Admissions

Applying in the Creative Arts? Get the Scoop on Auditions, Portfolios And More

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You’ve read extensively about SAT scores, GPAs and class ranks, but if you’re pursuing the creative arts, there may be quite a bit more to the application process. Portfolios, auditions, interviews and presentations are typically required and can sometimes be extensive.

If you’re passionate about a particular art discipline, the hard work and preparation that go into nailing your audition or presentation will be worth every minute because you’ll get to pursue your most enduring interest, says Heather Johnson, who earned a master’s in music and is now a percussion specialist at Centennial High School in Frisco, Texas. Getting to that point will, however, take some hard work.


The importance of auditions and portfolios can be particularly strong at schools offering bachelor’s of fine arts (BFA) degrees, says Elaina Loveland, author of Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers.

“For creative programs offering a BFA particularly, an audition or portfolio review is a very important part of the college admission process,” she says. “Programs that offer bachelor of arts degrees sometimes have auditions or portfolio reviews, but they don’t have the same emphasis in admissions as BFA programs. Interviews are sometimes required or optional — the artistic component of showing what kind of artist you are — whether you are an actor, artist, dancer or musician — is often more important than an interview.”

Do Your Homework

Before you begin your preparation, get to know the schools where you’ll be auditioning or presenting, advises Johnson. For example, she says, if you’re auditioning for a music program, find out if the school is known for its specialty in jazz, orchestra, music theory, chamber ensemble or some other strength, she advises.

In addition, she says, research the teacher you are auditioning for, if possible. “Are they experts in Gregorian chant? Did they write their dissertation on 20th Century opera? Do they specialize in drum set or African drumming? Doing this research not only allows you to know what they might look for in an audition, but can help you when deciding whether or not a program is the right fit.”

If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask questions, Johnson advises. “Email is a wonderful tool in this scenario. This helps build a relationship with that professor and shows that you are proactive. The more question marks and variables you can eliminate in your preparation, the more smoothly your audition is likely to go.”

“Extra” Isn’t Always Better

Some students will be so eager to please the interview committee that they’ll submit far more work than the college wants in a bid to outdo other applicants, but this isn’t a good idea, Loveland says. “Students should follow an institutions’ portfolio parameters -- they should not include more work than is acceptable within the guidelines,” she says.

Carefully select your best work and include that in your portfolio, whether the school is requesting art pieces, screenplays you’ve written, videos of music pieces you’ve performed or clips of your monologue presentations. “Don’t include everything just because it shows variety,” Loveland adds. If you’re in doubt about which pieces are your best, consult a teacher or coach.

If you’re an actor preparing to perform a monologue, “it is advisable to stay away from the most popular monologues at the moment,” Loveland adds. “Also, actors should choose a monologue they can perform as an actor now (meaning a character close in age and life experience). At auditions, colleges don’t like to see auditions that are too ambitious for a student at their level.” Instead, she says, colleges want to see that the student can perform well and that they have the potential to perform more complex characters once they have had more training.

Avoid These Mistakes

Although everyone makes mistakes, there are some errors that admissions committees tend to see repeatedly, and you should try and avoid those whenever possible. Johnson outlines the three issues she sees students most often make during their preparation periods.

1. Choosing a repertoire that is too difficult for them. “An audition is meant to show the committee your current strengths and your potential for growth,” she advises. It won’t work in your favor to try and be someone you aren’t at your audition, she says.

2. Not knowing the material. Don’t walk into an audition or portfolio review without knowing your material front and back. “If you’re a musician and your audition piece has a piano accompaniment, know how it goes, even if you are auditioning without a pianist,” Johnson says. “If you know how the music is supposed to fit together, it will allow you to make better musical decisions that will not go unnoticed by an audition committee.”

3. Mismanaging preparation time. Don’t wait until the weekend before your presentation date to begin preparing, and also be aware any scholarship consideration deadlines. “Once you have set up your auditions, be sure to plan out your practicing,” Johnson says. Have a plan and set short-term goals for yourself so you are fully prepared by your first audition, she says.

If the arts presentation also requires an interview segment, it’s a good idea to run through a mock interview so you can get accustomed to how you’ll answer certain questions. Using this multi-pronged approach will help you stay at ease during your interview and audition process, and will hopefully help your admission odds.