What To Think About When Selecting a College Theatre Program
Congratulations. Many of you high school seniors reading this have already been accepted to colleges with strong theatre programs. Some of you may have already auditioned for your BFA programs and it's possible you may have already been accepted to those as well.
Now comes the hard part......which school do you pick to go to?
If you've been selected to your dream school and it's the only place you want to go, then you won't have an issue. However, for those of you who've been admitted to multiple fantastic theatre schools, you've got some deciding to do. As a theatrical blogger, it's only this time of year when my worlds of theatre and my decade of college admissions experience collide.
So, here are some factors to think about before you make your college deposits.
Let's start with the most important factor of all. College is expensive. Depending on where you've applied, tuition and room/board can range from $20,000 to upwards of $60,000 per year. And unless you're living in the upper 1%, it's going to be an expense.
Some of you may have earned generous scholarships, full rides, etc. So cost might not be a factor for you. But for others, it certainly will be. My best piece of advice: While college will certainly be an expense on your family's income, it shouldn't be something that puts them in financial peril. NYU-Tisch might be the dream but if it's going to put your family's budget in serious risk, it's not worth it.
The first thing you need to do is sit down with your parents and go over the financial aid process together. Take a look at what scholarships and grants you might have earned or qualify for. Then start looking at loans and other programs to help make the tuition more affordable.
Also explore how the cost of tuition can be decreased once you're a student at that school. Do they have scholarships that can be earned as a current student? Do they have a work study program you can get involved with or other on campus jobs? Does being an RA mean you get free room and board?(which can decrease the total cost by $10,000-$15,000 a year in some cases)
The key in all of this is to make sure you have all the information about your financial aid and the true out-of-pocket cost before you make a decision.
Don't ever underestimate the feeling you have when you walk around these campuses. If you feel like this could be the perfect place for you, then it just might be. If you don't have a great feeling, even if it might be one the best theatre schools in the country, then it's likely not going to be for you.
I've seen this happen many times. Students selecting college based on their reputations and ignoring the negative feeling they've had when being on that campus.
Don't ignore this. It only leads to regret over the choice you've made and will likely result in either poor grades or transferring the follow year, which means you've wasted time at a college you shouldn't have been at in the first place.
College should be a positive experience. You should feel safe, welcome and able to be yourself. So if you have doubts about how you fit in at these colleges, don't ignore that feeling, it's telling you a lot more than you think.
BFA vs. BA
For many of you, a BFA degree is the one degree you've been dreaming about since you first stepped on stage. But as you start to find out what a BFA entails, it might not be the ideal college experience you want. If that's the case, a BA might be for you.
If you're the type of student who wants to explore double majoring, studying abroad, playing sports, start auditioning for shows your Freshman year, the reality is that the majority of BFA programs won't allow you to do that.
In most cases, a conservatory BFA degree requires 80-90 hours a week of class, study, rehearsal and studio time. The reason is because these are professional training programs meant to prepare you for your theatrical career. So double majoring? Not going to happen. Studying abroad? Only during the summer or if the program has a feature to allow it. Playing sports? Nope. Being in shows as a Freshman? In many cases, not until your Sophomore, Junior year.
Yes, having a BFA degree certainly can help your theatrical career, but to say you can't be successful if you have a BA is ludicrous. So make sure you know going in, what your college experience is going to be, because it will help decide what type of degree you pursue.
Location Location Location
Location matters. For theatre students, it can lead to outside opportunities, internships and jobs. If your school of choice doesn't have location benefits for you, it might not be the best option.
When it comes to the best locations for theatre students in this county, I suggest five places - New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. The first four for the obvious reasons but why Atlanta?
Well if you didn't know this, Georgia is now the second largest filming location for the in the United States right behind California. Over 60 movies and television shows are slated to film in the Atlanta/Savannah areas this year alone. As a young actor, you're going to want to be in a place where the film and television industries are booming. And the schools in Georgia know this very well.
Georgia College in Milledgeville which is about 90 minutes outside of Atlanta has built their theatre program to one of the best in the state. The Savannah College of Art & Design(SCAD) recently hired Andra Reeve-Rabb, the former head of casting for prime-time casting for CBS New York to head their casting office...Yes SCAD is one of the few schools that has a casting office to help their students get roles in these films and TV shows and is now headed by the person who cast The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and all of the CSI shows.
So make sure you take a look at how a college's location can help you. It just might make the difference in how successful you can be after you graduate.
In closing, selecting a college is a tough but rewarding process. Make sure you go through the due diligence of considering all these factors and more before you decide where to call home for the next four years.
Photo: Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama