Do Big-Name Colleges Give Actors an Advantage?

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Young performers coming out of college are looking for opportunities that will lead to employment. Most college training programs offer a variety of networking opportunities and showcases to help launch their graduates’ careers. But in landing work in the professional world, is it “who you know” or “where you’ve been?”

Students and families about to enter the college audition process ask me each year if having a highly-recognized school’s name on their résumé will really make a difference when it comes to getting work. So, I asked some industry decision-makers to find out how important it is that young thespians attend a college with a prestigious name.

You maybe be surprised by their answers.

A while back, I spoke with my friends, Rachel Hoffman, Broadway casting director with Telsey + Company, and Jamie Harris, talent agent with Clear Talent Group in NYC.

They told me that if a person is right for a role, they don’t care where they got their training. And when I asked if the name of the college really made much of a difference in terms of casting, the response was that the person the creative team feels is best for the role is who gets cast.

But what about those with no college degree? Do they have an equal shot at landing work? Apparently, for dancers, the answer is yes. But for actors, gaining entrance to that audition room is more difficult without great training. Also, the majority of the top schools come to New York to showcase, so an actor who does well during showcase season definitely has a leg up in terms of having been introduced to casting. But they added that having the years in college to really focus on training is incredibly valuable for other reasons. College shapes the kind of person/actor that one becomes. Good point.

READ: “5 Cheap Ways to Prep for College Auditions”

I also asked if it came down to a prestigious name college grad and a grad from a lesser-known program, does that influence casting decisions, or who is brought in for a role? The response varied that maybe, in very specific situations, it might influence who is brought in. But I got the impression that was the exception. What generally matters more is if the person seems right for the role. After all, the responsibility of the casting director is to find the best person for the role. It seems they follow that creed no matter what school the performer did or did not attend.

But what about agents? Can the program name influence agents in terms of who they interview and sign? Agents say that the name alone does not play a role. But with the huge amount of showcases, agents are more likely to attend a showcase of a program that is well known, or a smaller school where they have had good luck in the past. Furthermore, an actor is much more likely to have representation once he or she has gone through a four-year program and the showcase process.

So what proves to be most important in choosing your performing arts college program is finding the place where you can develop fully as an artist and advance your skills so that you can flourish. This is far more important than the name of the school. In my college coaching business, I advise families early on to decide their “must-haves,” the things the student is going to insist on in a college program in order the have his or her individual needs met. There are so many wonderful college training programs out there. Focus on what you want, not the name of the school. This will help guide you when choosing a college.

Professionals give this final bit of sage advice:

Look for the program that’s right for you, above all else. It’s really about your training and preparation. Once you arrive on the professional scene, the cream tends to rise, regardless of what school you attended.

Be joyous, be brave, and be yourself.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Mary Anna Dennard
Mary Anna Dennard is a nationally recognized college audition coach and the founder of, the first ever online prep for college performing arts applicants.
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