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Considering College for the Arts? Advice for Music and Performance Majors

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The Fox hit Glee is so popular with television audiences that music from the show has been a commercial success—songs are released on iTunes each week and the cast had 25 singles chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009 alone.

Glee, which centers around a high school glee club that performs on the show choir competition circuit, has stirred up an appreciation for the performing arts among people that never gave it much thought in the past. If you’re thinking about majoring in musical theater, drama, dance or some other performance-based field, be sure to read on!

Well-Known Performing Arts Schools

When it comes to performing arts schools, Julliard is probably the first one that enters your mind. You’re not alone—the Julliard School in New York City is one of the most respected performing arts schools in the world. Berklee College of Music , New York University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan are also well-known performing arts schools but in order to attend one, there’s a big price to pay. Not only is tuition much higher at most conservatories than it is at state universities or even private liberal arts colleges, the financial aid offered is typically not enough to cover the average student’s expenses. These schools are also incredibly competitive, which means they have a low acceptance rate.

Less expensive alternatives to these elite performing arts schools are available—I earned my degree in music at a small private university in Florida. Even though I do not work in the field of music education as I had planned, I have no qualms about the quality of the education that I received. My instructors had degrees from some of the best colleges and universities in the country. I took private lessons from musicians that performed in professional orchestras. I was given the opportunity to perform in multiple groups and took the stage several times each semester.

Surviving the College Music Audition or Portfolio Review

Music, theater, visual arts and the like are different than most college majors. High school students can enter college as freshmen and decide to major in accounting or biology without having excessive knowledge of either. Students that want to earn a degree in the arts must prove “they have what it takes” before they even begin their studies. Not only do they have to apply to colleges, they have to audition for the schools’ arts programs.

Some colleges allow recorded auditions but most still require students to perform in-person. Find out what you will need to play, sing or do—audition requirements vary from school to school—and think of these auditions as if they were job interviews. That means you need to be prepared! Dress nicely without going overboard and arrive early enough to warm up before taking your turn in front of the audition panel. You’ll probably be asked general questions to prove that you have basic knowledge of music or the arts (a lot of talented pop stars have no idea how to read music) and you may even have to take a written test.

Hopeful visual arts majors will have to go through a similar experience known as a portfolio review in which samples of their work are presented for examination by professors at the school. As long as you know what’s expected of you and when the deadlines are, you should be fine.

If you’re considering attending college in another state, travelling to auditions and portfolio reviews can get expensive. Some schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in the arts hold joint auditions in large cities across the country for that reason. National Unified Auditions is made up of schools that conduct simultaneous auditions and interviews for entry into their theater programs and the National Portfolio Day Association offers a similar opportunity for students that wish to pursue studies in the arts at select colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Worried About Life After College?

Some parents don’t want their children to major in music or other arts for fear of limited career opportunities after graduation—after all, making it on Broadway isn’t easy and unemployment rates are incredibly high right now.

I’ve already mentioned that I have a degree in music yet don’t work in the field, but plenty of people I knew in college do. I’ve stayed in touch with several of my former classmates and they include high school band and choir directors, musical directors at different churches and even people that work on cruise ships as entertainers. One even opened her own music store.

Students are more likely to finish college and earn a degree when studying something they enjoy, and a degree in the arts doesn’t necessarily restrict students to one career path. Employers like the fact that people with performance degrees have the dedication it takes to perfect things and great communication skills.

Learn more about schools that offer visual and performing arts degrees here at StateUniversity.com.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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