Where do you see yourself in the future? Starring on Broadway! Singing at the Met Opera! Dancing with the New York City Ballet! Playing with the Boston Pops!

How many times have we heard these big dreams from our performing arts students? I am guilty of it myself. As a child, I would be “interviewed” on talk shows, sitting on one end of our living room couch for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and the other end for Gary Collins on Hour Magazine. I practiced countless Academy Award speeches, including the moment of surprise when I won. I had fallen in love with the fame and fortune aspect of acting, without realizing the work it takes to get there. My parents sent me to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC for six weeks in the summer before my senior year. That’s where I learned there is a craft to acting and I enjoyed the process. It solidified my direction somewhat, and, while I did not apply to school explicitly for theater, I did end up majoring in theater and dance at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

I share this story to illuminate ways we can guide our performing arts students and help them understand what it takes to follow their artistic hearts. Many young artists have stars in their eyes, but many do not realize what it means to study their art at the university level or to pursue it as a career. Directing them to a summer high school program (or even an arts high school) in their field, for example, would be a good first step to helping them understand what this journey entails. Students who have had experience learning their craft in a more concentrated way will have an advantage not only in the application process but also in their readiness for college. Their experience will help them decide how deeply they want to engage in their art in higher education.

As advisors, we can have exploratory conversations with our students. Do they want to make their art their main course of study? And if so, do they want a pre-professional, conservatory type of training, or would they prefer a broader approach to the field with room to include other academics? If the former, intense, immersive BFA or BM programs would be ones to consider. If the latter, BA or BS programs, which would allow them to concentrate their coursework in their art but also pursue other academic interests, would be routes to take. Either way, it will be important for you, as their independent educational consultant (IEC), to build a balanced college list that includes both types of programs. Remember, BFA and BM programs (and some BAs) will require artistic reviews, which involve auditions or portfolios, and many of these programs have small cohorts of students, which leads to many talented young artists not being accepted.

The addition of the artistic review means the college application process for arts students and their families (and their IECs) is twice the work—a good thing to remind everyone involved, including yourself! The application process is the same as for other students, but the artistic review process comes with its own dates and deadlines, requirements, and guidelines to sift through, and materials to gather. (Now, you may be an IEC who has worked or likes to work with arts students and this extra work doesn’t faze you. If you’re not, there are specialty consultants in our community who work specifically with arts students with whom you can partner or to whom you can refer families.) An artistic review consists of auditions and portfolio reviews, and often some sort of interview or conversation with faculty. Applicants to music, dance, acting, or musical theater programs will audition. Those students who wish to study directing, design, stage management, music education, music production, etc. will submit portfolios.

These additional components would suggest an earlier timeline for arts applicants to begin the process. Arts applications themselves may have earlier deadlines and performance-based programs that require pre-screens will mean submitting material much earlier than the application deadline. A pre-screen is a “first round” audition, for which all applicants submit videos of themselves acting, singing, dancing, or playing their instruments. Sometimes, the requirements include an optional “Wild Card” video, which can be 60 seconds of anything the student wants to share that is not found in other parts of the application. I’ve had musical theater students demonstrate their passion for origami or rock climbing! The department’s faculty reviews the videos and invites applicants who pass this first round to come for an in-person callback (live or virtual) for further consideration.

We can support our students by encouraging them to submit their applications well ahead of the deadlines, as receipt of the application will trigger access to the artistic review reservation system. The earlier they are able to reserve audition appointments, the more dates will be available, the more flexibility they’ll have in scheduling all their auditions for the season, and the easier it will be to arrange travel. Pre-screen material can be due as early as mid-September, but many programs seem to have a pre-screen deadline of November 1. Deadlines and requirements do vary from school to school, so be sure your student checks every website.

Arts applicants, along with their families and IECs, have a lot to do in this process! It is manageable but requires a high level of organization and accountability. It’s all worth it if they want to follow their dreams. And forget fame and fortune. Just to be a working artist would be success in itself! 

By Chris Andersson, MA, Nothing But Drama, LLC, IECA (NY)