The 411 on Applying to Arts Programs

If your student is thinking of studying the visual or performing arts in college, it’s never too early to begin. What's the rush?

First, these majors require serious preparation; arts programs are seeking students with a lot of training—particularly in the areas of dance and music. Newbies need not apply. Second, students applying to majors in this area will, in addition to the general application, typically have to audition or provide a portfolio as well as submit a supplementary creative application that may include an artist’s statement and artistic resume. These additional requirements complicate the admissions process considerably. Auditions and portfolio requirements are very competitive, as a student’s talent is, depending on the school, a central factor or the only factor used in determining admission. So how can a student put their best foot forward in this process?

If they're interested in the visual arts, they should:

  • Take as many classes as they can during their years in high school and start building a portfolio.

  • Attend National Portfolio Day in order to get feedback on their work from college reps.

  • In junior year, review the portfolio requirements of schools that they are interested in, then start selecting portfolio pieces to include or re-do.

  • Work closely with their art teacher or other professionals to identify12-15 of their strongest pieces.

If they want to study music, dance, or theater, they should:

  • Ideally, in the spring semester of junior year, look into the audition requirements of the colleges they have an interest in and step up their practicing.

  • Work closely with a teacher or professional to select pieces that meet each school's requirements.

  • By the summer prior to senior year, they should have selected audition pieces and started to learn them.

  • By fall, they should be polishing and perfecting their performances.

In either case, they should:

  • Be aware that coordinating the portfolio/audition process across multiple schools can be a bear and will require serious time and attention to detail.

  • If they will be traveling out of town to audition, try to hit multiple schools during the same visit.

  • Carefully put together a grid of each school’s audition/portfolio requirements, audition dates/portfolio deadlines, where in-person auditions are held, availability of recorded auditions, etc. Check back with it frequently to ensure that they're staying on track.

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