Issues that College Students in the Arts Face When Transferring

I saw a recent survey that shows one-third of parents of high school students say they are considering sending their child to a local community college for two years and then transferring the student to a four-year school. Sounds like a practical plan for financial reasons, but for arts students, a college transfer can be a major obstacle in the pursuit of their dreams. Why? For students in the performing arts—from voice to musical instrument to drama and dance—the three most important criteria to success are auditions, auditions, auditions. The fact is, by the time a transfer student hits the stage at their new college or conservatory, their peers who may have been there for a year or two, have already proven themselves. The competition is more intense to get roles, get cast, or to play in the orchestra, because other students have already earned the confidence of those who make the decisions in such matters. Bias exists, it’s a fact of life. In addition, existing students have likely already formed close relationships, and gotten involved in school activities such as chamber groups, ensembles, or a cappella groups that don’t include the “new kid.” New students, even with two years of training elsewhere, are starting from scratch. It’s not a level playing field.

Students of visual arts face challenges of their own. Their peer students who have been enrolled in the “new” college since freshman year may have already had gallery exhibits on campus or off and be making a name for themselves.

Access to studios or other workspace may be limited and those with seniority know how to work the system. New students are challenged when collaborative projects are assigned, because the existing students already know the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of their classmates.

Whether the student is pursuing visual or performing arts, they are working toward a degree in a very specific curriculum. Studying the arts takes a passion that is generally not found in students of liberal arts, communications, or many other majors.

The hours of practice an arts student has invested by the time he or she gets to college is likely unmatched by students of many other majors. Therefore, arts students rarely transfer out of their major. They are pursuing a dream they have had for years, possibly since childhood. For this reason, there may be few openings at the target university or conservatory into which the arts student hopes to transfer. Arts students, like others, also have to struggle with issues of course credit transfers,especially between non-accredited and accredited schools.In addition, many colleges don’t give transfer students the attention that freshman may receive for a variety of reasons.

The first and main reason is that freshmen students are more profitable. Since transfer students may be able to transfer at least some credits from general education classes and will likely live in off-campus housing, they do not contribute as much financially as a freshman student who lives on campus. The adjustment to the new school is another issue that transfer students face. Colleges roll out the red carpet to make freshmen feel welcome and at home. That is not necessarily true for transfer students. When transfer students are included in freshmen activities, they often feel out of place because they are older and already have some college experience.

Yet transferring schools is not impossible for the arts student. They must keep in mind that hard work pays off. Brush up your audition skills or portfolio, use your experience to create compelling essays, and master the presentations schools require. Most important of all, be both realistic about the challenges and excited about the journey ahead.


Halley Shefler is principal and founder of ArtsBridge, LLC. She can be reached

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