Questions about college and the arts? Check here for the answers.

The most frequently asked questions from students and parents.


 College Admissions

Are the application deadlines different for arts schools?

Very often they are, and many students miss out! Go to each college website (don't rely on the common app site), and check each out carefully. Often colleges that prescreen require that you submit materials by November 1st or earlier.

How can I get the admissions review committee to notice ME, among all of the applications they receive?

Be who you are and show who you are. Admissions committees are genuinely interested in the whole person — beyond what they read on your transcript or recommendations. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments and be sure to take the time to write an honest and thoughtful essay that is specific to that institution. Your portfolio needs to show the best work that you have. Get in touch with the admissions office, visit, and take a tour. Let them get to know you personally. And be sure to meet all of their application deadlines and requirements.

Is it easier academically to get into a conservatory-type program than a university based program?

Yes, generally, it is. What matters most of the time is your audition. However, there are fewer stand-alone programs than there used to be. For example, only two stand-alone theater programs now exist; Juilliard (BFA in Acting) and Boston Conservatory (BFA in Musical Theater). All of the others are university based.


College Applications

What is the Common App?

The Common App ( allows students to apply to many schools using one application. While each school has their own supplement, the process is made somewhat easier with this tool. Over 800 colleges use the Common App.

If I apply to an audition school, is it possible to apply Early Decision or Early Action?

It wasn't the case a few years back, but some schools now offer this option.

To how many audition schools should I apply?

It can vary, but ArtsBridge performing arts clients generally apply to 8-10 schools.

Do grades matter when applying to major in the arts?

Grades matter and scores matter. Colleges in the arts are getting so many applicants they are looking for any reason to turn someone down to make their decisions easier! Generally, high school performance is a terrific indicator of how a student will do in college.


College Preparation

My high school knows very little about visual and performing arts schools. What should I do?

Speak with your arts teachers — they can be a great resource. Or seek out an expert firm like ArtsBridge.

Does attending an arts high school like LaGuardia or Interlochen give me an advantage in being accepted at a performing or visual arts college?

In all our years in college admissions, we can honestly say that most students who got in were from plain old public high schools!

Should I take any private lessons with a teacher in my major?

If you are going into a program where the applied teacher is critical (instrumental music, voice, opera, composition, etc), then yes, you should either take lessons with a few teachers or ask to sit in on one.

Do SAT’s matter? I hear artistic students do better on the ACT? Is this true?

Sometimes artistic students do better on the ACT. The SAT was designed as an aptitude test. It tests your reasoning and verbal abilities, not what you've learned in school. In fact, the SAT was supposed to be a test that one could not study for (studying does not change one's aptitude). The ACT, on the other hand, is an achievement test. It is meant to test what you have learned in school. However, this distinction between "aptitude" and "achievement" is dubious. There is concrete evidence showing that you can study for the SAT, and as the tests have evolved, they have come to look more and more like each other. (sourced from


College Search

How do I know which schools are right for me?

Your guidance counselor should be able to assist with the academic suitability of each college of interest. Talk to students, faculty, and the admissions office. Do online research and seek out professional advice.

Do I have to go to a “famous” school to “make it”?

No, no, and no... you don't. But, you do want to be in a program or school where there are enough opportunities for you to grow and develop.

At what point should I have my final college list?

Junior year, ideally, or by the beginning of senior year. ArtsBridge clients typically have their finalized lists by no later than September of senior year.

My high school grades are not good, but I am a very talented actor? Any colege opportunities for me?

Yes, of course. A two year progam like Cap21 or AMDA could be just what you need right now. Or go to a commuity college for year and really apply yourself. One good year of college can dismiss a lot of damage.

I love schools like Oberlin — smart kids and double-major options. But will I mind being in the middle of nowhere?

Kids worry that if they go to a school in a remote location, they will be stuck there for 4 years. It may not be for everyone, but it can be fabulous to be fully immersed in a setting while creating your environment with fellow students! After vacations, breaks, and summers, you may find yourself looking forward to the intimate campus atmosphere. Being in the middle of a major city is not for everyone either, trust me.

What is a conservatory?

The original definition of a conservatory is an institution that focuses on the study of music. The term is now used for theater and dance programs we well. Coursework in the arts major takes up approximately 75% of the student schedule. The remaining 25% is devoted to academic requirements. Interestingly enough, a BFA or BM at a university is built on the same model.

How do I know if choosing a college that offers a double degree makes sense for me?

Generally students choose a double degree for one of three reasons: 1) their parents insist; 2) they feel if this doesn't work out I can always do that; and 3) the liberal arts and a balanced education are very important to them. Remember a degree is a degree. If you are academically inclined, a university rather than a conservatory is a terrific option for you because of the choice of non-arts classes. But also know that you can take a challenging course load while in a BFA/BM program, if you want to take the initiative.

I love the arts, and want to major in voice. But I also want to have fun in college and go to basketball games and be in a frat! Where’s the best place to go to experience it all?

It all sounds great! You want a university based program. A place like Syracuse comes to mind. They have a huge dome in the middle of the campus, and students can go to games (for an additional fee of course)! Greek life is very popular there too, as it is at most major universities.

Are there schools where I can do my art “on the side”

Yes, hundreds, but what is offered to non majors is completely different from school to school. Call or visit the school and ask what classes in your area of interest are open to non majors.


College Studies

If I major in theatre, and then change my mind and want to go into medicine, do I need to start all over with another Bachelors degree?

Whether you graduate with a BFA in Acting, a BFA in Painting or a BM in Electronic Music, you can ALWAYS change directions. You will need to make up some coursework (for example, sciences for medicine) but anything is possible.

My parents don’t want me to major in the arts. How can I convince them?

Parents are worried that you will not be able to support yourself after graduation. But, how will you support yourself with a major in English? Learn more by reading these FAQ's, and then follow this link to read statistics on arts graduates employment.

Does a conservatory grant a degree, or do you just get a certificate?

Most conservatories offer both. And some are only two-year programs. When you complete the program, you can then transfer your credits to a four year college to finish your Bachelors degree.

Does a BFA in Painting at a stand-alone school, like Maryland Institute of Art, have a similar curriculum as a BFA in Painting at Cornell?

Yes it does, although a university-based program may offer different options like a more varied liberal arts curriculum, a more diverse student body, and possibly better extra-curricular facilities like a health or athletic center and team sports.

Do I have to obtain a professional degree like a BM or BFA to make it in my field?

Absolutely not. The training is sequenced in these programs, making it easy to know "what to do next", but it is absolutely not a requirement to have a degree like this for entrée into the profession.

I hear people talk about transferable skills? What does this mean?

Many arts majors go on to enjoy success in their fields. Others find that with the combination of being an arts major and taking a solid liberal arts education, they are prepared to pursue a career in a variety of fields such as law, medicine, teaching, business, performance coaching, sales, or marketing.

If I don’t major in music, can I still audition for a professional orchestra, or audition for a show or dance company?

Yes of course. The degree doesn't matter. What matters is how "good" you are, how well you audition, and a little luck doesn't hurt.

Is it easier to major in the performing arts than to major in something like English?

This is a common misconception. Being an arts major takes a tremendous amount of work, time, and committment. You will likely begin your day at 8am and end late in the evening, between classes, rehearsals, studio work and performances.


College Visits

What should I consider when visiting a college?

Definitely take the tour offered by the admissions office — but go off course too. Visit whatever you can, and talk to the students. Don't be embarassed, they love questions! Ask them specifically what they like and don't like about their school, how the food is, plus a realy important question — what do they do on weekends? You don't want the place to clear out on weekends if you don't live locally.

Should I visit every school I am considering so they know I am serious?

If you can visit, great — but an admissons office will understand if it is not financially possible for you and your family. Contact the school, ask about local events for prospective students in your area, and make sure they know how interested you are in the school!

If I can’t afford to visit schools, will colleges hold this against me?

Not at all. See above!


Financial Aid

If I apply Early Decision, I have to go if accepted so am I less likely to get funding?

The official word is no, you are not at a disadvantage. However, make sure your school of choice will let you know your financial aid package before you click that ED (Early Decision) box!

Can you recommend a good website for scholarship information?

Yes, my favorite is  Also, your college websites should all offer advice.

My parents won’t help me pay for college. Can I get loans on my own?

Unfortunately, no, unless you are independent from your family or have some other situation. Call the financial aid office at one of the schools on your list, and see what they can suggest for you. Loan eligibility is based on credit worthiness, and most 18 year olds haven't had the chance to build credit.

What is merit aid?

Merit scholarship usually refers to grant awards for both academics and arts talent.

What is need-based aid?

Need-based aid is financial aid you receive from a college and/or the government based on your family's financial situation. Just because you have "need" doesn't mean the college will meet your "need" but several do.

My family has very little money. What types of schools offer funding?

Every college, as of October 2011, is required to have on their website a Net Price Calculator. It was determined that is was unfair to have students apply to a college without any idea if they would qualify for any funds. This is an excellent first step for families who depend on this funding. For an example, go to and see how the SUNY system in NY does it.

What is FAFSA and where can I find it?

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You and your famiy must file this to see if you are elgibile for need based grants, loans, and federal work study programs. Go to


Performing Arts Auditions

Is it acceptable to go to regional auditions in select cities, or should I go to each school to audition?

Our recommendation on this is based on our experiences in admissions. If the decision makers are at the regional auditions, it is fine. If you will be auditioning for a staff member and a video camera, we would pass.

Is it acceptable to audition at the Unified Theatre Auditions, or should I go to each school?

The Unified Theatre Auditions offer students the opportunity to audition for many schools under one roof. Every school has a room, and the student goes from room to room to audition. Most schools require that a student apply first, but it is not unheard of to audition for a school before an application has been made. Generally students and their families stay at the hotel where the auditions are being held. The flip side is it is a very intense few days being surrounded by hundred of other students all hoping for the same dream. Depending on your personality, it may be less stressful going to the college to audition.

How important is my audition repertoire?

VERY. Select material that presents you at your best. Avoid material that is beyond your current abilities. Don't choose material just because you think the faculty want to see it or because you think it will impress! The way to really impress to choose material that is within your abilities, that you love, and that you do really well.

What’s a prescreen audition?

A prescreen audition is simply an "audition" to "audition". More and more colleges/university programs/conservatories are requiring this and it is a terrific idea. If you pass the "prescreen" you are invited to campus to do a live audition, and if not, you've saved a great deal of time, effort, and money auditioning for a program that is likely not right for you.


Summer Programs

Will colleges look down on me if I work during the summer, rather than going to a summer program?

Often it is the opposite. Colleges like students who take on the responsibility of a job. Often a student will work for a portion of a summer, and will do something educational as well.

I am thinking of going to the Carnegie Mellon Summer Theater program. That will help me get in right?

No, it won't, but everyone thinks it will. Go to this program because you want to go, learn, develop and have a great experience. Don't go because you think you will get in if you attend.

How do I find out about good summer programs?

Research. Talk to people, talk to your arts teachers, and investigate online.

Why is it important to attend a summer program?

Because you get to see your competition, develop your talents, explore possibilities within your art, and imagine what it might look like to do this in college.


Talent Assessment

How do I know if I am good enough to apply to major in the arts?

Ask yourself an honest question. What is my level compared to others in my town, city, state, and region?  If you don't know, find out. Take lots of auditions, or go to portfolio reviews, and see how you do in respect to both local and national-level programs.

If I don’t get into any audition schools, does this mean I am not any good and should consider quitting?

Of course not! But, it does likely mean the audition schools had hundreds of auditions for very few spots. It's possible that you were not properly prepared.


Visual Arts

How can I present my work to increase my chances of admission and possible merrit scholarships?

First of all, be sure and follow the specific portfolio guidelines for each institution exactly as they indicate.  Adjust your portfolio according to their instructions — it is never one size fits all. If the school offers portfolio reviews, be sure to take advantage of that excellent opportunity for an “insider” view of your work. Present your portfolio in a professional manner and show a variety of skills. Admission Review Committees are often more impressed by your ambition and vision as they are by your drawing, painting, or photographic ability. Be sure to show your portfolio to a trusted art teacher to get an outside opinion of your presentation. Your portfolio may be best served by starting and ending with your best work.

What are National Portfolio Days?

National Portfolio Day is an event specifically for visual artists and designers. It is an opportunity for those who wish to pursue an education in the visual and related arts to meet with representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Representatives will be available to review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. High school students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and college transfer students are encouraged to attend. Go to

How important is my portfolio?

VERY. This is your chance to show everything that you do well. And follow specific directions on the school websites. Different schools have different requirements.

Aside from the art program, what else should I look for in deciding where to attend?

The college selection process is a very complicated one. Try to limit yourself to 4-6 choices based on the things that are important to you. Important things to consider include: geographic location, size and reputation of the school, big city versus small town or rural, the quality and reputation of the faculty, and of course, cost. It is a complicated mix of where you want to be for the next 4 years and which school sees you as a significant asset that they want to accept. With art programs, you need to add to this mix the quality of the student work you see on their web site and in person. Many feel that the single most important indicator of an art program is the student work it produces. It says almost everything you need to know about the quality of teaching and mentorship that occurs there. And, take time to enjoy the process — it usually only happens once in your life!

Should I apply to an independent art school? Or to an art department that is part of a larger university?

That very much depends on what you are looking to achieve in college and beyond. In an independent art school, you are likely to get a very strong grounding in the visual arts and some exposure to liberal arts courses that will be geared to an artistic perspective. In the art department of a university, you may have exposure to a solid but possibly more limited menu of visual art courses. This will be combined with a stronger exposure to the liberal arts, taking classes with majors from throughout the university.

I keep hearing about starving artists. Should I even consider visual arts as a major in college?

Majoring in art is exactly like majoring in any field in college, and in many ways, it is even better. College is always “you get out of it what you put into it”, as the saying goes.  A visual art major is, after graduation, at the same crossroads as an anthropology, psychology, or philosophy major. You all need to know where you will go next. If you continue as a working artist, that's great. The list of student artists going on to successful careers is endless. But like every other major, there are no guarantees. If you choose not to continue in the arts professionally, and choose another career path, you will always have your art to complete your life. After working all day, you come home to the one thing that enhances your life — art.  That is more than someone with a degree in anthropology or psychology can say! The bottom line? Follow your dream!

Which schools and visual arts programs have some of your students attended?

Aside from university-based programs, our students have gone on to art schools such as MICA, Pratt, Parson's and RISD.

How are your workshops geared or tailored to visual artists?

ArtsBridge Visual Art workshops are about the real world of applying to art programs. Working with some of the finest art faculty from around the nation enhances the student’s skill sets and provides an opportunity for clear, concise, and supportive critiques of their work. Students will not just learn about one school's approach, as they would at typical summer programs, but would hear from a variety of faculty who have diverse views on the creation of art. As well, experienced admission professionals provide “behind the scenes”  advice on creating a portfolio that reflects the student’s strongest work as well as how review committees work.

What do colleges look for in a visual artist that is unique to the art form?

Visual artists are expected to be well-rounded individuals, just like any other college applicant. They should have strong grades in all subjects as well as a rich resume of student leadership and involvement, both inside and outside the classroom. The difference, for most visual artists, is that they need to show their skill set in two different ways — on paper and in their art portfolio. The visual artist has a second opportunity to display their talents to the members of the admissions and review committees. This makes the portfolio an all-important part of the process.

What qualities of visual arts separates it from the other arts?

All art is the crossroads of talent, ambition, and energy. Perhaps more than other artists, visual artists are keenly aware of their surroundings. They notice space, color, light, and perspective. Where others may see a great painting and admire it as a whole, a visual artist may see, in addition to the beauty of the piece, the individual components that make up the whole. In short, visual artists often see a very different world.



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