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Advice

7 Tips for Choosing a Performing Arts College

7 Tips for Choosing a Performing Arts College
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Choosing an institution for higher education is a massive and tough decision for any 17-year-old to make. Factor in the performance arts aspect and the overwhelming prospect becomes even more so. This week at Backstage, we’re highlighting 10 of the best colleges for both musical theater and dance, but that hardly means one of those will be the right school for you. Below, we asked seven Backstage Experts for their best pointers when it comes to choosing your college.

You have to be very, very excited.
“You want [students] to be excited to go to class every day. You want them to race to their classes. You want them to do well. And if they’re going to do something that makes [the parent] happy that they don’t really want to do, they’re not going to put the same type of energy into that… [I’ve spoken with students] who think that they’re really excited about conservatory-style training until they realize that means they don’t get to tap out of that experience at some point to feed the other parts of their soul—the part of them that may want to learn about tech or might want to learn about business.” —Paury Flowers, recruitment coordinator at Temple University’s School of Theater, Film, and Media Arts

No two students’ needs will be exactly alike.
“The truth is, there’s such an abundance of acting and musical theater college programs, that beginning the task can be daunting. There are a variety of published lists of the ‘best’ programs, but whether they are the best fit for you is very personal and subjective. The college performing arts program that is right for you will ultimately be dependent on a variety of components specific to your needs, wants, desires, and budget.” —Mary Anna Dennard, author, founder of College Audition Coach, and Backstage Expert

Look beyond traditional rankings.
“How far away from home am I willing to travel to go to school? Would I prefer to go to college in a major city, a midsize city, or a small college town? How important is it for me to be in an LGBT-friendly or a racially diverse community? Would I prefer a broad-based liberal arts education or something more specialized, like a conservatory? Do I absolutely know what my college major will be? Or would I prefer to choose one (or more) after having taken classes? Answering these questions will yield better results for you than simply applying to the top schools in a college rankings magazine.” —Harvey Young, professor of theater at Northwestern University and Backstage Expert

Ask yourself questions—and answer honestly.
“BFA? BA? BM? Conservatory? Emphasis on dance? Every school is different, even down to the degrees they offer. So make sure you do your research and figure out what it is you want to study for the next four years. Learn the difference between a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Music. Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll want to study only the dramatic arts or if you want to get a full liberal arts education. Do you want to study abroad? Do you want the chance to learn how things work behind the scenes? All of these are questions you should know the answers to before starting the search as they will likely narrow the list down significantly.” —Denise Simon, New York-based acting coach, author, and Backstage Expert

No two students’ needs will be alike.
“The truth is, there’s such an abundance of acting and musical theater college programs, that beginning the task can be daunting. There are a variety of published lists of the ‘best’ programs, but whether they are the best fit for you is very personal and subjective. The college performing arts program that is right for you will ultimately be dependent on a variety of components specific to your needs, wants, desires, and budget.” —Mary Anna Dennard, author, founder of College Audition Coach, and Backstage Expert 

Reputation is not actually everything.
“Ask to sit in on classes and feel what the vibe is. A really famous school could have a really crappy vibe. It might be perfect for one student but not right for another. Get an internal intuition about where’s home.” —Daniel Gary Busby, chair of the University of California, Irvine’s drama department

Ask for guidance.
“The good news for this ever-growing army of prospective students is that plenty of help out there exists if you feel you need it. A knowledgeable coach can help you build a list of college programs that fit your goals and advise you in your preparation. And a coach can help you find appropriate audition material in addition to coaching your performance package.” —Mary Anna Dennard

Don’t forget: This is supposed to be fun.
“It’s important for [prospective students] to ask about what the course curriculum looks like for each of the different majors that they’re looking into. Students will find their way and should love what they’re doing when they graduate. That’s the point in the end.”—Tracee Duerson, director of admissions at the Theatre School at DePaul University

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