Updated: Nov 27, 2018
We found that the college admissions process, and particularly the admissions process for musical theatre programs, is a seller's market. The colleges tend to have the upper hand. Soon, however, the tables suddenly and quite unexpectedly turn, and the process becomes a buyer's market. Once offers are made decision time is just around the corner and the information gathered about the various programs becomes imperative. Colleges expect applicants to ask inquisitive questions about their programs. But determining what types of questions to ask can be daunting for a high school student.
First, try to find answers on the school's website line or in their collateral. Research is the basis for much of the work you'll do in college and is revered by those in higher education, so students earn respect by proving their ability to dig deeply. These suggested questions might be answered through a school's website or program page, but many require answers from a faculty member, program chair or advisor.
What is your upcoming performance season?
Reviewing the school's previous seasons can help you learn quite a bit about the school's curricular focus. Knowing what the 2019-2020 performance season entails should give you an even better sense of the trajectory of the program. Consider delving a little further by asking what other types of performances outside of your discipline are available for you to attend. Are these performances free to students? Is it a program requirement to attend performances or recitals?
What is your philosophy regarding summer work?
Summer theatre is often the only place college students gain valuable professional credits and experience. Does the school encourage students to pursue summer opportunities? If so, how? If not, what's the rationale? Does the school have apprenticeship, internship or summer stock connections? Is credit available?
What types of ensemble experiences are provided or expected?
Performing in an ensemble setting, whether singing parts in a musical, dancing in a large group number or acting--which mostly occurs between at least two actors, are all major components of the work of musical theatre performance. What ensemble opportunities exist beyond productions? Are there dance, vocal or acting ensembles with culminating performances that are written into the curriculum? Do extracurricular opportunities exist so students may further develop these skills?
What is your acting focus?
Many schools have faculty specialists or identify a specific focus for their acting curriculum, such as Meisner, Stanislavski, Chekov or Suzuki, and others offer an approach that provides an overview or survey of several philosophies. A case can be made for an undergrad degree with a focus in either. Regardless, it's worth knowing what a school's pedagogy entails especially if you've been exposed to a particular technique and know you'd rather, or rather not, spend the next four-years entrenched in that methodology.
How many students, in total, are enrolled in the program?
Many schools are clear about how many students they accept each year, but asking how many are enrolled in total can provide a quick overview of the true likelihood of performance opportunities in comparison to performers. It may also help you understand the attrition within the program. If there are 200+ students in the musical theatre program, how many annual performance opportunities exist? If each class starts with 60 and an average of 30 graduate, this isn't necessarily cause for alarm, but it's definitely worth a discussion as to, "why?" This question can also help clarify if selectivity is increasing or decreasing and may lead to deeper discussions regarding the vision for the future of the program.
What's the availability of your practice rooms?
Visit the school's practice rooms and if their usage policy isn't posted or easily accessible, ask about it. Do practice spaces even exist? If they don't, where are singers expected to practice, work through songs and learn parts? Are the facilities sufficient for the student load? In what condition are the rooms and pianos? How does the school make their use equitable for all students in the program or the school?
What's the philosophy of your dance program?
Whether dancing for hours a day, or beginning dance classes for the first time, a few well-placed questions addressing dance training can be very enlightening. Are students placed? How and when? What styles are covered? What is the condition of the dance studios? How does the program work to prevent student injury? Are Pilates, strength, stretch or yoga classes provided as part of the curriculum or through the college's student fitness program?
How is your voice program unique?
Each school usually has a unique policy and provision for voice lessons and the assignment of voice teachers. Are voice lessons required every year? What's the rationale if they are not? How is placement determined? Is a particular pedagogy taught throughout the school? Are there cases where a student is able to move to another studio? If so, how? Is vocal coaching available? Are students required to provide or pay for an accompanist?
How is vocal health maintained?
I recently met with a college who made an annual otolaryngology, or ear, nose & throat specialist, scan for each student a part of their program in order to track student vocal health. I and most of my peers in voice or musical theatre had at least one scan while in college, so the idea of benchmarking this information and being aware of vocal issues before beginning study is an exciting concept. How does the school support student vocal health? Are they active about this or passive?
How do you prepare students for the business?
Schools often make a big deal about graduate placement. Learn more about where those graduates go. Do they continue on to graduate school? In the industry? As performers or in another field? Does career services specifically address connecting students to work in the performance field? If so, how? Does the school provide a showcase-type opportunity for its students? If not, what's the reasoning?
Hopefully, these questions have spurred more in your mind. Targeting a handful of these and similar questions then keeping an ear out when touring, in orientation sessions and when chatting with faculty or current students will help provide the information you need to make a well-researched decision. Hopefully, you'll have a number of programs from which to choose, and asking the right questions will provide you with ample information to make the best possible decision that will provide the highest quality musical theatre training possible.