Expert advice that every performing & visual arts applicant should have.
What are the best ways to make an impression on college admissions when applying to programs for the performing and visual arts? Get the inside perspective from the pros — respected admissions officers and award-winning faculty associated with a wide range of prestigious arts programs.
Don’t do a monologue from a monologue book — You can be sure that there will be dozens of others who will be performing the same monologue. Instead, read lots of plays with characters that are within your age range (teens to 25 is fine). No one wants to see a 17-year old Prospero. Pick speeches that you relate to and enjoy. You will do a much better job if you do. Ask your Drama or English teacher for suggestions. Be sure to see as much theatre and read as many plays as you can before your audition and interview.
— Joseph Olivieri, Director of Undergraduate Acting, UCLA
Your humanity is your greatest gift — Artists have always been the great storytellers of their generations, both past and present. Find your need to tell your story through song, dance, or monologue, and just share your humanity within the material. After all, it’s the greatest gift you have to offer. Choose a career in the arts, not to be a “Star”, but to have a career that fulfills you creatively, spiritually and emotionally. Remember the quote by Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”
— Gary Kline, Associate Professor Musical Theater, Carnegie Mellon University
Know the decision process and have fun with it — When applying to conservatory type programs within a university, be sure to ask how they make decisions before you decide not to apply. Some schools look at academics first, but a lot of university arts programs admit students exactly like stand alone conservatories. If your academics don’t qualify for the liberal arts majors at the university you could still qualify for admission to an arts major based on a stellar audition or portfolio. Know that the adjudication committee is rooting for you the minute you walk into that room! It is in their best interest for you to be GREAT! So show them what you love about performing. Be open and happy to share your talent with them. If it is meant for you to be admitted, you will be! The only thing you can control is how you feel about your audition when you are doing it, and if you are convinced that the faculty wants to love what you do, you will do your best and have a great time doing it!
— Mandy Feiler, Director of Admissions, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University
Connect with both admissions and students — Once you decide on what type of atmosphere you thrive best in, get on the school’s mailing list so they can send information to you, ideally beginning sophomore year. Don’t be afraid to contact an Admissions person. They can really help you out. Ask admissions if you can meet a current student in your area. You may get some helpful insight as to what it is really like at the school. Ask the student about practice room availability, auditioning for opera, orchestra, chamber music, etc., and how many productions they do each year. Ask what they do for fun, and where the cool shops, hangouts, and music venues are. Do they have student rush tickets? These are just some of the things that students may have more insight into than teachers or the admissions office.
— Georgia Schmitt, Director of Admission, Mannes College The New School For Music
Be yourself in your audition or portfolio— Show your BEST work, as opposed to what you think will impress. For example, if you’re a singer, sing the best song in your range, as opposed to a song out of your range that you think makes you look unique. Or don’t include work in your portfolio that you don’t really like… it will be hard to talk about that work with passion. Realize that every arts program is probably teaching the same or similar skills, but each program has a distinct personality and approach. Ask to talk to faculty, current students, and alums, so you can get a real sense of the atmosphere of that program to discern if you will be happy there.
— Dottie Marshall Englis, Chair Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Webster University
Examine the details, but don’t overlook the big picture— When identifying which colleges are a good fit, thoroughly review the programs, faculty, and curriculum to ensure that the knowledge and expertise gained over your four years will result in a skill set that will have practical application in your chosen field.
— Damien Bracken, Dean of Admissions, Berklee College of Music
Know the school for which you are auditioning— Know the audition requirements. Some schools may be more lenient than others if you do not adhere to the audition requirements. If one song is more strenuous vocally than your other selection(s), sing the easier song first. You do not want to blow your vocal chords out because of nerves when you have more material to perform. Louder and faster are not better. Dynamics and tempi are relative— and the auditors ears grow tired as the days progress.
— Neil Donohoe, Director of the Musical Theater Division, The Boston Conservatory
Dig deeper into the arts at large universities— General information sessions and tours offered by the Office of Admissions at most large research universities are a great way to get to know the campus. However, they are not the best way to find out about programs in the arts. They tend to be geared to liberal arts students, the largest applicant pool. If you are seriously considering an arts program at a major research institution, be sure to add time to your campus visit to include a meeting or tour of the program or department. Call and make an appointment to meet with a faculty member in your area of study, and ask to sit in on a class or two. You’ll then have a more complete understanding of the university and what it can offer specifically in the arts.
— Stan Greidus, Director of Visual Arts, ArtsBridge (formerly Director of Enrollment, Steinhardt School NYU)
Know before you go— Applying to college is a little like applying for a job. Get the full description so you can know if the people and location are the right fit for you. The biggest difference is that you’ll be paying the salary, so do a complete evaluation of the full offering and total costs. To gain as much knowledge as possible, consider soliciting opinions from experts. Many parents believe their teenagers are more talented than they are. I’ve seen countless students apply to highly selective schools that either won’t accept them or are completely wrong for them. Families should ask outside experts to critique talent and recommend schools and programs where their students can thrive.
— Halley Shefler, Founder & President, ArtsBridge (formerly Dean of Admissions, The Boston Conservatory)