Performing Arts Pathways: How College Theater Programs will Evaluate Your Application

Updated: Apr 28

You’ve worked hard getting ready for your theater program auditions: honing your craft, performing in productions, practicing your monologues, nailing your audition, completing and submitting your applications and supplements, and everything else that goes into this process. Now maybe you're wondering how college theater programs will make their decision. Do your grades matter? How perfect should your auditions be? Will there be an interview?


As it so often is, the answer is that it depends on the school.




B.F.A. programs look to your audition.


For strictly conservatory-style B.F.A. programs, it is very likely that the audition will comprise a good majority of the evaluation process. After all, students there won’t be taking many courses outside of performing arts training and theory, so admissions usually feels less of a need to screen them based on things like grades and test scores. At these schools, admissions mostly defers to the drama department for their recommendations.


Don’t think this means that a stutter or mistake in your monologue will be the end of the road for you. Programs are still evaluating students as people who will attend their school and work with them on a daily basis. They want students who are flexible, malleable, engaged, positive, and quirky. In this way, it may be even more important to be relaxed than it is to be perfect.


Remember, the brief interview with you after you perform your monologue is as important as the monologue itself. There are lots of qualified actors submitting applications, but they want to know which students they want to spend time with in their program.




For schools with B.A. programs, prepare to impress them in holistic review.


For many B.A. programs at liberal arts-focused colleges and universities, the student will need to mostly earn admission based on the merits of your application, both academically and through the (usually) holistic review process. These schools need to know that you can succeed in the classroom, and they’ll require more from you than an impressive audition -- if you even get to audition at all.


Holistic review is the all-around evaluation process used at many competitive universities in the U.S., where students are evaluated not only on grades and test scores, but also on extracurriculars, teacher recommendations, work samples, essays, and more. It is entirely up to the school to decide how many or how few materials to request. Some schools (like the Cal State campuses) request so few materials that the review is barely holistic at all.


Students still get their chance to shine artistically. B.A. programs at some schools require an artistic supplement, where students may submit an artistic resume, artist’s statement, and/or audition tapes. Some programs may request live auditions, and others won’t. At schools that don’t request a supplement or an audition, they often accept a portfolio submission. Students attach a brief video to the application, and the admissions readers will consider that as part of holistic review, especially for students who apply as theater majors.


Although holistic review sounds stressful, it is also a very forgiving process. Because they consider many criteria, a strength in one area (like a portfolio submission) can offset a weakness in another, such as a low GPA.



Some universities embrace both processes.


Universities like NYU that straddle the line between a conservatory experience and liberal arts education may take a similarly integrated approach to review. For example, NYU’s Tisch School evaluates students separately from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. After the audition, Tisch sends their recommendations and notes to the admissions office, and then admissions can make their final decision.



Choose a smart alternate major.


If the theater program won’t or can’t accept you, it’s good for the university to be able to consider you for another program on an alternate major. However, it’s certainly not an easy roll-over into that pool, so you should choose your alternate major wisely.


Anytime the application allows you to select an alternate major, you should choose a non-impacted liberal arts major: history, English, philosophy, and so on. Don’t choose a performance major as your alternate major, or else you’re throwing away that second chance.


Even if you’re only considering conservatory programs, it’s always best to keep as many options open as you can!




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


Have you not started applications and auditions yet? Don’t let your nerves get in your way. Why not book a consultation with me to ask your questions and hear about how I can guide you through the whole admissions process?



Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college counselor at College Torch. He helps students with all aspects of college admissions. You can reach him by emailing him at robert@collegetorch.com or by booking a consultation here. Parents can join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.