Tips to Showcase Your Talent

Applying to a school for performing or visual arts (PVA) can be especially nerve-wracking because having someone judge your art—your talent—can be highly subjective. But you’ve already made the brave and difficult decision to pursue your artistic dream, so the best thing you can do is give yourself every possible advantage when applying to schools.

The centerpiece of your application is where you showcase your talent: your portfolio or your audition. To make the best impression, read the guidelines for each school carefully. For example, some schools might prefer digital .jpeg files while others might ask for 35 mm slide transparencies. Double check, then check again!

Here are some of TeenLife’s tips for young artists as you’re preparing to take the next step in your creative career:

If you’re photographing your work, check out Bowdoin’s online guide to using natural and artificial light ( For digital files, 72 dpi and a max height of 1000 pixels are standard specifications, but make sure that’s what your schools want, too. You can submit your files by mail on a USB flash drive or CD, but some schools also let you post them to online services like,, or If you’re submitting slides, you can find Kodachrome and Ektachrome film in art stores or online. Consider a mail-order slide processing service like Coopers Imaging if you can’t find a developer locally.

[Stay on top of college deadlines with this calendar for juniors & seniors!]

For in-person auditions, you’ll need to provide a CD or sheet music for accompaniment to your solo dance. Make sure to bring the CD in a labeled jewel case so it doesn’t get lost or scratched! If you’re submitting an audition DVD, many schools want shots of you from the side (especially for barre exercises) as well as from the front. Depending on how different the requirements of each school are, you might find it easier to film a series of short sections separately, then edit them together to tailor your audition video to each school. Many schools also ask that you wear a particular dance outfit, so make sure you’re dressed for success.

Your appearance here is important. Choose clothing that’s flattering and neat, and keep any makeup simple. Headshots and a resume are universally required, so have a small stockpile printed—and you don’t have to spend a ton of money on headshots to have a great photo. If you’re auditioning in person, don’t get upset or flustered if the panel wants you to make an adjustment to a monologue or song. It can actually mean that they’re impressed with you and want to see how you take direction! You may also be asked to improvise—to cold-read a scene for acting or to sight-read if you’re singing.

Musicians auditioning long-distance may need to submit more than just a CD of their music. Increasingly, schools want DVD auditions, including close-ups of embouchure or fingering. In person, remember that you have a limited amount of time—don’t be alarmed if the panel cuts you off before a song is finished and asks to hear another one. They just want to see as much from you as they can. Remember to bring multiple copies of your sheet music, since the panel will want to be able to see what you’re playing to help them evaluate your performance. And, like singers, come ready to sight-read.

Stick to the running time given in the school’s guidelines! If you have a script or storyboard, the admissions committee may be interested in seeing those, too, so check the website for details. It’s difficult for high school students to make even a movie with limited resources, and film schools know that. Because of this, many of them accept work from other genres. If you have a short story you’re proud of or an essay that rocks, use that to give yourself an edge. Film schools want to know that you can tell a story, and you can show them your capabilities even if you don’t have a prizewinning short.

No matter your genre, your audition or portfolio is about breadth as well as depth. You’ll need to demonstrate proficiency with a range of styles or expressive modes, such as a classical aria and a jazz standard, or ballet and modern dance. Choose pieces you love, no matter what, and your passion and talent will come through—and that’s sure to catch the eye of the selection committee.

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13 Aug 2017

By Hilary Dobel