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Spotlight on Your Future: A Guide to Visual and Performing Arts Majors

Beginning the journey to become a visual or performing arts major is an exciting step, where you'll explore your creativity, pursue your passions, and aim for artistic excellence. This blog is your roadmap, crafted to guide you through the nuances of choosing a visual or performing arts major, from understanding the preparation and admissions process to exploring the diverse opportunities that await in the visual and performing arts.

Arts in College 101: The Starting Point


The journey to a visual or performing arts major begins with partnering with your high school arts departments. Art instructors and music directors are often the first to spot potential. With their wealth of experience and in-depth understanding of the arts scene, they can offer invaluable advice on choosing schools, finding scholarships, and entering competitions.


Beginning Your Artistic Journey: The Value of an Early Start


Starting formal arts training early is highly recommended for those considering a future in the performing arts. Given the competitive nature of these programs, the sooner you dive in, the better. However, it's important to recognize and find ways to overcome potential obstacles such as financial constraints or lack of local resources. Exploring alternative options such as community arts programs, educational online content, or workshops at local colleges can offer the support you need without breaking the bank.


Maximizing Your Potential with Summer Programs


Summer programs are an exceptional way to further develop your artistic abilities and gain exposure to a college-level arts environment. These programs, often hosted by educational institutions for high school students, may offer scholarships to ensure wider access. They can play a crucial role in refining your skills and providing a glimpse into professional arts training. One such program still accepting applications for this summer is Summer TUTTI at Denison, a residential summer performing arts intensive for rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Additionally, the program offers need-based financial assistance covering up to the entire fee for qualified applicants.

Building Your Artistic Profile: Portfolios and Auditions


For aspiring visual artists, compiling a strong portfolio is essential. Participation in art classes, clubs, and events like National Portfolio Day can provide valuable feedback and direction for your portfolio. If you're aiming for the performing arts, choosing the right pieces for auditions is critical. Additionally, attending workshops can help improve your technique and presentation skills, ensuring you're well-prepared for auditions.


Navigating the College Admissions Process


The admissions process for visual or performing arts programs is distinct and layered. It involves understanding specific requirements, such as audition pieces (repertoire) for musicians and dancers or portfolios for visual artists. Additionally, the step of pre-screening — where students must submit preliminary materials to be considered for a live audition — adds another layer of complexity.


Steps for a Smooth Admissions Journey

  • Research Early: Begin by researching potential schools and their programs during your junior year of high school. This research should include understanding each institution's specific admissions requirements, deadlines, and audition processes.

  • Prepare Meticulously: Whether it involves curating a portfolio or selecting audition pieces, preparation should be thorough and tailored to each application. Engage in lessons, practice sessions, and critique opportunities to refine your work.

  • Understand the Terminology: Familiarize yourself with terms specific to performing arts admissions, such as "repertoire," "pre-screening," and "portfolio requirements." This understanding will be crucial in meeting the expectations of different programs.

  • Plan Auditions and Visits: Schedule auditions well in advance, considering travel and preparation time. If possible, visit the schools of interest to get a sense of the campus culture and meet faculty or current students in the program.

  • Organize Applications: Keep track of all application components, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and financial aid documents, in addition to your artistic materials. A well-organized approach ensures that nothing is overlooked in the application process.


Picking the Perfect Stage


Selecting the right college for your arts education is a strategic move that should reflect both your career ambitions and personal learning preferences. The institution you choose will shape your academic life and artistic development, so it’s important to consider the various offerings and environments of different schools.


Types of Institutions


For the dedicated artist with a clear vision, conservatories and independent colleges of art and design provide an intensive education where you can immerse yourself fully in your craft. This intense focus is great for students who are certain about their path and eager to devote most of their college experience to their craft. Schools like the Juilliard School for performing arts or the Rhode Island School of Design for visual arts offer specialized programs where you can concentrate almost exclusively on your art.


If you're aiming for a broader educational experience but still want to prioritize your artistic development, universities with dedicated visual and performing arts colleges can be an excellent choice. These institutions allow you to delve deeply into your chosen art form while being an integral part of a diverse academic community. Here, the arts are a focal point, yet you also have access to a wider array of courses and campus activities, facilitating a balanced and expansive college experience. Schools like the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University or The Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University provide rigorous arts training along with the diverse offerings of a comprehensive university.


On the other hand, choosing to major in fine arts within a liberal arts college or university offers a more integrated educational experience. It’s well-suited for those who wish to explore their artistic interests within a larger academic framework, providing flexibility to blend creative studies with a variety of other subjects. For example, Williams College offers well-regarded art history and studio art programs alongside a wide range of liberal arts studies.


For students seeking an affordable or local option or those looking to ease into the college experience, community colleges and technical schools are a practical choice. These institutions offer foundational arts courses with the added benefit of potential transfer opportunities to four-year colleges, allowing you to continue your education and pursue advanced studies in the future. Schools such as Santa Monica College or the Fashion Institute of Technology offer quality arts programs that may be more affordable.


Understanding Degree Options


When considering degrees, remember that each—whether it's a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Design, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Arts—offers a distinct educational approach.


For those of you drawn to a broad academic experience, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) could be the ideal fit. BA degrees are rooted in the liberal arts, which means you’ll have a wide-ranging curriculum. This is a solid choice if you’re into arts like dance and drama, but also want the flexibility to explore other subjects.


If your heart is set on specialized training in the arts, a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Bachelor of Music (BM) usually means you’ll be diving deep into your chosen field with most of your coursework centered around your major, which is ideal if you have a clear vision of wanting to work intensively within your art form. BFAs are typically more focused on the arts, with courses tailored to disciplines like dance and drama. For the musically inclined, a Bachelor of Music (BM) offers focused study in areas such as classical, jazz, or popular music. It's a degree that revolves around music, preparing you for a career as a professional musician or a music educator.


Lastly, if you're interested in the intersection of arts with more technical or scientific fields, such as digital media production, a Bachelor of Science (BS) could offer a pathway that blends creative study with scientific principles.


Campus and Culture


This decision-making process should also take into account the community and culture of each institution. When possible, visit the campuses. Are the practice rooms buzzing with energy? Do the art studios have the latest equipment? How do current students and faculty talk about their experience? The vibe of a place can tell you a lot about whether it’s the right fit for you.


Interacting with faculty and current students is invaluable. These are the people you’ll be learning from and collaborating with, so it’s important to feel a connection with them. They can offer you first-hand insights into the nuances of the program — insights you can’t always get from a brochure or website.


Ultimately, choosing where to study performing arts isn’t just about the name or prestige of the school; it’s about the individual fit. It’s about finding a place where you’ll be challenged, supported, and inspired. Take the time to consider what type of learning environment will best nurture your talent and help you achieve your long-term goals in the arts.


Final Thoughts


A visual or performing arts program can equip you with a skill set that opens doors to various career opportunities. You could find yourself under the spotlight with a dance troupe, acting on stage, or playing in an orchestra. If sharing your knowledge sounds appealing, teaching music, dance or visual arts either privately or in schools could be your calling. For those who like variety, a portfolio career lets you mix and match—perhaps performing part-time, teaching a few classes, and engaging in other creative gigs. And if you're intrigued by roles that support the arts, consider paths like becoming a performing arts doctor or practitioner, representing artists in legal matters, managing and fundraising for arts organizations, or administrative roles such as curating gallery shows. These paths allow you to apply your artistic talents in practical, impactful ways. Uprooted Academy’s YouTube playlist of videos of college majors gives valuable insights and tips from college graduates on their experience with their majors in Fine Arts and Art & Design.




To further help you in navigating your journey to college, don't miss out on our upcoming FREE virtual Major and Career Fair on March 16th. This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with professors and industry professionals and gain a clearer perspective on your future academic and career paths. Make sure to sign up today and mark your calendars!




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