In addition to my 20 years of being involved in theatre from professional to high school ranks, I also have been working in college admissions for the past 11 years. I have been fortunate enough to work for two of the best Visual and Performing Arts institutions in the country. So when it comes to giving guidance in making one of the most important decisions of a young person's life, I take that seriously.
This is the time of the year where the college decision process should be finalizing. Most colleges will give you a deadline of May 1st, so it's understandable if you're feeling a lot of pressure right now.
Students, I'm not going to sugarcoat this decision process. You will be making a decision of where to spend the next years of your life and investing almost, and in some cases over, $100,000. A decision like this should not be made hastily. Take your time and do the research that's most important to you.
But if you or your parents aren't exactly sure what to do first, here is a checklist of things to ask colleges as you come down the final stretch of making a decision.
Find Out The True Financial Picture
When it comes to affording college and asking about financial aid, now is not the time to act proud. If you have concerns about affording your top choice, have an honest conversation with your family and the college financial services department. By now you should have received your financial aid package which shows you exactly how much scholarship, grant and loan amounts you received. It should also tell you what your out-of-pocket cost will be. This is the number to hone in on. If it is a number you feel uncomfortable with, do not hesitate to contact the college and ask about other avenues and options.
I've fielded hundreds of calls regarding this. I'll tell you the same thing I tell parents. The cost of college should be treated the same as buying a house or a car. While it is an expense, it should not be something that puts you in a financial crisis. If a college is going to do that, even if it is the #1 program in the country, it's not worth it.
Do not hesitate to contact either the Theatre or Financial Services departments if you're worried about affording the program. You don't know what else these schools can possibly do for you. I know a number of programs that have their own scholarship funds that can be doled out to highly desirable students. If a program wants you badly enough, chances are they will do everything they can to get you. Also don't hesitate to ask about work-study and employment opportunities as well as scholarships that can be earned while you're a student there.
Once again, have an honest conversation about the cost of the college you want to go to. Parents, I know you want to provide the very best for your child, but if you have to take out four different loans to cover the cost of the college they want to go to, it would be wise to look at some different options.
What is the Actual Student Life Like?
While I'm sure you will be concentrating on your studies, I'm not naive enough to assume that student life is important to you. The truth is, it should be. We know you're not going to be a hermit, so don't be afraid to ask and take advantage of opportunities to find out what the social atmosphere is like.
I tend to avoid websites like College Confidential, because those opinions aren't vetted and you never know someone's intentions of posting there. So ask the questions that are important to you. Does the campus clear out on weekends or are there things to do? What kinds of clubs exist on campus? How easy is it to start one? Do they have a particular club already that I'm passionate about?
For LGBTQ students, don't ever hesitate to ask about how accepting the college is. Ask about gender neutral housing, yes that does exist. Ask if there are any clubs, organizations on campus that offer support or fun events for you.
Many colleges offer overnight events, where you can stay on campus and shadow a student. I would definitely encourage this especially if you can shadow someone who is within your major.
Get the Truth on the following
- Study Abroad opportunities
- Student Services
- Career Guidance
What is the theatre program actually like?
Never pick a BFA/BA program simply because of their reputation. They might be an amazing program, but if it's not for you, chances are you're not going to succeed or be happy while doing it.
So be sure to take a look at what types of productions they tend to perform, the courses within the program. Read the bios of the faculty and look at what their alumni are up to.
I cannot encourage you to ask about this enough. There is an ever-growing concern of college safety in this country. So please put this at the top of your priorities before selecting where to go.
Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall in 1986. The backlash against unreported crimes on numerous campuses across the country led to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.
As a result of this act, every college must publish their Clery Report on their websites to show the true crime statistics of their institution. It is on every college website.
Do not hesitate to contact campus security or police to inquire about safety measures, you're not a "lame" parent or student if you Find out if they have an escort program, emergency call boxes, various safety apps that can be downloaded on phones. I can promise you that they will be very honest about what they do to keep students safe.
As I mentioned before, don't make this decision hastily. If you're not getting the answers you want from a particular college, I will be honest and say it usually means they can't help you.