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Applying to College as a Prospective Visual or Performing Arts Major

When it comes to applying to colleges as a prospective visual or performing arts major, students must approach admissions with an abundance of passion for their careers. In addition to an application, personal statement and interview, admission requirements include auditions or portfolios. This can be time-consuming and nerve- wracking.

Most importantly, students need to find the right school for their talents.

Look beyond the elite schools.

Schools such as New York University, Juilliard, the Rhode Island School of Design, University of Southern California, University of Michigan, Berklee College of Music, and Carnegie Mellon are the elitist of the elite for certain visual or performing arts. They are the Harvards and Princetons for the arts. In other words, many students want to attend but only a few will be accepted. In any given major—from musical theatre to graphic design—there are other good schools out there. U.S. News & World Report offers a listing of specialty schools. Look into the schools on the list called “Unranked Specialty Schools: Arts.”

Get an honest opinion on your talents.

Before students and their families spend the time and money on applying to college for visual or performing arts, get an expert or two to critique the student’s talent. It may be better for a child’s future to pursue an arts passion as a minor or a club activity.

Know what you need for the audition or portfolio. Know what the school requires for the admissions process.

Art programs require portfolios that show a student’s best pieces of artwork within specific parameters. Selections for a portfolio should display the student’s interest and aptitude for the arts. Typically, art colleges and programs ask for portfolios with an average of 10 pieces of art. The artwork should illustrate diversity in technique and variety in subject matter. Always check the requirements at the schools being applied to, as some will ask for specific types of work. Visual artists should also be prepared to explain their artistic perspective through an artist statement, and may be required to describe the feeling and intent behind the pieces in their portfolio.

Dance auditions often require a student to attend an open class before the formal audition. Students who attend will learn a routine which he or she will then need to perform. This individual performance will be evaluated on coordination, rhythm, technique, degree of movement, and body structure. The student’s ability to learn will also be evaluated. Certain schools accept video submissions of other performances, either as additional audition material or in lieu of attending auditions in person. Check with each school to see if this is an option.

Music departments are looking for technical competence and performance achievement; however, each program is different. At some schools, students are asked to include two or more pieces as evidence of the student’s skills and achievements. Instrumental auditions should be performed without accompaniment and should be sent in either audio or video format, as requested by the school. Some schools may also require in-person auditions. If so, many times a variety of locations for such auditions are offered. Check a college’s website or call and ask for specifics about their music audition requirements.

Students looking to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Theatre, or apply to specific colleges as a theatre major, may be required to audition. Different theatre departments have different requirements for their auditions and students should check with the schools they plan to apply to for details. Many theatre programs require a prescreening for auditions. Students who pass the prescreening process will be invited for an audition. Programs may require a resume of theatre experience, a recent photo, and/or two contrasting monologues from student-selected plays. Musical theatre requirements generally consist of one up-tempo musical selection and one ballad, as well as a monologue from a student-selected play or musical. Students who attend an audition or send in a video must make sure to wear appropriate clothes and perform appropriate material.

Attend joint auditions.

Attending a joint audition can help students and their families save money. Joint auditions mean a number of schools that offer a bachelor’s degree program in a particular major, get together and hold auditions or review artwork and offer feedback for attendees. Theater majors look into the National Unified Auditions. Visual art and design majors look into National Portfolio Day.

Pay attention to financial aid.

Many art schools and conservatories are expensive. They also tend to offer less financial aid than traditional colleges that offer a wider range of majors. Students who are interested in the arts can successfully develop their passions at traditional schools, so don’t ignore them.