Make a personalized impression as a student and an artist.
No matter where you are in the college search process, former college deans of admissions who now consult at ArtsBridge will tell you there are several actions you can take to personally stand out. The steps below can be applied to different phases of your search for the right school; phase 1 is pre-application, phase 2 is during the application and audition or portfolio process, and phase 3 is post-application and audition. It’s never too early to get started, but time doesn’t stand still so take your first step today.
1. Clean up your online persona. The admissions officers who review your college application may also review your Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles. So before you retweet colleges or post comments on their Facebook and Instagram pages, make sure your own online presence is squeaky clean. Photos of you holding a red solo cup may impress certain friends, but they won’t go over nearly as well with college admissions. One of the best ways to boost your digital footprint is to create a personal website with your resume and portfolio. Of course you’ll want to highlight your academic achievements, but just as important to include are your unique qualities and skill sets. If you’re an actor, musician, dancer or visual artist, upload photos and videos that feature your own area of art. (Phase 1)
2. Visit colleges you’re interested in, or let them visit you. A number of colleges will send reps to your high school or to a local college fair. If you have interest in or are already applying to one of those schools, be sure to attend. And be extra sure that the college representative knows you attended. Colleges keep track of these points of contact as a form of “demonstrated interest.” When the time comes for your application to receive a final decision, the admissions office will see how and when you interacted with the college. As an artist, visiting a college also presents a valuable opportunity to meet with faculty and students and to see what kind of work students are doing at that school. (Phase 1)
3. Genuinely demonstrate interest. Don’t be afraid to express why you want to be at that specific school. Whether it’s a particular faculty member whose work or teaching you admire, some aspect of the curriculum that excites you, a reputation for alumni success or double degree opportunities, colleges want to know if they are at the top of your list. Submit a statement or short essay on why you feel that school is a great fit for you, and be specific. Be eager, but not annoying — hit the sweet spot of genuine interest but avoid “over-communicating” about things that don’t matter. (Phases 2 and 3)
4. Have schools hear from you (not your parents). Make the connection yourself and don’t have your parents do all the upfront work and communicating for you. Colleges want to get to know you, and your direct interactions with people at that school will help you to learn more about whether it’s a good fit for you. It’s okay if a parent calls with a question or sends an email to add an update to your application file, but it comes across much better when the student himself or herself is the one taking the time and initiative to do the legwork. (Phases 1, 2 and 3)
5. Be your authentic self. Colleges know when an applicant is trying too hard. And they’ll also take note when mom or dad had a heavy hand in the application process or when a ready-made essay has been purchased online. So be truthful and be yourself. Admissions officers (and college arts faculty who are key influencers in the admission decision) want to know your honest interests and passions, not what you think they want to hear. When they look at your social media and see the majority of extracurricular activities added in senior year, it’s apparent that you haven’t been consistent or are making a last ditch effort to look great on paper. Naturally, you want to show your best side, particularly for arts students with a focus on the work, but it’s always impressive when students show interest in the process of growth and development. You’re going into an arts program to learn and grow, so while a polished presentation is important, remember that the faculty evaluating your work know you’re still a work in progress. Don’t try to impress by being someone you’re not. (Phases 1, 2 and 3)
6. Minimize the “extras” in extracurricular. It’s not about how many clubs you belong to or how many community services you perform, rather, colleges look for students who are passionate about specific activities that actually mean something to them. Communicating your interest, creativity and dedication goes a long way with admissions officers. Depth in two or three areas is more impressive than breadth and checking off a dozen extracurricular boxes. (Phase 2)
7. Get the right recommendations. No matter what your major may be, college is about learning how to solve problems and overcome obstacles, and nowhere is this truer than in the performing and visual arts. Recommenders who have seen you challenged, either academically or artistically, and who then have seen you overcome those challenges will offer more meaningful recommendations. So don’t necessarily go to the easy-grading teachers — ask for recommendations from those who have seen you rise to the occasion. (Phase 2)
8. Apply, but don’t overdo the application. If the college asks for two recommendations, don’t send seven. An extra letter is okay, of course. If the audition requirement calls for three contrasting pieces, don’t send in a recording with fifteen. Admissions offices and arts faculty alike really appreciate when applicants stick to what they’re asking for and give those requirements their full attention and finest effort. (Phase 2)
9. Come prepared for your interview and/or audition. If you do your homework and research each college before visiting, you’ll have insightful questions to ask as well as thoughtful responses to questions you receive. While the audition focuses on demonstrating your artistry, it is often an opportunity to speak about yourself and to learn more about that college program. If you do have the chance, ask questions that go beyond the basic facts and statistics; ask about highly rated classes and faculty, internship and performance opportunities, alumni placements, and what is most unique about the particular college program. Some common questions to expect are; why do you want to attend, what other material have you worked on, and what do you do or read for fun beyond your artistic area? Above all, listen carefully and express yourself clearly and confidently. What you say and how you present yourself before and after your audition/interview can be just as important as the quality of your art. (Phases 1 and 2)
10. Take full advantage of your interview and audition day. Take a campus tour, attend an information session, meet with a current student and shadow a class or two, and/or meet with a faculty member the day before or after the audition. The college will take notice of this level of interest, and you’ll learn so much more than you otherwise would have. Afterward, consider a handwritten thank-you note to the faculty who heard your audition or reviewed your portfolio. If you prefer, send a brief, pointed email with a thoughtful comment about your experience. (Phase 2)
Looking for personalized guidance in your search for the right arts program? Speak to the staff at ArtsBridge about specialized college arts consulting with former college deans of admissions.