College Auditions - The Parent Perspective


Michelle Barraclough

Part 3 - Auditions:  “I Hope I Get It”

So, you’ve spent your summer creating your balanced list of schools you will apply to, found your audition material, and worked to prepare it. Fasten your seatbelts--it’s application and audition time!

Applications and Audition Dates

First, you’ll need to complete your applications to your schools.  I continue to see a recommendation from several online sources to apply to anywhere from 5-20 schools.  Applying to that many schools can really rack up the amount of application fees you can pay. While there’s a lot of information and advice out there, I encourage you to focus on a balanced list as mentioned in my last blog and stay within your personal budget.  My daughter applied to 9 schools total in 2017. I just did not have more than that in our family’s budget, and she knew that. Remember that you will have to be admitted academically before you can audition at many schools.

Next, get out your calendar and start planning your audition dates.  Many schools audition most of their students between late January through late February/early March.  Some may have audition dates as early as November. If you’re ready, take advantage of those times so you can get some auditions completed and not have as many back to back.  It seems like everyone auditions on the same days, and it can really be a challenge to figure out how to fit them all in.

Videos, Unifieds, or Campus Visits?

Most schools will offer auditions on their campus at various dates in the January-March time frame.  But what about submitting a video or doing unified auditions? There are certainly pros and cons to each of these situations, so here are some things to consider.

Unified auditions are held on a day or series of days at a central location and allow you to audition for multiple schools at one time.  It’s a ‘one-stop shop’ type of audition, allowing students to be seen by a large number of people and be considered for as many as 20 some schools at one time.  I can’t speak from experience about Unifieds, because my daughter chose not to do them. Among the ‘cons’ of Unifieds are that it can be pretty stressful and overwhelming, and it is much less personalized than an on campus audition might be.  

Some schools will allow video auditions in place of live auditions if you live far from the campus or are unable to be there in person due to conflicts.  Clearly, this can save on travel costs for you. However, the audition committee is not seeing you in person and you aren’t interacting with them personally, as well as seeing the campus.  While my daughter did end up submitting videos to a couple of schools as her audition, I cautioned her that doing so would potentially mean that her audition would not be considered as strongly as someone who auditioned in person.  

The strongest reason to do an live audition on campus is this:  you will get to personally interact with the faculty there and see the campus.  Making the commitment to travel to the campus and audition in person shows the committee that you are serious about this, and that can really carry some weight when it comes to admitting students.  While video technology is great, there is really no substitute for evaluating someone in person.


Parents, I bet you never thought you’d be adding videography and travel agent to your list of skills--I certainly didn’t!  My daughter and I traveled to five different schools (on five consecutive weekends!) for auditions. That meant a good deal of time planning our trip, from route planning to hotel reservations to meal planning to purchasing train tickets.  I preferred to stay in hotels that were very close to the campus, within walking distance if possible, especially in a city. That saved me moving the car and paying extra parking fees. One campus was close enough to our home that we didn’t need to stay overnight--we could complete the trip in a day and sleep in our own beds that night.  Auditions can last for the better part of a day, which may require more than a one night stay depending on your travel distance. One full weekend stay was accomplished by staying with a lovely friend, which was wonderful for the company and home cooked food as well as saving a huge amount of money on a hotel room in a major city.

Try to spring for the nicest hotel your budget will allow.  If you’re a member of a hotel or travel rewards club, take advantage of your perks.  It’s nice to have a comfortable room and feel like you can get some quality rest before the audition day.  I liked places that included a breakfast in the hotel because it saved us time and energy on the morning of the audition day, instead of hunting down a place to eat.  It’s also easier to accommodate any dietary restrictions if you know what dining options are available to you.

I actually enjoyed the travel time with my daughter.  It was a lot of quality time with just the two of us, and we were able to talk through a lot of things that weren’t always audition related.  I really appreciated the chance to get to have this experience alongside her. After all, she was going to be out on her own the next year, and these moments weren’t going to happen nearly as often once she did leave for college.  Enjoy those moments together. They really are special.

Dress for Success

This topic is a bit of a land mine and there are lots of opinions out there, so keep that in mind as you read my comments, but basically:  look like a young professional. Some schools provide guidance about dress on their websites, so pay attention. Before the audition days happened, I took my daughter shopping for an ‘audition dress’.  It was a simple but flattering cut and a solid color. It was also not too short--skirt length should probably be no more than 3-4” above your knee. Some people say to avoid black, but it’s probably best to find what looks good on you.  A pattern or print can be distracting, unless it is very small and understated. Ladies can show character in your accessories--shoes, scarves, jewelry, and so forth. The simple dress I described above was paired with a unique but understated necklace, stud earrings, and some snazzy red t-strap heels.  Ladies, if you choose to wear high heels, be sure you can walk in them: imagine how stumbling, tripping, turning your ankle or having to take baby steps all day is going to impact your presentation. Also, character shoes are not street shoes. Don’t wear them unless you are requested to do so in the dance call.  You should wear makeup that’s done in a tasteful and flattering way for you. Consider removing any extra piercings (nose, lip, ear cartilage) and avoid long dangling earrings for the audition. For guys, the audition dress is somewhat simpler: a nice button down shirt and dress pants. Again, find a color that is flattering for you and your clothes should be clean and wrinkle free.  Guys should choose comfortable shoes also! My daughter reported seeing some young men in suits as well. Everyone: if you’re doing a dance call, you should have dance clothing and shoes to wear, so if you don’t have the proper things, invest in them. The most important thing is to find something that is flattering for your body type and shows you off, and that you feel good wearing.  If you feel great about your appearance, it will show in your performance! Finally, you might want to consider packing your audition clothing and materials in your carry on bag if you are flying, so you have it with you in case of a luggage mishap.

Audition Day

The big day finally arrives!  Give yourself time in the morning to get dressed, eat, and get to the audition site.  You’ll be given a time and location to check in. Be sure to bring along any materials they request:  headshot, resume, your audition music (with the cuts marked clearly), your monologues, money to pay the piano accompanist (if requested to do so), and dance shoes/clothes for the dance call.  Your music and monologues should be in a sturdy binder that will lay flat when opened. Some accompanists will not want the music in plastic sheet protectors (the light glare can make the music hard to read), so you may be asked to remove the music from the protectors if you use them.  Upon check in you will get a schedule of the day’s events. Parents, bring a book or knitting or work or something to keep you occupied during the audition day. There are sometimes presentations or tours for students and parents on audition days. You can get a much better feel for the campus and its offerings by participating in these.  Much of the audition day for a parent is spent sitting and waiting, so be prepared for that. None of the auditions I attended allowed parents to watch their child, so don’t expect that to happen. They have to do this on their own.

While students are asked to sing, act, and often dance for their audition, the process at each school can be slightly different.  Sometimes singing and acting are done in the same room for the same committee, but other times you will change rooms/committees. Many auditions are done solo, with each student performing individually in front of the audition committee (with the exception of the dance call, which is usually a group setting).  However, one of my daughter’s auditions was done entirely in a group format--that meant you sang and did your monologue in front of everyone who was auditioning (she did know this in advance). The biggest take away from that experience was seeing the other students perform and realizing that most of them were very, very talented.  She began to realize just how competitive this process was. She also saw that some of the students had connections to a particular school through a teacher or other source--another factor that will play a part in the school’s decision making process.

The committee may ask you to sing an alternate selection, a second monologue, or ask you to perform again after giving you some direction.  Take the committee’s direction seriously and do it! When I’m auditioning music students, I will often ask them to replay something in a different way to see how easily they can adapt.  It shows me how teachable they are, and like me, theater professors want students who can take direction. They may ask you questions about yourself and give you a chance to ask them about the program.  Think of meaningful questions to ask--it shows you are truly interested in their offerings and can make you more appealing as a prospective student.

The Dance Call

Almost every audition my daughter took required a dance call.  At every dance call, the students were told, “It doesn’t matter how well you dance.  We just want to see where you are. We can teach you to dance.” Well. . . I only believed that to a point.  I think the dance call does count, although maybe not in the way you think. Again, it can show the student’s adaptability and desire to learn.  I believe that if you are not a strong dancer but have a fantastic voice and outstanding acting ability, the dance call is probably not that important.  That being said, there were moments when it was quite clear that the dance professors were going to strongly consider students because of their dance ability (and if the school is noted for their dance program, that’s a heavy possibility here).  

Students:  you will very likely start seeing some of the same faces at auditions, especially if you are auditioning at well known schools or within a specific region.  Take time to get to know some folks--it can help ease the audition day jitters and you might make a friend along the way. Finally, remember that this is your day--you get to do what you love.  As much as you can, focus on what you can do and not others. And don’t forget to PERFORM and be yourself! The audition committee can make a much better decision if they really see who you are and what you can bring to their program.

Finally, send a thank you email or handwritten note to the folks on the audition committee if at all possible--so pay attention to their names when they introduce themselves!  I always appreciate thank you notes from potential students, and I will say that it makes them stand out from other auditionees.

Our Journey (part 3)

The audition days were long ones that really left us both pretty exhausted.  When I asked, she said most of the time that her audition went well and she was pleased with how she did, which is the most important thing in the end.  Only at the last audition did she seem less keen, which I think was a combination of just being tired and not feeling a great vibe at that particular school.  

I was particularly proud of my kid for going out of her way to congratulate another girl on her singing at the ‘large group audition’ school.  She raved about this young woman’s performance to me as well. It was nice to see her recognize the talent of other folks--I think it’s important for all performers to graciously recognize and congratulate others when they give a great performance.  

I remember seeing one young man at a particular audition.  He was a big guy, not the typical ‘type’ you would expect on stage.  His body language in the waiting area suggested that he was insecure and very nervous (understandable in the situation).  All I could do was wonder about how he would handle that school’s dance call in front of a dance professor with a very forceful personality.  Maybe he was one of those people who is quiet offstage and comes alive when performing, but it’s hard to know that just by looking at someone.  I still wonder how he did that day, and I hope he found a school that was right for him in the end.

Once the auditions are over, the waiting begins.  And as Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  I’ll be waiting along with you, and cheering you through the next stage of the process, acceptances and rejections, in my next blog.  Break a leg at those auditions!


Michelle Barraclough is an adjunct professor of music at a small college in the Northeast.  She is a flutist and loves teaching, providing guidance for students, and performing, especially for musical theater productions or any large collaborative work.  Her older daughter just began her sophomore year of college as a musical theater major. Both are happy to have survived the audition process and extremely grateful and satisfied with the outcome.