What you need to know about creative majors

Are you interested in pursuing a creative major? In this episode of College Prep Conversations, our special guests talk about how to navigate the process successfully. 

We’ll hear from 3 experts, including:

Abby Tucker, a musical theater student at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. Abby will give us the perspective of a student who’s just been through the audition process for musical theater.

Carol Conchar, living proof that you can do anything with an art degree. Carol majored in visual arts, worked as a director of enrollment management at independent art colleges, and now serves as an Associate Director at George Washington University. 

Laurel Zahrobsky, who danced professionally in Chicago for 10 years after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at Ohio University and now serves as the Senior Dean and Director of Dance at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Each guest will bring a different perspective on majoring in creative arts so you can view it from every angle and see if it’s the right path for you.

Here’s what to listen for:

  • Specific tips on how to navigate the audition process
  • What should go into your portfolio?
  • How to stay organized and manage all the deadlines (and why it’s SO important)
  • Should you worry about becoming a “starving artist”?
  • Choosing to major or minor in your chosen art form
  • Why the way you show up for dance auditions matters
  • Why a successful audition doesn’t mean automatic acceptance
  • Why pre-college programs are highly recommended for arts students
  • And so much more…

If you are a student, or the parent of a student, who feels drawn toward a creative career, this conversation is for you! It’s so jam-packed with helpful information and advice there’s no way we could fit it all into this blog post. So it’s worth it to catch the replay.

We start off talking to Abby, who has recently lived the arts admissions process.

As a musical theatre student, Abby applied to 15 schools through National Unified Auditions, a program that allows students to audition for multiple colleges in one location. You apply beforehand and audition back to back for a full weekend or a full week.  

Abby recommends that students “cast a wide net,” applying to lots of colleges at first, “and then after that, go case by case and really look at what kind of school you want. Once you’ve seen where you’ve gotten in, or where you’ve gotten accepted for pre-screens, then go visit colleges you feel are of a high interest level to you. And know that just because it’s not on a top 10 list, doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely incredible and right for you.”

From there, Laurel strongly recommends students “take class with current majors… and talk to current students at the school… because then they can really get a feel for the university and the professors,” beyond just the auditions. 

For visual arts students, The National Portfolio Day is an opportunity to get on-the-spot feedback from a lot of different colleges. “What’s nice about the portfolio days,” Carol says, “is that a student can get feedback early in the process, and then they can modify their portfolio.”

What kind of portfolio do dance majors need? Each college will have their own specific requirements for things like floor work, choreography and bar work, but Laurel also offers this tip: 

“I have my dancers create a running resume where they’re keeping track of everyone that I have brought in for them to have class with, any conference that we’ve gone to where they’ve experienced another artist, anyone they’ve spoken with who might have known an artist in another city who could help them in a way. So they have a running document… that they can reference should they need to.” 

If the college requires a video, Laurel recommends connecting with your school’s IT department or video club for help, rather than just using your iPhone. If there’s a writing component, she adds, “it’s not just being a good writer. It’s actually being able to verbalize what they’re feeling and what they’re choreographing.”

Another big part of the process is just staying organized

 

How did Abby manage to stay on top of everything?

“I had a color-coded spreadsheet. I’m just gonna be honest: it took a lot of time. It really was like its own class for me senior year, like that was my after school activity.” 

What kinds of things did Abby track?

“When essays were due for certain schools, when applications were due for certain schools. Then when pre-screens were due…, when auditions were due. And also, where are the auditions? Are they coming to Unifieds, are they not? Should you go there, should you not? These are all things that you have to put down in the spreadsheet. It’s very complex, but it is doable. You just have to go school by school.”

“You also have to know about these schools going into auditions, which is just another layer but, they will ask you questions about why you want to go there. They’ll ask you questions about why BFA and not BA? Why Bachelor of Music and not Bachelor of Fine Arts? You have to know these things, and know specific things about the schools. So there are a lot of deadlines, a lot of things that are very important. Stay organized. Make a spreadsheet. It seems extra, but it’s really not. It’s very important and it can make a huge, huge difference, so just take the time.”

Carol adds this extremely important bit of advice: “the earlier you get started as a high school student for this type of application process the better off you are, rather than waking up Day One of senior year and going, ‘I want to go to art school!’ Because you might be able to do it, but, you know, it does take a little bit of preparation.”

What about fears of becoming a “starving artist”?

 

Laurel shares this personal story to give her students food for thought:

“My parents were willing to let me be the starving artist…but my mom did ask me to get a business minor. I didn’t take her up on it because I thought I knew everything and it was one of the biggest mistakes that I made. It would have really helped with grant writing, it would have really given me a presence in an arts admin position that I didn’t get. I think if I had had the business background, I would have.”

For parents she adds, “I think it’s so important for our children to be happy. And if this is where… their path of life is leading them, I really try to tell the parents you have raised a good person, they are going to find a way to do their art, and to live being able to pay their rent.”

Abby says, “As far as being a starving artist goes, unless you’re the luckiest gal in the world, there’s really no way around that. But if you don’t give it a shot now, it’s one of those things that I’ve always felt you’ll regret for the rest of your life. I’ve also been told, hundreds and hundreds of times, specifically for musical theater: if you can see yourself doing anything else, do it. Because it is a really hard profession and you get told no every day, you audition every day…people criticize you every day. You get notes, that’s literally your job is to perform and have people go, ‘these are the things that you did wrong. Do it again and do it better.’ And it’s a hard profession, and it’s tough and it takes a specific type of person. And so I’ve been told if you can picture yourself doing anything else, then do it. But if you can’t, then you’ve got to put your all into it.

Carol adds this perspective: “I’m living proof you could do anything with an art degree. And I have two of them. And I did not do a business minor… I waited tables until I was 29 years old. I made very good money for 20 hours a week, and I never starved.” 

Here’s her advice: “Tailor the internship in a way that’s going to give the student exposure to something other than just studio work. There’s plenty, plenty of work that’s art adjacent: working in a gallery, working in a museum, teaching…there’s no starving.

Where to go from here 

 

Did you find this conversation enlightening? 

Like so many topics in this world of admissions, this overview has barely scratched the surface because there are so many nuances depending on the school, the program, the interest of the student, and all of those fun things. 

Let us help guide you. If you’ve got questions, talk to us about them so you can get the college process started with less stress and more support.