Some people believe status is everything. While many of us are perfectly happy owning a Honda Accord because it’s one of the most reliable cars on the market, there are always going to be others who prefer high-end choices from companies like Jaguar or Aston Martin. Which line of thinking is better? Unless you have the driving needs of someone like James Bond, they’re all solid cars that will get you where you’re going, so the decision about what to buy comes down to your budget and what’s right for you.
The same is true about acting schools. Does the name on your degree matter? Will it impress people? Is your career going to get a boost if you attend a famous conservatory like the Juilliard School or a respected university like Harvard? In short, the obvious answer is yes. These are amazing institutions with stellar reputations. Their names open doors. But take it from me: It doesn’t mean your career prospects are doomed if you choose a lesser-known school or if you decide to skip higher learning altogether.
Here are a few considerations to make along the way: Ivy League schools like Yale and Columbia don’t come cheap. Can you afford this kind of education? Are you eligible for financial assistance and student loans? Will you get enough bang for your buck? You’re not studying to be a doctor or a lawyer, so there’s no reason to drown yourself (or your parents) in back-breaking debt unless you’re privileged enough that money isn’t a concern.
These schools also have a higher bar for admission. Being one of the top schools in the country allows Juilliard the luxury of attracting the best students in the country. Getting in might not be that easy. So you have to be honest: Are you ready to work at that level of education? Can you handle the pressure if you get in, or would your talent flourish in a different environment?
When you graduate from one of these schools, you get a one-year pass. That means you’re the belle of the ball for 12 months. Finding representation will be easy, opportunities will come your way, and casting directors will definitely want to meet you. But here’s the catch: That pass comes with an expiration date, because a year after you leave school, another round of students will be graduating and hitting the job market. Now it’s their turn to enjoy the one-year pass and your time to assess if you’ve made the most of yours.
The bottom line is that studying at a prestigious school will make your life easier, but that ease is relative. I would argue that it makes your life less hard. But never forget that tons of actors achieve success with nothing more than a high school diploma.
Consider this little homework assignment: Make a list of 20 actors you admire. Include all types and ages and levels of success. Then look up where they studied. I guarantee no two journeys will look the same. (Jessica Chastain, for instance, went to Juilliard on a scholarship; Jennifer Lawrence dropped out of school at age 14.)
Now, let’s go back to my car analogy. You bring your skills to the vehicle, not the other way around. That means a good driver will do well in any kind of car. It also means a bad driver will come to a terrible end driving a Ferrari on the autobahn at 200 miles an hour. Which one are you?
This story originally appeared in the Nov. 19 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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