The following piece was written by Elaina Loveland. Elaina is an admissions consultant for students pursuing creative degrees. She has two published books – Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers, and Creative Careers: Paths for Aspiring Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers.
If you want to major in the arts and earn a degree in Art, Drama, Dance, Music, or Creative Writing, it might take some research to find the right program for you. Unlike degrees that are offered at nearly every college and university (think History or Biology), creative programs often vary greatly by institution. Here are 10 questions you need to ask to narrow down your search.
1. How much time do you want to spend pursuing your passion?
If you want to live and breathe your creative area of interest 80% of the time, you’ll be most interested in BFA programs. If you’d rather spend less time than that practicing your art, but still want to major in it and leave room for electives that interest you and perhaps do a double major or have a minor outside of your creative field, consider BA or BS programs instead.
2. Is an audition, art portfolio, or creative writing portfolio required for admission?
Many of the most competitive programs in the arts have an arts-based requirement like an audition, art portfolio, or creative writing portfolio for admission to the program. You will need to investigate the programs you are interested in to find out their requirements. It’s important to follow guidelines carefully because each school has different requirements.
3. How much can you perform, exhibit art, or publish?
Take the time to find out exactly what kinds of performing, exhibiting, or publishing opportunities are available to you in each program you are considering. Find out if you can participate fully in these opportunities during your freshman year or if you have to wait until you are an upperclassman. Learn how many opportunities there are per semester and if there are any opportunities off-campus that could bolster your résumé.
4. Who are your teachers?
Unlike faculty in other disciplines, as an artist, you will be working more closely with program faculty throughout your college career rather than taking just one or two classes with them and moving on like students in other disciplines frequently do. The best faculty have extensive experience in the field and are often still practicing artists. Do they have industry contacts? Do they have advanced education like an MFA (master of fine arts degree)?
5. Are there master classes with guest artists or other industry guests?
The most competitive programs usually offer master classes with renowned artists, actors, choreographers, musicians, and writers. Some programs also offer specialized symposiums that focus on topics like careers in the arts or nights with industry guests that can offer advice to upcoming graduates. Bringing in talent from the outside to help students with their understanding of their discipline can be a valuable asset to an arts program.
6. What are the facilities like?
Do the program’s facilities look professional? You are going to be spending a lot of time in classrooms, in rehearsal spaces, in studios, and on stage, and you want to make sure those spaces exhibit a professional atmosphere that can reflect the success of its students and graduates. Access is also something to consider—you will want to make sure that rehearsal spaces are accessible beyond normal business hours—an artist’s work is never done. If you need to practice at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday, you are going to want to make sure that you will be able to do it.
7. Who are the alumni?
Find out where the alumni of the program are now in their careers. Does one of them have your “dream job”? They should. You want to attend a program where you know that it is capable of teaching you what you need to know to be successful in your career afterward. Looking at the success of alumni is a good way of measuring this.
8. Are scholarships available?
While not all institutions have artistic scholarships, it is an extra bonus if you can find a program that meets your criteria and can offer you the possibility of a scholarship. Most scholarship money for the arts is available from the institution itself so don’t overlook scholarship possibilities. If you are academically talented, you may also be eligible for academic merit scholarships, so be sure to investigate those scholarships as well. Leave no corner unturned. After graduation, if you have to take out loans, you will have to repay them, so make sure that factoring the cost of your degree is considered carefully.
9. What kind of opportunities will you have for internships and part-time work?
Working while in school requires time management, but it’s possible. Making contacts off campus can be helpful in seeking internships later in your college career. If you do take the plunge to get a part-time job in the “real world,” it may be beneficial to find a job related to your field of study. For example, you could work in an art gallery or museum, work at a local professional theatre company, teach dance to children at a local dance studio, work at a local symphony or opera company, or work at a local publishing company or newspaper.
10. What kind of support is there for finding a job after graduating?
You should check out the support that the college will provide for you to find a job. The college career office at your school most likely has a library of books that can help you delve further into career possibilities. Your alumni office may have a list of people working in certain fields. Many make themselves available for informational interviews. Faculty members in your department may also have personal contacts with whom you can speak about career choices. Ask questions to find out what resources the colleges you are considering offer.