A Passionate Process: Finding Your Fit
Experts agree: It’s important to pursue your passion in college. But for your performing or visual arts experience to be successful, you’ll have to look beyond your passion and take into account how you “fit” with the institutions you’re considering.
“Fit” is that hard-to-describe, hard-to-measure mix of passion, personality and place that tells you, “I’ve found the right place for me.”
Ultimately, getting to know the school is getting to know if you can see yourself there. How do you research “fit”? Dig in and explore every aspect of every school, and don’t underestimate the importance of visiting in person.
Here are tips from our experts:
- Understand the differences in arts degrees and courses of study. For example, do you want an intense conservatory program or a strong music program in the environment of a liberal arts college or university setting?
- Start your research and application process as early as 18 months before deadline. As an arts student, you will be working with earlier deadlines and additional requirements. Carefully track everything, including pre-screening, auditions, videos, essays, recommendations and entrance exams.
- Test yourself. “Summer programs are a great way to get a taste of the college experience in your arts area,” says Barbara Weidlein, founder of MajoringInMusic.com, a clearinghouse site for making decisions about music programs. “You’ll see how many hours a day you can comfortably live and breathe your passion.”
- Take a trial lesson from an instructor at a college you are considering. You’ll learn about the faculty’s personality and teaching style, and they’ll get to know you. “The schools are prepared for students to ask for lessons,” Weidlein says. “Many charge, but some don’t. Schools love to create relationships and get to know who’s coming up the pipeline.” William Zuckerman, consultant with Music School Central, a music school advising service, agrees. “Schools keep tabs on visits,” he says. “Remember, they want to be wanted. If you visit and meet representatives of schools, it could be beneficial for you.”
- Location, location, location. “Early on in your process, think about where schools are located to see if the region matches with your future career aspirations,” says Zuckerman. “Music education majors should think ahead about state requirements for certification, while performing-arts majors should consider access to arts-rich cultural areas.”
- Research performance opportunities. At a major conservatory, there are hundreds of performance opportunities, but when it comes to liberal arts colleges or universities, you need to look deeper to see the opportunities.
- Don’t be dazzled by names. No matter what you plan to study or where you choose to study, remember the “fit” is more important than the name. “To be successful, an artist doesn’t have to go to one of the top schools,” explains Sarah Lovely, director of college counseling at Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass. “We really encourage our students to diversify their lists.” Zuckerman agrees. “Juilliard is known for its piano program, but how many students do they accept each year? Three? Maybe four?”
- Visit the schools where you have been accepted. This is a must, according to Zuckerman. “You need to see what feels right. If it doesn’t feel right, nothing else matters. I really looked into all of my options. At the University of Michigan, I made friends outside of the music school, and that was good for me personally. … At the end of the day, it felt right to me.”
And how can parents help?
“Parents can start by listening and supporting where the child is,” says Weidlein. “I know parents worry, but instead of worrying, they should look at what their child’s passion is all about and trust that they’ll land on their feet.” And even non-arts majors don’t have job guarantees, she says.
Kirsten Marella, mother of Lizzy Marella, a music student at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, understands her daughter’s passion. “When Lizzy is passionate and creative, she is firing on all circuits – it’s such a magical thing. You have to support that.”
Laura Lamere, LauraLamere.com, is the founder of Pavoh.org, a nonprofit organization that helps youth find their voice through music and performance.