Six Considerations When Applying to a College as a Visual Art, Design, Dance, Music, or Performing Arts Major
When it comes to applying to college as a prospective visual, music, dance, or performing arts major, students must approach admissions with an abundance of passion for their intended careers. In addition to an application, personal statement, and interview, admission requirements typically include auditions or portfolios.
Six things for students to consider when applying to college as an art/design/music/performing arts/ major:
1. Love what they do and work on their craft
Whether a student desires to pursue dance, piano, graphic design, photography, acting, animation, musical theater, or fashion, they must LOVE spending time on their craft. If anyone asks them what they do when they have free time, the answer should unequivocally be, “Get creative and work on my [art].”
2. Get passionate about the field
Don’t be afraid to become an art/design/music/performing arts/dance “nerd.” Visit museums, galleries and shows, study art/music/theater history, and read relevant magazines. Look at lots and lots of art. Listen to lots and lots of music. Watch lots and lots of performances. But don’t just Google everything; enjoy the arts in real time and space. Develop a list of favorite artists, contemporary or from the past! A student should challenge themselves by diving deep into the oeuvre of an artist/designer/performer they don’t like and discover ‘outsider artists’ that friends and teachers have never heard of before.
3. Know what is needed for the audition or portfolio, as well as what the school requires for the admissions process.
For most visual artists and designers, a portfolio is an edited collection of real works AND the photographic documentation of those works. Some art works are ephemeral or “in situ” and can only be documented in photographs. A portfolio is a collection of works that one grows and edits over an entire career. Art students need to develop the habit of documenting their works soon after they are created, since not all works are archival. When a student applies to college, they will submit a highly edited digital portfolio of 15-20 pieces. Always check the requirements of the schools to which you are applying, as some will ask for specific types of work. Visual artists should also be prepared to explain their artistic perspective through an artist’s statement and may be required to describe the feeling and intent behind the pieces in their portfolio.
Dance auditions often require a student to attend an open class before the formal audition. Students who attend will learn a routine which they will then need to perform. This individual performance will be evaluated on coordination, rhythm, technique, degree of movement, and body structure. The student’s ability to learn will also be evaluated. Certain schools accept video submissions of other performances, either as additional audition material or in lieu of attending auditions in person. Check with each school to see if this is an option.
Music departments are looking for technical competence and performance achievement; however, each program is different. At some schools, students are asked to include two or more pieces as evidence of the student’s skills and achievements. Instrumental auditions should be performed without accompaniment and should be sent in either audio or video format as requested by the school. Some schools may also require in-person auditions. If so, many times, various locations for such auditions are offered. Check a college’s website for specifics about their music audition requirements.
Students looking to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Theatre may be required to audition. Applicants should check with the schools they plan to apply to for details. Many theatre programs require a prescreening for auditions, and only students who pass the “prescreen” will be invited for an audition. Colleges may require a resume of theatre experience, a headshot, and/or two contrasting monologues from student-selected plays. Musical theatre requirements generally consist of one up-tempo musical selection and one ballad, as well as a monologue from a student-selected play or musical.
4. Attend summer pre-college programs
One of the best ways to grow as an aspiring artist/designer/musician/performer is to surround yourself with other like-minded, creative people. There are many great summer programs, from short (2 weeks) to long (8 weeks), local to international, and from general to highly focused. If possible, plan to attend two summer programs before senior year; it’s a great way to get to know a favorite college, to demonstrate interest, and to improve a portfolio. There are too many programs to list, but if you are interested in suggestions, contact us at International College Counselors.
5. Get critical feedback
Getting critical feedback on creative work is an essential way to grow as an artist. And although it can be nice to get feedback from loving friends and family, it is essential to get feedback from experts – teachers, professional artists or musicians, critics, and writers – as well as from college recruiters. Taking AP, AICE, IB and Dual Enrollment courses in art or music and attending summer programs are great ways to get rigorous feedback on creative work. College recruiters who specialize in performing and visual arts are usually happy to review and critique a student’s work when they visit a student’s high school or when a student is on their campus for a visit/tour, visiting them at a portfolio day, or a participating in summer program.
6. Research college programs
It’s never too early to start researching music, art, and performing arts programs. A good place to start is with types of degrees. For example, not all colleges offer majors in art, fewer in design, and even fewer offer professional degrees such as the BFA, BDes, and BArch. If a student is serious about a career in art/design/music/performing arts, they should favor colleges offering professional degrees. Ideally, the colleges will offer master’s degree programs in their chosen field as well. For art/design students, two excellent places to start your research are the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and the National Portfolio Day Association (NPDA). Member colleges of both associations are NASAD accredited and the NPDA hosts the National Portfolio Days, which a student should plan to attend starting sophomore year.
Don’t forget that when applying as an art/design/music/performing arts/dance major, colleges are still looking at your other application materials, including the student’s transcript and test scores, as well as resume, essay, and recommendation letters. Some schools are more selective than others, but a student can’t slack off on academics just because they are developing their portfolio or preparing for an audition.