Are Virtual College Auditions Here to Stay?

5 reasons why they level the playing field

By McCaela Donovan May 4, 2021

Much like the rest of the world, COVID 19 accelerated some practices that were already going in specific directions. One of these is virtual auditions, specifically in the world of college admissions. Each year students have historically attended in person theatre, music, and dance auditions for universities across the country. Students gather in different cities to audition, network, and interact with prospective programs. But 2020 threw that possibility out the window and everyone had to pivot to an online format. Whether it was pre-screen submissions, or online callbacks, educators, arts recruiters, and the student applicants found ourselves adapting to a new process.

There are definitely pros and cons to this approach- the loss of the magic of being ‘in the room’, the lack of networking with colleagues, students not getting to bond with each other through the chaos. But in a post 2020 world, where institutions are grappling with rising costs, and simultaneously factoring in health concerns as well as racial and social inequities, here are 5 reasons why, in some form, virtual auditions will be here to stay:

  1. Location Access. Students no longer have to travel across the country, or sometimes across the world, to access these programs. With an internet connection, we can meet a student where they are. Some applicants don’t have teachers or parents who can travel with them, so to be able to do their audition from the comfort of a familiar space can make a big difference in how a student feels, and performs.
  2. Financial Access. Auditions in person usually require cost for travel, staying in hotels, eating meals out and sometimes this is being done in the most expensive cities in the country. Having a virtual platform allows students and their families to not have to add to the financial burden of applying for college. This financial burden has historically affected students of color on a larger scale, and the hope is that relieving this burden could allow for a more accessible opportunity for all.
  3. Faculty Access. In a pre-COVID year, when we did in person auditions, we could only travel with 3 faculty. So, our applicants were really only exposed to a handful of our faculty through the audition process. When we did them virtually, we were able to involve many more faculty than we normally do, because all they had to do was log on. This is a more holistic approach in recruitment, and the student body then becomes a more diverse reflection of the full faculty, rather than just 2 or 3 people’s opinions.
  4. Department Budgets. As much as many of us who work for these programs love traveling and seeing each other, it’s not cheap. Recruitment tends to eat away a lot of a department’s budget. This past year we did it without being in person, and once a university sees you can, they don’t tend to want to spend that money on travel again if they don’t have to.
  5. Quality Time. Because we did pre-screening this year, we were able to spend more one-on-one time in our virtual callback process with each student. This gave more space to speak to each person, and hear about their goals and answer their questions. This is invaluable in putting a class together.

We are just beginning to speak to peer institutions about what next year will look like, and the jury’s still out. But, whether we like it or not, virtual auditions, at least in some form, are likely here to stay.

McCaela Donovan serves as the Assistant Director and Head of Recruitment at the Boston University School of Theatre.

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