Aiding Your Theatre Students in the College Hunt
By Stephanie Muller
Stephanie Muller is a sophomore at the University of Iowa, double majoring in Theatre and English. Already a published playwright at the age of 19, she hopes to have a long career in the theatre world.
After enjoying four good years in a fun-filled, low-pressure high school drama program, a bulk a theatre kids enter their senior year pondering, “What’s next?” I know I did. Questions were surging through my mind. Which college should I attend? What should my major be? How is theatre going to fit into my lifestyle at college? Luckily, as their drama director or theatre teacher, you can be a life-saving resource for your junior and senior students wondering where they go from here with their love for theatre.
First and foremost, it’s essential to NOT let your students (or their parents!) fall into that all too familiar trap of “you can’t do anything with a degree in theatre.” That is simply not true, despite what some concerned, success-oriented people may think. Businesses, for instance, love to hire theatre graduates for their presence and outgoing personalities. Successful lawyers also tend to come from theatrical backgrounds. Other common trades of theatre grads include teaching, arts administration and writing.
So, which college should a theatre kid attend? Well, that’s dependent on a lot of factors. For the most serious theatre student, a BFA program might be in order, which educates for the professional theatre world. This should only be pursued, however, if a student is ready for “real-world” auditions and is willing to invest a good amount of both time and money into doing them. Top BFA programs in theatre require students to schedule a professional audition, complete with a resume, multiple monologues, callbacks and headshots. These schools also reject the bulk of applicants who audition, many with acceptance rates hovering only around 10%. Make no mistake, they’re tough! But, if your student is dead-set on being a professional actor, one of these conservatory-style BFA programs is just the trick. Powerhouse programs include NYU, Carnegie-Mellon, Michigan, Florida State and the University of Southern California.
For those students who aren’t ready for this level of audition or who want to get a more well-rounded academic education in addition to theatre, a school offering a BA in theatre is probably a better option. Take me, for instance. I knew I loved theatre, but I wasn’t sure which aspect of theatre interested me the most. I also knew for a fact that I wasn’t ready for a cutthroat conservatory, even though I had come from a pretty demanding high school drama program. I am now pursuing a BA in Theatre that allows me to study acting, playwriting, tech work, dramaturgy and theatre history all at once. In a BFA program, I would have had to choose just one of these concentrations. Almost every liberal arts school offers some sort of bachelor’s degree in theatre, but programs with particular strength and status include Northwestern, Vassar and Brown. Many state universities, such as UCLA and University of Iowa, also have strong, rigorous degree programs in theatre at a better price. Encourage your students to evaluate the strength of your own state universities by researching the size of the program and the number of productions per year. They should also look at the professional affiliations, experience and qualifications of the faculty.
For your students who have a passion for theatre but still worry that pursuing theatre could sabotage their future career potential, advise them to consider a double major with theatre and something a bit more “practical.” Common double majors with theatre include English, History and Psychology. I even know a few Theatre/Biology majors! In my limited experience, I’m finding that students who choose this route (as I have) are often the happiest, since they feel more prepared for the real world after graduation, yet also have the background necessary to pursue a career in theatre at some point in the future.
But what if a student isn’t sure he wants to do theatre for the rest of his life? This is probably the norm for most of your students who love theatre but don’t really see it as a career path. Of course, a strict BFA program is not right for them, and perhaps they shouldn’t even major in theatre. For a student who wants to be prepared for multiple jobs after college, they can start school with an undeclared major or a different major. They can always add theatre as another major or as a minor later on. Meanwhile, they should still be involved in the theatre department. Auditions for college productions are typically open to everyone, so even non-theatre majors can continue acting in college.
With so many possible paths to follow, all the seniors in your drama program should be able to pursue their love for theatre at whatever level they choose in college. Good luck aiding with the college hunt! No doubt your students will appreciate all the guidance you can give them at this exciting, yet nerve-wracking, fork in the road.
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