Applying to College Theater Programs

Curious about how to apply to college theater programs? You’ve endured it for years: they sing on the way to breakfast. And in the carpool. They dance down your hallways. And during back-to-school night. You’ve attended more shows than you ever thought existed. You have a theater kid! But are they serious about pursuing it– whether it be on stage, in front of the camera, behind the camera, as an executive or on a creative team?

There are many routes to working in the entertainment industry, but chances are they could be interested in pursuing a degree in the arts. While there are different majors, one popular choice among those who want to work in entertainment is a theater degree. Not only does a theater degree emphasize actor training and theory/history, but it also encourages useful life skills like public speaking and critical thinking. So, how do you apply to college theater programs anyway?

What Is a College Theater Degree?

So, what exactly is a theater degree? Let’s break it down. There are some universities that offer Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) programs, which are typically a conservatory (only theater training) or conservatory-style (theater training within a larger university) or Bachelor of Arts (BA), which requires fewer theater credits and offers more flexibility to explore other academic interests.

BFA programs are highly selective, requiring students to audition for a spot in their incoming class along with their application, supplements, and a potential prescreen (in which students are required to send in a tape to be invited to audition), whereas most BA programs (there are several exceptions) will admit students solely based on their application and supplements if required.

Choosing A College Theater Program

How does your student even make the choice? Well, it all comes down to fit, fit, fit– a favorite word among the Magellan College Counseling team. Some students know they want a rigorous artistic education spent mostly in studio classes and rehearsal with fewer or no general education courses, and they feel ready to audition for a wide variety of BFA programs. Some students want the BA flexibility to explore other academic interests, clubs, and campus life. Great! There’s no right choice– it’s all about what will be the best fit for you.

Magellan counselor Suzie Wynne actually encourages students to “research non-audition based theater schools so that you have a balanced list and have choices at the end of the process” because regardless of which program you choose, you want to have options. There’s so much that goes into the admissions process for theater students, especially those applying to BFA theater programs.

Researching Performing Arts Schools

Theater Kids in a Play
High school students in a theater production

Performing Arts Schools have a variety of different majors and minors that can include theater, musical theater, directing, dance, theater studies, and more. Research is key. Not only do you need to find audition material that fits your theater student, your child needs to identify why the program they are auditioning/applying for is a fit. Can they see themselves backstage in the school’s main theater? Can they see themselves warming up for class in a studio space? Can they see themselves reading a play for a theory/history class on the quad (if they have a traditional campus)?

Just like these universities are trying to determine if your theater student is a good fit for their school, your child needs to find schools that they are excited to put on their list, and it’s important to find ways to show them you are a good fit. “Every applicant is passionate about the arts, has discovered themself, connected to the stage,” Magellan counselor Fay Taragan writes, “Your essays will work best for you if they distinguish you and make you memorable.”

How To Apply to College Theater Programs

How do you craft an application that stands out when applying to college theater programs? Fay says that “colleges are not only assessing your talent; more important is how trainable you are – Do you show an eagerness to grow, learn, develop? Are you receptive and open-minded? How do you process instruction/feedback/criticism and expand yourself and your approach based on it?

Also, character counts! Are you someone people want in a room with them? There’s no “me” in successfully creating and producing performing arts. It’s a collaborative process where everyone’s contribution matters on and off the stage/screen. Ask how you show you’re that kind of person.”

After researching Performing Arts Schools of interest, it is important to identify which major is ultimately the right fit for your student and begin to craft supplemental essays that not only express their artistic goals and reasons for pursuing a career in theater, but show the college that your student is excited to take advantage of all the program has to offer. Like in acting, specificity is key!
It is also important to remember that when you apply to college theater programs, each school has different audition requirements, deadlines, mediums to submit your materials (some use a website called Acceptd while others use their own university portals) and artistic essay prompts. In addition to finding audition material, scheduling auditions or taping pre-screen videos, and writing essays, organization is essential.

College Counseling For Theater Majors

Both Suzie and Fay have unique perspectives on this process. Not only have they counseled theater students, but they’ve also experienced it personally. Suzie’s daughter graduated with her BFA in Drama and a minor in Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology from NYU Tisch/Atlantic Acting School. “We traveled all across the country, and I watched my daughter go through recording prescreens, researching schools, writing artistic supplements, and saw the in-person audition process first-hand,” Suzie says. “I understand finding the right fit from both the parent and counselor perspective.”

Similarly, Fay says “my daughter’s journey transferring from BoCo (The Boston Conservatory) to USC Theater (after declining their offer of admission as a freshman), then transferring into the School of Cinematic Arts ” helps her advise theater students. “Aside from gaining first-hand knowledge of the audition and admissions process and requirements,” Fay “shares passionately about the tremendous value in the journey and the challenges!”

Contact Magellan Counseling

Our team at Magellan College Counseling successfully helps guide students through this unique admissions process, and our students have been admitted to New York University, The University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Southern Methodist University, Emerson College, Baldwin Wallace University, Chapman University, Marymount Manhattan College, The Boston Conservatory, and The University of Miami. With fifteen counselors located in Los Angeles (Encino, Calabasas, West Hills, Agoura), San Diego, the Bay Area, Seattle, Austin, Fort Collins, and Chicago, the Magellan College Counseling team is ready to help your theater kid find the right fit when you apply to college theater programs!

Contact us online or call us at 877-5-MAGGIE (877-562-4443).

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