Will an Arts Submission Tie Me to an Arts Major?

Question: I am going to be a high school senior this 2016 fall. Should I submit an art portfolio, and/or vocally audition to colleges if I am not sure I am going to major either in a bachelors of Visual arts, Music, or Business? If I send an art portfolio and get accepted am I automatically in the major of Visual Arts and can't get out of the major?

If vocally audition and get accepted am I automatically in the major of Music and can't get out of the major? Thank you.

You ask good questions that have potentially lengthy answers. So I'm going to try to give you the succinct version, even though “The Dean" is not renowned for brevity. 🙂

Some colleges and universities require all aspiring visual arts or music majors to apply directly to the major. This is particularly true for students who are planning to earn a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree rather than a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree. As you research your target colleges, you will find that some schools offer ONLY the BFA to art and music students; some offer ONLY the BA, and some offer both.

You will need to read application Web sites carefully to see if a portfolio or audition is required. Typically, BFA programs will require a portfolio for visual artists and auditions (or recordings) for singers. BA programs usually will not. (So should you send them anyway? More on that in a minute.)

Similarly, admission to BFA programs is usually “binding." This means that, when you apply to one, you are making a commitment to major in that area and you will have to jump through some hoops later on in order to change your mind.

Admission to arts/music BA programs is usually NOT binding, so you can easily switch majors once you enroll. But you do have to confirm this with each college on your list because policies can vary. Note also that, if business is one of your other potential majors, some colleges will require you to apply directly to their School of Business. Although you can always bail out once you enroll, a change to a new major at such colleges isn't automatic and you might have to jump through those aforementioned hoops to make it happen.

SO … given that you aren't at all ready to hone in on definite academic goals, your best bet would probably be to apply to a liberal arts college, where no student is bound by the major that he or she indicates on the application. The same would be true for the School of Liberal Arts within a university. You'll also discover that many liberal arts institutions also offer a business major, although it doesn't fall under the “liberal arts" rubric. The liberal arts colleges that have no business major will most likely have a major in economics, which many students use as a stepping stone to a business career. It's often possible to double major in business + an arts field, but this will rarely work for BFA candidates, whose course roster will be largely filled up with classes in their specialty.

Even if you are not sure what your major will be and if you're applying to a college that doesn't expect you to send an arts portfolio, it can still work in your favor to submit one, if your work is strong. Talent in the arts is a plus at admission time. (After all, someone has to make those posters for the business-school fundraiser, right? 😉 )

If you're not certain if your portfolio is strong enough to help you in the admission process, you might want to check out a National Portfolio Day Association event near you. (See ). These sessions, offered around the U.S. from September through January, provide high school students with a free portfolio evaluation done by staff members from a range of art schools, liberal arts colleges, and universities. Although you may not be interested in any of the participating institutions, this can still be a great way to receive feedback on your work that comes from an expert, and not from your best friend, your grandma, or the ceramics teacher whose children you babysit! Likewise, if vocal music is your strength, try to get an impartial evaluation and keep in mind that, the more selective the colleges on your list, the higher the standards are likely to be.

If you do receive positive feedback on your work, you should definitely consider sending it to your target colleges, even when it's not mandatory and even if you think you may be aiming for the business world. But be sure to read each college's application instructions carefully to see if these extra submissions are welcome (they usually are) and, if so, how to send them.

Well, as I said above, I do struggle with brevity, but there's actually a lot more to say on this topic that I've spared you. So hopefully this is enough to answer your questions. And, as you can see, they concern a confusing aspect of an overly confusing process.