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Performing Arts Pathways: Applying and Auditioning for College Theater Programs

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

It sounds like you know you want to study theater in college. Maybe you’ve already chosen your favorite B.A. or B.F.A. theater programs. So, what can you do in high school to prepare for the application process in front of you?

Train as much as you can.

During the school year, you should take advantage of all the performance opportunities offered by your school and community. During the summer, you can get involved with community theater, attend paid summer programs, read plays, and discover monologues.

Take dance classes, especially if you are shy or nervous about dancing. With some prior exposure, you’ll be much more comfortable when you have to go to a dance call in the future.

Identify and research your target college theater programs.

As you are getting ready for applications, you should:

  • Know the type of program at every school on your list: Is it a B.A. or B.F.A.? Does it have a specific focus, like a specific genre? What is the time commitment for performance and studies? Who are the faculty? If possible, visit in person (or virtually, during the pandemic) and always talk to real people.

  • Determine the value: What are the typical outcomes for the school’s alumni? What is the program’s reputation? Compare the program to others, both similar ones and slightly different ones. Don’t forget to consider cost as well.

  • Plan for applications: What are the requirements? Are extra essays, letters of recommendation, or other materials required? Are there special deadlines? Are auditions required, or just for placement? If required, do they want live auditions, prerecorded tapes, or are they flexible?

Prepare your application.

Your application will involve some or all of the following components:

  • Application for admission, including essays and activities resume

  • Submission of materials such as transcripts and test scores

  • Teacher and/or artistic recommendation

  • Live audition, virtual audition, or portfolio submission of prerecorded tape

  • A personal interview after the audition

  • An artistic supplement, an additional application to submit after the application for admission, which may include an artistic statement

Check each school for their individual requirements. I strongly recommend working with a college counselor like Robert at College Torch who can make sure your application and audition process is as streamlined as possible.

Plan for your auditions.

In-person auditions are preferable to audition tapes, when possible. The evaluator gets to share the space and energy with the performer, and can sometimes explore a moment or give creative adjustments if they feel inclined. In-person auditions contain both a performance component and a brief interview, so making a connection with someone live can go a long way.

National Unified Auditions, which put a number of major performing arts programs in the same cities on the same weekend, are a great way to streamline your audition timeline. If one of your programs isn’t affiliated with them, check that program’s schedule, since they may actually be in the same city at a different venue holding their own auditions.

If you’re unable to travel for your auditions (if there’s a pandemic, for example) you’ll need to prepare a tape. Many programs will try to recreate the live experience for you as well as they can, creating a virtual waiting room and having a live conversation with you after viewing your tape.

Nail your monologue and interview.

For the audition itself, remember that your evaluators are educators, teachers who just want to know who you are and where you’re at with your training. Perfection is not called for! In fact, they’re not even comparing you to others who perform, since they realize that all the students have different backgrounds.

The most important thing for your monologue (and your interview afterward) is to be relaxed, be yourself, and bring your real energy. Choose monologues that you love and show your true potential (However, you may want to avoid monologues about actors auditioning, since those can be confusing for the evaluators in the audition.) Of course, in order to be relaxed, you want to be confident, so be sure to put lots of time and energy into the material you’re preparing.

Whether preparing a monologue to perform live or to record for your audition tape, be sure to work with a professional over a long period of time to hone your skills and present your best self on the tape. Find a teacher who will help you just with your theater training. This person is likely to not be your drama teacher at schools (very busy, lots of students) and is also likely to not be your college counselor.

If you haven’t already, check out College Torch’s other performing arts blogs about college options for theater artists and how your applications will be evaluated.

Want to make sure you have a strong college plan and don't miss any of the important milestones? Download my completely free College Admission Timeline below!

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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