College Admission

College Admission

If you’re an artistic soul with well cultivated talent, you might wonder whether you can get more creative bang for your buck at a college dedicated to teaching visual art, music, theater, dance or film. After all, you’ve endured years of math, science and history (and waited eagerly every day for your orchestra rehearsal or studio art class). Now you’re ready to dedicate yourself full-time to your artistic passion…but how do you get from here to there?

In some ways, finding and applying to a visual or performing arts college is identical to applying to any type of school: You want to do your research, limit your search to accredited institutions, visit often, apply on time, and ask about financial aid and scholarships early in the process. But in other ways, you’re embarking on a journey unlike the journeys your non-artistic friends will take. Here’s what you need to know.

Be Ready to Focus. Art-centered colleges offer very targeted courses of study; with a few exceptions, about 75 to 80 percent (or more) of your courses will be related to your training in the visual or performing arts. “We believe that successful artists need to be writing, reading and thinking critically, so we require academic studies [in humanities and social sciences]” says one admission counselor. But these offerings are much more limited than at a non-arts school. If you think you might like to have more variety in your coursework, opt for a traditional four-year school that has a good program in your field.

Learn the Lingo. Also, learn the difference between the types of programs offered. A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree tends to indicate a more intensive course of study in the arts than a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in a particular area. Similarly, some performing arts schools offer degree programs-performance studies with academic coursework-and diploma programs, which are performance-focused but not generally accepted for entrance into master’s programs. “It’s a good idea to know your goals before you apply to a particular program,” an admission counselor advises.

Practice Your Craft. Applicants to art-focused colleges are typically students who have been studying and practicing their art for years. (Untrained virtuosos are the exception, not the rule.) Most colleges emphasize auditions for performing arts, portfolios for visual arts and creative writing samples more than GPA and SAT scores. It’s a good idea to visit the school to learn about the caliber of the students to be sure you’d feel challenged-but not too challenged.

Stand Out With References. Art-focused colleges have different requirements for applying than most other types of universities, so be sure you submit all parts of your application. For example, not all of them require SATs or ACTs. (Score!) Many require artistic letters of recommendation-from your music instructor or dance teacher, for example-in addition to references from academic teachers.

Don’t Wing It. When you’re preparing your portfolio, remember that it is your artistic statement. Now’s not the time for excuses. “The work in a portfolio should be recent. It’s a red flag if we see a piece from freshman or even sophomore year,” an admission counselor says. “If you submit in the fall of your senior year, it’s perfectly fine to ask if you can send an updated portfolio in the spring, once you’ve completed more work. At our school, we sometimes increase scholarship monies based on updated portfolios.” Pay attention to what the school asks: Many want a black-and-white observational drawing or a self-portrait. Don’t wait until the last minute to get these elements done.

Stick to the Script. Similarly, when you’re prepping your audition, follow the guidelines. “The biggest mistake I see students make is failing to honor our request for certain types of musical selections,” a counselor at a conservatory says. “Just because you prefer a certain piece or you feel more confident with it, doesn’t mean you can change the rules.” Also bear in mind that many music schools require a pre-screening CD with your application materials. If the faculty like what they hear, you’ll be invited to audition. “If at all possible, try to do a live audition,” another counselor recommends. “Some colleges accept video or audio auditions in lieu of live auditions, but you’re better able to show off your abilities if you audition live.”

Mostly importantly, remember that earning a fine arts degree can be a hugely fulfilling experience, even if it seems like a lot more work now. “Our students are inspiring,” one counselor says. “There’s no other way to describe them. If you eat, breathe, live your art, then you’d fit in well at a school of the arts.”


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