In the process of picking a college theatre program, there are many pitfalls along the way.
One of the biggest is letting the thrill of competition blind you to what you actually want in a school.
Senior high school students often find themselves smack dab in the middle of a high stakes chase to get into those top five or ten schools—whatever the top five or ten happen to be that year.
And be WARNED– There is a sort of energy thing that happens every single year.
One person at your school becomes passionate about one or two of those top theatre schools. And suddenly EVERYONE wants into that school. Just like lemmings!
The OH MY GOD, THESE ARE ABSOLUTELY THE BEST THEATRE SCHOOLS! list changes almost every year. And while the list almost always contains truly great schools, none of these schools is great for every single student.
And here’s the most important piece of this: Whether or not one of these Flavor-of-the-Year schools IS right for you has nothing to do with how smart or talented or even skilled you are.
Because your job is not to race to the head of the class! It is NOT to beat out Sue or Jonathan in your theatre auditions! (…although that competitive spirit can be helpful in your actual auditions, but that is a different discussion.)
Your job is to tease out what YOU want, and which of the theatre programs HAS what you want.
And that requires jumping off the cool school train, and making your own choices.
And how can you do that? It’s not difficult, but it requires that you stay conscious and follow some easy steps that require some RESEARCH!
I cannot say this enough.
Decide what you want.
To do this, you can begin with—
STEP ONE: COLLEGE MUST HAVE LIST
Write out a list what YOU want– not what your friends want, or what they think is cool, or certain to land you on Broadway. Figure out what YOU need from your theatre program, and write it down.
Then move on to:
STEP TWO: COLLEGE MUST NOT HAVE LIST
Make another list under this heading. Write the things that would make you absolutely miserable, things that would prevent you from choosing this school if you got in.
Things like this might include if they have a cut system. If you are easily stressed out, or hate to compete, you do not want to attend a program that cuts its population in half before the sophomore year.
When the two lists feel complete, you can move on to–
STEP THREE: RESEARCH SCHOOLS
Keep these lists with you as you start to research schools.
See how the schools measure up to your list.
If you find that they don’t have ANY of your MUST HAVES..
…or have a whole lot of your MUST NOT HAVES…
…think hard before you spend the energy and time writing their applications and preparing for their auditions.
I love helping students with this part of the process. It involves keeping the ego in check, and separating from that high school group dynamic–
— from wanting to be COOL, to wanting to be HAPPY–
…and then doing some soul searching.
THEN, based on these results, you can move on to \–
STEP FOUR- VISITING SCHOOLS
Do not skip this step, if you can help it. Visiting schools will tell you a lot about them, and may have an impact on what you keep or remove from your MUST HAVE and MUST NOT HAVE lists.
See the campus. Spend time in the theatre building. Notice what your guides are like, because they will resemble the students with whom you will be spending the next four years.
Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you visit the marginal schools and ask about the things that put them on the MUST NOT HAVE list. Maybe you will discover that the school has more HAVES than HAVE NOTS.
But when you visit, keep your list in mind. Ask and get a feel for the things on the list as they relate to the school. You will learn a lot. About yourself as well as the school.
And please note: You may end up keeping one or all of those cool kid schools on your list. But you will be doing it because the school is right for you, not because you want to WIN the game of college auditions.
Because guess what?
THIS ISN’T A GAME.
IT IS A ROAD TO DECIDING HOW YOU WILL SPEND YOUR NEXT FOUR YEARS AND YOUR LIFE!
And it will have a great impact on the theatre artist that you are about to become!
So keep your eyes and heart open, and take the process seriously.
And on this note, there are some coaches out there who load their students up with lots of audition schools.
They will tell you that you NEED to audition for lots of schools to get a spot.
And there is some truth in that. You can’t count on auditioning for one or two, no matter how brilliant you are.
BUT here’s a heads up–
There are some coaches out there who need to increase their result statistics.
Those coaches want to be able to say that such and such number got into such and such school last year. And they know their chances and their numbers will go up if they have more students auditioning for all of the schools.
DO NOT make this process about pleasing your coach. Yes, you need to have lots of options. But you do NOT need to audition at lots of schools that you don’t even like. Find a couple of safeties. And then spend your time focusing on a group of schools that you love.
And here’s the good news.
There are a number of VERY GOOD coaches out there. Those coaches ALWAYS have your best interest at heart. They WILL be telling you to find a healthy list of desirable schools. But they will be helping you to weed out schools that just won’t work for you, or schools that are highly unlikely to be buying what you are selling. (although you should ALWAYS follow your heart on this count. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of actors getting IN to schools that a coach told them was out of their reach.)
And please do consider this:
Having a good seasoned coach help you through this process can be crucial. It helps to have the experience of someone who knows what different schools are looking for, what each of the schools has to offer, and what some good safety schools might be.
SO don’t be a lemming. When you are looking at theatre programs, don’t rely on the opinions of your friends, or on the musical theatre college blogs. Do your own research, and work with a GOOD coach to help you through this process.
You will be oh so glad you did!