The BFA college admittance experience-a parent's guide
APPLYING AND GETTING ACCEPTED TO COLLEGE ACTING AND MUSICAL THEATRE PROGRAMS
This is mostly being written for parents of kids who are seniors in high school and applying to college BFA programs in musical theatre or acting or in some cases just the four-year similar degrees. My daughter, who shall remain nameless here, spent the large part of the last 9 months preparing, applying and auditioning for college BFA programs. Much of the information her mom and I got was from our daughter, without vetting or investigating. Having been through just a regular college admission process with our son, easy, we wished someone had prepared us for this journey.
Suffice it to say, there are drips and drabs of information on the Internet. Acting coaches and teachers profess to know some, and they do, but they each have different thoughts and opinions, and much of what we are told was shades of grey as opposed to great information. We wish that some of this had been there, that we had filled in the blanks and places where our daughter missed some things and maybe could have had this easier. Hopefully this will help some of the parent who are out there or at least be somewhat entertained in the meantime.
BFA VERSUS JUST COLLEGE THEATRE
There is no comparison. Our son was a very successful high school student, destined for liberal arts and Starbucks. But he had great grades, very good test scores and lots of the other stuff. Wile maybe not Columbia material, he was going to get into a number of good schools and have choices. And he did, landing at his parents alma mater Kalamazoo College and is by all counts happy and found his place. This is a different animal.
We first learned this during a college east coast tour after her junior year. Se told us grades don’t matter, test scores don’t matter, it’s all talent. Tell that to two parents who went to law school. From Carnegie Mellon: We get around 1600 applicants, we generally have a class of 12 boys and 12 girls. Grades mean little or nothing. They accept maybe 40 kids. Mom and I looked at each other; our daughter smirked being proven right. Four other schools told the same tale. This is in fact all about perceived talent and fit. Yes, they have to get academically admitted and for a few schools that may be challenging. But most of these kids only wants theatre, getting academically admitted was akin to being told they can take extra physics classes in high school.
The flip side is that grades and test scores do matter for financial aid. In hindsight we should have had her take the SAT again as it might have made a difference in merit scholarships. But for the theatre programs themselves, and I will discuss more later, it’s all about talent.
We let ours do all this without much input or actually any, on essays or the videos or applications. I think each kid is different, some need guidance and some don’t. We found ours did not. But what we did not push was timing. And like with our son, deadlines came up and were pressured to getting things done. One of the mistakes we made was trusting our daughter on dates. Most of the time she was in fact correct. On a few, she simply miss read things or did not understand the language or what certain things meant. This led to a few rushes on some applications. We tried but did not keep up a spreadsheet. I would encourage that. Every school has different dates and times things are due, and for these programs, the kids apply to 15-20 schools, really, due to the low acceptance rates. Don’t miss deadlines because that then leads to missed audition schedules and lost opportunities.
She applied to 19 schools, this was about the number we were advised to do. When the schools accept five to ten percent of the applicants you have to hedge your bets. Just accept this, it seems crazy if your other applied to six, but it’s necessary. It’s also expensive. Each school is 30-60 dollars or more, plus transcript fees, plus SAT scores, plus most schools charge a fee for the required audition or video. We probably spent a thousand dollars on applications. Just accept it.
You then wait. And even if you get accepted it means nothing because what matters is acceptance into the BFA or similar program. My kid never even told us of many of the schools she got accepted to because it was irrelevant, she was only going if the got into the program she wants. Again, just accept it. Even offering congratulations was met with blank stares and “who cares”.
Fill out the FAFSA form like everyone says, just do it. Then make sue that the schools don’t need more information, especially if you are divorced. Do not allow your kid to tell what needs to be done or what is or is not required. They are wrong, a lot. Or they ignore e mails, or they just don’t care. It’s costly, push and follow up, even if they hate you. It is April, we just learned of things we missed because we were lax in following up. It likely cost us thousands of dollars. Enough said.
AUDUTIONS AND UNIFIEDS
This is where it all gets fun. You get to travel, go to fun cities, and some not so much fun. Watch your kid get three minutes to prove to some school they deserve one out of 40 spots out of 1500 applicants. Joy. It isn’t. Most auditions we did were at unified. We did a couple on site for reasons I don’t even remember, as almost all schools go to unifieds. We did five days in Chicago, four in NY, another weekend in Pittsburgh, a weekend in Chicago aside from Unifieds and Dayton and Ada Ohio. Others did more, we were lucky being in Michigan as travel was not awful. But these are not vacations.
First, this is all expensive, no matter how you cut it, and there are no subsidies. Even traveling cheaply to NYC was two plane fares, airport transfers, three nights in a midtown hotel, one show, meals, etc etc. And it is not a vacation. But one piece of advice is get out of the hotel. I heard too many stories of kids who went to auditions, never left the hotel and were beyond stressed. Take a walk, have a decent dinner, see a show, do something. There is huge downtime, waiting makes it worse. I still remember the Palmer House in Chicago and scores of kids and parents who looked as though they had all been told something bad. The stress was cut with a knife thick. One thought, don’t stay at the host hotel. Avoid all that negative and nervous energy, it perpetuates itself. I was so glad in Chicago we stayed two blocks away.
The other thing, and this was my mistake, don’t get wrapped up in the other kids. It is too easy to see, especially with girls, ones that looks different, taller, dressed “better” the comparisons are too easy to make and too wrong on every level. Yes, some of these kids are going to be better than yours, in looking at bulletin boards there were a number who got into almost all of their schools. Good for them, but most of these kids are talented and none of us really know what they are looking for with each kid. Every school looks for different things. The stunningly tall actress who looks like a model may fit at one school but not even be remotely what another wants.
Let your kid be your kid. They have been doing this for years, they know what their strong qualities are, and their weak ones. Once we start meddling in clothing choices, song or monologue choices, we compromise their artistic integrity and comfort level, they know if we question it, that we are questioning them, and that can only linger. Just trust their choices, let’s face it, we really don’t often know what’s best.
Go with or not to the auditions? First, there is nothing you can do to help. For some kids maybe they need or want mommy or daddy there. But the bottom line is they are going off to college soon, they have to learn to be on their own, and what good is it to sit for two hours in some waiting room playing on the phone. Plus I spoke to a few, yes just a few, of the teachers there and they uniformly expressed skepticism at parents who hover. If a kid cannot audition on their own, how will they be able to survive at college? Go take a walk, have lunch, check in, go finish your walk. This is not correct for everyone, but really, why are you there?
No one knows how they did. Leave it at that.
I write this on April 11. We are still waiting on three schools and one waitlist. The schools will not return calls or e-mails, we have no way of knowing when or if she will ever hear. It makes it impossible to plan anything. This stinks, and while intellectually I somehow get it, it is somewhat rude. I am not sure why they cannot just send the remaining kid a note that says “you will know in ten days” but they don’t. So you will wait, and wait, and get mail (most mail is bad, e mails and phone calls are good.
Your kid is going to get rejected. Your brilliant, tony award winning, acting and singing phenomenon, is going to get flat out turned down. They are, trust me. It stinks. We all think our kids are the most talented kids there are, how on earth can you reject them. But then you accept the fact that other kids are in fact better, or better fits, or your kid had a bad three minutes. It’s a very harsh reality when grandparent’s compliments don’t turn into acceptances. From experience, we have been shocked, and have heard the same But for the most part, your kid will get in somewhere, maybe not first choice, but they will get in. but you have to again accept that you and your kid are going to suffer more rejection than you ever thought. All of these kids are talented, some of them are utterly amazing, and everyone wants those 50 kids. So don’t get crazy, offer condolences and move on.