When do we need to start actively working on the college audition process? What is the timeline? Now. No really, now. If your student is even thinking about a college career in the performing arts, you should be thinking about what you can be doing to prepare them for that. Weekly dance classes, voice lessons, acting classes, and performing arts summer programs are all things you should be making sure are part of your student’s regular schedule. It’s time to start researching schools by their junior year, and by the spring of their junior year, they should have a nearly-finalized list of schools, registered for your SAT/ACTs, and have that FAFSA filled out by June. The summer before your senior year it’s time to update your headshots and resume, pick your audition materials and prepare them with your coaches. August of your senior year is time have everything in place to film your prescreen auditions by September when applications go live online. Audition season starts in October, with most auditions happening January through March.
My son/daughter doesn’t get lead roles in high school programs, can they get into a program? Short answer: there are never any guarantees, even if they are getting lead roles every time they audition. The trick is making a smart list of schools after you do your research. There are many fantastic programs out there that are newer programs or have a higher acceptance rate. Colleges aren’t looking for students who are already Broadway-caliber performers, they are looking for performers that show great potential that will be a good fit for their program. With a little research, you can make a good list of schools where you have a great shot at being accepted, and where you will be able to grow as a performer and a person, so you are ready to face the industry after four years with them.
Alternately, my son/daughter always gets lead roles in their high school, community theatre, and summer program shows. Can’t they just look at the big-name schools? See Question #1. The top schools, which are often referred to as “Dream Schools” or “Reach Schools,” should be looked at like a lottery, and talent just gets you your lottery ticket. Most of the top schools (Carnegie Mellon, Juilliard, Michigan…) have an acceptance rate of less than one percent. In many cases, getting accepted to these programs as just as much to do with your talent level as it does with what type of student they need to accept into their program to have a diverse group of students so they can put on great shows. A good list of Reach School, Target Schools, and Safety Schools will ensure your best chances of getting accepted into a program.
How many schools should be on my audition list? That’s a question that is worth its own blog post (Stay tuned! It will be!). My easiest and safest answer to give en masse is to use a ratio of 1:3:1. One dream/reach school, to three target schools, to one safety school. Depending on your type and gender, you will need more or fewer schools on your list. Feel free to reach out to me for a better answer.
How professional do the prescreen auditions have to be? What if you can’t afford to have a choreographer prepare your routine? Pre-screen auditions should be well-lit, on a plan/non-distracting background, free of background noise, and should be a good depiction of both your talent and your body. I have had students accepted to top schools with pre-screens they filmed on their iPhones in their living room. The only time you should need to spend money to have them professionally filmed is if you don’t have the ability to meet the above criteria on your own. As far as dance prescreens go, they are normally fairly specific on exactly what they need to see. In most cases, students have learned choreography from shows they have been in and can use that. Some schools even provide a combination video online that they ask students to learn. If you have no dance experience, or you have two left feet, a school that is asking for a dance prescreen might not be the best choice for your student. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your college audition coach, or the admissions people at the school directly.
Is there a preference given to students who audition on-campus vs. auditions at Unifieds or other off-campus auditions? I have asked this questions to scores of decision-makers at colleges. The answer is a definitive NO. In 99% of all cases, you will be auditioning for the very same people on-campus as you will if you audition in another city. If the school prefers that you audition on-campus, they will not have off-campus auditions.
Do I need to hire a college audition coach? No. While college audition coaches are becoming the new norm, it is not necessary. You can absolutely do this on your own. Having a coach can save you some timely and costly mistakes along the way, though. Even though it’s not necessary, you probably wouldn’t think twice about hiring an SAT tutor to make sure that your student is as ready as possible to take those SATs because it will have a huge bearing on their future. Think of a college audition coach as much the same. A qualified coach has done this for several years, knows the colleges and their faculty well, and can guide you in the right direction so you can present your best self during this process.
If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my website at www.thecollegeaudition.com. Everyone who signs up for my mailing list is entitled to a FREE 20-minute phone consultation. Dealing one-on-one with the students and parents bring me joy!
Tim Evanicki is a Juilliard-trained vocalist and has been a college audition coach and voice teacher for fifteen years. He travels the country offering workshops, master classes, and one-on-one lessons with students who are preparing for their college auditions. His students have been accepted to NYU Tisch, NYU Steinhardt, Carnegie Mellon, Point Park, Baldwin Wallace, CCM, Boston Conservatory, Syracuse, Pace, and other top musical theatre programs across the country. He is the author of the book “The College Audition: A Guide for High School Students Pursuing a Degree in Theatre,” available on his website, amazon.com, or other online book retailers.