Planning to pursue an arts degree?
Your college search will be unique based on your intended area of study, but there are a few things all arts students can do in high school to prepare for the admission process.
Follow these steps to help pave the way:
1. Explore and Experience the Arts
Grades are important—a good GPA and college prep courses will open doors for you when you apply to schools. But taking time to fully explore and experience the arts is just as important, especially in those areas that interest you most.
Sign up for the classes your school offers and look for opportunities to grow your skills. Maybe that means joining a school orchestra, choir, or ensemble. Or maybe it means auditioning for the school musical, taking photos for the yearbook, or displaying your work at a school art exhibition.
And whatever your passion, look for opportunities to do the things you love outside of school as well. Check out the local youth orchestra or dance studio. Look for extracurricular drawing, writing, or photography classes. Form a band! Start saving your work to build a portfolio and résumé for when you are ready to apply for college.
2. Immerse Yourself in What You Love and Grow Your Skills
Every specialization within the visual and performing arts is built upon specific skills. Learn what serves as the foundation of your area of interest and look for opportunities to grow your knowledge. If you’re a music student, for example, start learning music theory and work on sight reading.
Look for specialized summer programs to help you improve your proficiency and delve more deeply into your field. If at all possible, take private lessons (either in person or online) and practice, practice, practice! Learn everything you can about the various technologies used in the fields you’re interested in and seek out people who are employed in those fields to learn more about what their jobs entail and to gain suggestions.
3. Learn More About Your College Options
Conservatories, arts schools, and traditional universities all offer programs for arts students. Talk to your school counselor and arts teachers about degree pathways and take time to learn about the options available in your field of interest.
Some great websites and articles to help you kick off your research include:
- Animation, Game Design, Multimedia: Career information and interviews with animators.
- Artzray: A great resource for young artists interested in professional and creative careers in the arts.
- Dance Magazine: College and career advice, summer programs, audition information, and other resources for dancers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Detailed information on many different arts- and entertainment-related fields.
- Finding the Right Musical Theatre School: Tips to help you understand different types of degrees.
- MajoringInMusic.com: Learn how to continue with music in college, including up-to-date information about 75 different schools plus information about summer music programs, careers, music scholarships, arts high schools, and the process of applying and auditioning.
- SNAAP, Strategic National Arts Alumni Project: Data points to the success of graduates who studied the arts.
- Studying Theatre in College: What You Need to Know: Tips specific to students interested in pursuing theater in college.
- What to Know About Creative Writing Degrees: US News & World Report article about studying creative writing in college.
- Visual Arts: Careers, schools, scholarships, and tips for visual artists.
4. Use Your Junior Year to Kick Your Search Into High Gear
Talk with your counselor as well as your teachers and parents about your arts interest and research college options. Start thinking about who you’ll ask to provide references, look for scholarship opportunities, and brainstorm topics for your college essays. Visit college websites. See what each school has to offer, the classes you’ll be required to take, and the application and audition/portfolio requirements.
Attend college fairs and use those opportunities to reach out to school reps with any questions that aren’t answered on their websites. Also check out the helpful videos on the Workshops for Arts Students page.
If you’re passionate about an area of the arts and another subject, learn more about double majoring. If in-person visits are permissible, consider which schools make sense to visit. And, if applicable, inquire about trial lessons from schools you’re interested in applying to.
See if you’ll need to take the PSAT and prepare for it since many schools offer National Merit Scholarships to finalists. Start preparing your audition and/or portfolio. If applicable, begin to practice your audition pieces in front of a live audience of parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. This will help you become comfortable with the routine of doing an audition.
5. Stay on Track
Continue to pursue your arts interests and consider whether majoring or minoring in the arts is the best fit. Also consider what type of experience you want from your college years. Do you want to focus solely on the arts, or are you interested in taking courses in other areas as well? This will have a great bearing on which schools you’ll want to apply to. Find out whether you need to take the SAT or ACT. Consider a prep course or at least some type of online preparation.
Make a spreadsheet of key dates and application/audition requirements for each school you plan to apply to. No two schools are alike so read their requirements very carefully. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) starting Oct. 1 of your senior year, even if you’re not sure you qualify. Check to see if any of the schools you’re applying to require any other financial forms, such as the CSS Profile.
Check in with your counselor to ensure you’re applying to a good mix of schools that offer what you want to study. Your list of colleges should include at least one or two schools that are likely to accept you. Stay on top of your applications and apply before the deadlines.
Written by the Performing and Visual Arts Fairs advisory committee.