emerging playwrights in staging new works with the acting students? What does extra-curricular collaboration look like between designers, directors, choreographers, actors, etc.?)

  7. Is there a showcase? What pre-professional training is embedded in the program?

  8. Faculty, peers, & staff! Who are the people you will be collaborating with in this program? Do your perspectives on the industry & art-making align?

It’s also important not to forget to weigh in the overall campus and school community in your decision. Although the program may (or may not) be a huge factor in your decision to attend a school, it’s important to also factor in your full experience at this school.

Be sure to consider:

  1. The school’s location - Is it in a city? Is it close to one? How far is it from your home?

  2. School size - Is this a large state school, small liberal arts college, or very small arts conservatory?

  3. Campus culture - What is the social scene like, and how do the performing arts students fit into it? Is it difficult to meet people outside of your program? Is Greek life a dominant part of the school’s social culture? Or athletics? How diverse is the school?

What can I compromise on, or supplement?

No school is perfect. While it can feel like there is pressure to find the ultimate school and program for you, it’s also healthy to acknowledge that there may be things you won’t like about your school.

However, sometimes you can supplement these shortcomings in other ways. For example, if you feel that the dance curriculum at a program lacks the intensity you are craving in a program, you could research local dance school and companies that may allow you to train with them. Or if you are worried about not getting enough networking opportunities, are there any summer workshops or apprenticeships you could enroll in?

Where do you want to be in four years?

Do you feel this program and school will take you where you want to be four years from now?

Take stock of your skillset and identity as a performing artist. What weaknesses do you want to improve on? Will this program be able to challenge you in the areas where you are already strong? And also… what kind of personal growth and discovery do you want out of your college experience?

This is where it can be helpful to reach out to the school’s alumni and current students. How did / does the school help them grow and improve? What classes and professors do they recommend? Be sure to check out our College Corner forum, which has input from alums and current students at different schools. It’s a great place to ask questions and get insider information before you commit somewhere. While people can have vastly different experiences inside the same department, there’s still a lot of objective things to be learned about a program. Current students will be the first to know about what’s going on in the department, and what the student experience is really like.

Making the final call…

As you narrow down your list and make the final call, know that there may be no “right answer.” This big decision will definitely require a leap of faith. Even for people that feel completely secure in their college decision, so much can change, or be different than you expect.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that this is your decision. While friends, family, and teachers may have their own opinions, helpful tips, and hopes for you, the best decision for you is the one that feels right in your gut and heart.

Congratulations on getting this far in the college audition process. Best of luck in making your decision!

Aileen Bergin

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