College theatre isn’t all about who has the best name recognition or most famous professors in the industry. Sometimes it’s the smaller schools that pay off big time in the long run! As someone who looked at programs both large and small, I can tell you from experience that the differences are significant. The most important thing is to choose the school that is best suited to you as an individual. That being said, let me tell you how I fell in love with my small college Theatre program.
First, when you’re in a smaller program, the professors know you very well. Odds are, you’ll have the same professor for class at least twice a year, not including the work you do with them on other productions. This may sound scary, but it’s actually pretty great. This way, your professor knows how you work, knows what you need to work on, and you are able to develop close relationships with them. Not to mention your professors- whether famous or not- most likely have plenty of connections in your field, and therefore the better they know you, the better chance you have of getting recommended by them for a position somewhere.
Another great thing about a smaller program is the amount of experience you get! Small programs do not mean small shows. If you’re in a small college theatre program, you simply have less competition for the leading roles in the shows put on by your department. Instead of 20 other girls going for the same role as you, there might be 5. That makes a difference. Not to mention, in small programs, the directors often try to keep you as involved as possible even when you’re not performing in a show. Didn’t get offered a role? Here, why don’t you help us out and be our Choreographer? Experiences like that are few and far between in larger college programs.
Quality over quantity is essential! When you have smaller classes, the professors can spend more one-on-one time with you and that can greatly improve the quality of your education. In my Shakespeare class this past semester, there were 13 of us. By the end of the semester, all of us had worked one-on-one with our professor on multiple assignments, not to mention he was able to give each pair of actors feedback and extra help on a day we would have had off because there were only 6 groups.
It’s hard to be an outsider in a small program! When you’re working on a production, or taking a class for your major, you’re around many of the same people again and again. That makes not becoming friends with them pretty hard if you ask me! When there’s 20 people that are all in a show together and going to classes together, classes lead to lunch dates which leads to study sessions which leads to karaoke nights in the campus music building. Well, or something close to that. Seriously, you learn to be really comfortable with everyone REALLY fast.
Finally, in small college programs, you find the people you’ll spend the rest of your life with. I’m not just talking about true love—I’m talking about friendship. The kind of friendship when you’re 87 years old and still keeping in touch with your college friends. Sure, you can do the same thing in the larger programs, but in my experience it happens much more quickly in small programs. These people become some of your closest friends and will outlast many other friendships- even some high school ones.
In the end, the decision is yours to make. Where are you going to be comfortable? What are you looking to get out of your college experience? Is it a nice résumé? Or is it the knowledge and the people you’ll be working with that matter to you? Either way, break a leg out there, and whatever you choose, enjoy it!