Every year as summer greenery gives way to autumn polychrome, high school seniors across the country begin the panicked and puzzling process of applying to college. For those students considering – or intent on – pursuing a performance degree, the process becomes even more daunting; in addition to writing stellar essays and applications, they must select, memorize, and prepare stellar audition material as well. No wonder their stress levels are so high!
The process is not a walk in the park for college admissions officers or BFA program auditors either. The quality and quantity of applicants increases every year, and selecting from among the many those few who seem to hold the promise of best fitting in to their program is also a daunting process…and a flawed one too. But since that is how it is done, applicants should be actively mindful and keenly aware that being offered a slot in a program is, indeed, about fit as least as much as it is about talent, which means that even stellar grades and brilliant auditions are not enough to guarantee you a spot. (For more insight on this subject in general, read my article entitled The 5 Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know!)
Bemoaning this fact neither changes nor helps it, so don’t. Instead, let this insight guide you in plotting a course of action that is well suited to achieving your unique goals. Here are some specific points to keep in mind:
There is no such thing as a “safety” BFA program. You could deliver the best audition anyone has ever seen and still not be offered a slot in a BFA program simply because they have too many actors with your same type, too many singers in your same vocal range, too many dancers built like you, or any number of other reasons. There are myriad factors that go into the audition/selection process, and you control very few of them, so if you definitely want to go to college to study the performing arts, make sure you supplement your school list with at least one or two good BA or BS programs. (Click here for an article with some great suggestions; the author, by the way, is no relation of mine despite the name.)
Some BFA’s have “cut” programs. Be clear on your feelings about that. The more competitive a BFA program is, the more likely it is to engage in cuts, although, of course, many do not. When they do, cuts are typically scheduled around semester-end performances or adjudications that occur during the first year or two of the program. Some students flourish in this type of environment. The competition motivates them and pushes them to excel, and they like knowing that if they make it all the way through they will do so in the company of other students who are very serious about studying their craft. But for some students the pressure is detrimental and squelches their burgeoning talent. Be honest with yourself about this type of program; if it is not for you, avoid it!
A BFA program is about 2/3 performance studies and 1/3 general studies. Non-BFA programs are the opposite. This is perhaps the most important distinction between a BFA or BA/BS course of study. Students pursuing performance degrees have little time outside the studio, which translates to fewer choices both within their degree program and outside of it. Does Shakespeare intimidate you? Are you averse to Modern? If either or both of those are part of your prescribed program, then studying and performing them will be required of you despite any reservations you may have. On the other hand, no matter how eager you may be to master French, since electives, double majoring, and studying abroad are typically not possible for BFA students, you may have to bid au revoir to that aspiration until after you earn your degree.
The bottom line is this: While many performing art students see a BFA as the brass ring, pursuing a broad based liberal arts education as an undergraduate has many advantages as well. Certainly, immersing oneself in a chosen art form and then leaving school ready to compete in a professional arena is a decidedly appealing and compelling choice. But having the time and freedom to pursue a breadth of topics at perhaps the only time in life when this glorious option is available, not only broadens the artist’s world view and perspective, it lays a rich groundwork on which the adult performer can build, perhaps even with an eye towards earning an MFA later on. So breathe, and remember that regardless which degree you pursue, your future success will be determined much more by you and your eagerness and willingness to engage in it all than by your diploma!
If you need help with any part of the application/audition process give me a holler. I am available for monologue coaching and private study either in person or remotely via Skype.