College Auditions: The Parent Perspective

  • Michelle L. Barraclough

Part 4

“You win some, you lose some”--dealing with acceptances and rejections

By now, you’ve completed some auditions and may still have a few more to come.  Depending on the school, you may have already received acceptances and rejections.  If this process didn’t seem real to you yet, the moment is about to arrive. Don’t worry--I’ve got your back on this, parents.  You and your student will survive and thrive, although you’re probably both going to have some scars to prove it.

I got in!

Congratulations!  I hope you’ve had some good news from schools after all of the hard preparation you did.  If you had a good balanced list of schools that you applied to, you should be seeing some acceptances.  Remember that at least one of the schools your student applied to should be a ‘safety’ school, which means no audition was required for admittance to their theater program.  Your student may shrug off the safety school acceptance--that’s fine, but it’s important to keep the end goal in mind here. What’s that again? Oh, yeah--getting into the best quality program available to you!  

A special word on acceptances--read carefully.  Many schools will send out an academic acceptance to the college/university, and then send a separate letter regarding acceptance into the theater program.  So your student can be admitted to the school based on their grades, but not necessarily to the theater department, where acceptance hinges on a successful audition. Another strange experience we had was with financial aid.  Some schools mailed financial packages before we knew the result of the audition. One school mailed the financial aid letter arrived only a few days after my student’s audition, which was misleading because it seemed as if an acceptance was forthcoming.  We got very excited since it looked like an acceptance was going to follow, and did not. (I sincerely hope that school reconsiders their admissions procedures.) Another school sent (in this order): a waitlist letter for the theater department, then a rejection to the theater department, and then an acceptance to the university overall after the May 1 commitment deadline!  Some people will blame these miscommunications on a large school environment, but one of these places was large and one was very small, so it didn’t seem that was the case.

In the acceptances, you will need to start considering the financial impact this will have on you and your student.  I hope you’ve had an honest discussion about this before the application process, because it may save some heartbreak later.  I’ll admit that even with the schools that accepted my student, looking at that tuition amount was (and is) still daunting. I still sometimes consider this entire process one of the biggest gambles I’ve ever undertaken, and that includes my own decision to be a music performance major. Eventually I just had to take a deep breath and say to myself, “this is all going to work out somehow.”  It might sound silly, but it helped me. Try it out for yourself.

Most schools host an “accepted students day” sometime in the spring before the May 1 decision deadline.  Visit the schools where you were accepted, even if you already have seen the campus previously. These visitation days often have more specific sessions for individual departments so it’s a great opportunity to really see that each school’s theater offerings in more detail.  Your student should be looking for their ‘best fit’ school--and the place they will call home for the next four years.

I was rejected at my top choice (and my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.)

Sigh.  Let me sit next to you and give you cup of tea.  Rejection just stinks. I’d love to come up with some really great wisdom to share here, but sometimes you just have to wade your way through those feelings.   My student dealt with two rejections to schools she really had her heart set on within one week. That was ROUGH and it took a very, very long time to come to terms with.  I wish we could have moved through that whole thing more quickly, but I could only deal with my own emotions. My daughter had to work through hers on her own. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t there to listen and support her, and there were many moments of frustration and miscommunication between us both.  Some of the best advice I read (after the fact, of course) was to give yourself and your student time to grieve the rejection--but to give yourself a time limit on it. Three days was the example set in the article that I read. After that, you need to focus on the next thing. I wish I had read that advice a lot sooner.  Not only would it have helped me a great deal when doing my own auditions when I was younger, but I think it would have helped me and my student navigate the rejections better.

Argh!  I was waitlisted!  Now what?!

This is another tough one we experienced.  My daughter was waitlisted at a school that was very high on her list of choices.  We waited it out as long as we possibly could. She emailed the department chair of the school and expressed her continued fervent interest in the school and asked if there was anything more she could do to further her application.  She received a polite and honest response saying the waitlist is really a quagmire (his words) and the best thing to do was...wait. So we did. You have until May 1 to pay a deposit at any school--that’s what marks your official acceptance.  In theater and music auditions, students are often the last among their peers to have an acceptance and make a decision about where they will attend.

Our journey (part 4)

Overall, my daughter auditioned at schools that were extremely competitive.  She was not admitted to several of them, and was very disappointed about it. Her confidence was shaken but she knew it was decision making time.  Plus, we were still waiting to hear from Waitlist University.

My solution was going to lunch at Chipotle.  Yes, I’m serious. We went out to lunch and talked through the admittances she did get as well as what to do about Waitlist U.  She made the decision to attend a school that had a solid program, beautiful facilities, and an advantageous location. She was able to see that this school really was the best option for her in spite of feeling pretty beat up by the audition process.  I think we mailed a deposit on April 25 of that year, only days before the official decision day. She got the official rejection from Waitlist U. two days after we paid the deposit at the other school, so I like to think that was a sign from the universe that we did the right thing.  

I should add here that for my daughter to come to that decision was a real ‘moment’.  A lot of her judgement was being colored by her disappointment about the rejections, but she knew she had to put those feelings aside and make an important, well-informed decision without really knowing if it was the right one.  But parents know that’s the way life works sometimes. So she made a mature decision in the face of those feelings. I think of it as a big life lesson, and I know it doesn’t really get any easier.

Another bit of advice from the “I wish I knew then what I know now” department:  you may want to consider how to express your emotions and journey to your family, friends, and social media.  There certainly is a trend for documenting your audition journey on Facebook, Instagram, etc. If you and your child are both comfortable doing that, fine.  Friends and family enjoyed cheering us on through those channels. However, I won’t lie to you--getting them to understand the rejections was a challenge. “But she’s so talented!” they would say, and “she’s going to get in everywhere she applies!”  I knew that wouldn’t happen, but explaining that one was hard. You might want to consider how much you want to share and have some standard responses ready for the well-meaning folks: “It’s very competitive. It’s easier to get into Harvard than to get into a top musical theater program.  She’s proud of the work she did and I’m proud of her efforts. She really gave this her all. I know she’s going to get into the right school for her and we’re all going to be so proud of her when she does.”

It’s really hard to fathom this entire process until you’ve lived it.  So I see you, parents and students--and I when I say I know exactly what you’re going through, I mean it.  I’ll see you in a month for my final article in this series: getting the most from your college program. Hang tough--you’re almost finished.  I know you can do this!

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 is a sophomore musical theater major. Both are happy to have survived the audition process and extremely grateful and satisfied with the outcome.