Updated: Nov 12, 2019
I had a high school Chemistry teacher, Mr. Bailey, who used the phrase frequently in class, "You can't get by on your looks alone". It wasn't always directed at me, but at least a few times it was. I was a horrible Chemistry student, but probably not as bad looking as he alluded. However, he did know that there are only a few things you can do based on a single factor.
"You can't get by on your talent alone".
Actually, that's not entirely true, but I will say, if you're hoping to have a lot of college program options to consider, grades are important. This applies equally to BFA programs. Gone are the days when students could sing, act or dance their way into a program to overcome a poor GPA or test scores. When middle school or 9-11th grade students or their parents come to me and ask what they can be doing to prepare to audition for college theatre programs, my answer is, "get the best grades you possibly can".
Students begin their freshman year of high school with potentially every college open to them as a possibility. Every semester either keeps the ocean of possibilities wide open, or reduces the possibilities to a smaller ocean, lake, or even pond. Being left with a swimming pool of options by your senior year is frustrating and makes the search for quality programs more difficult and definitely costly.
Yes, there are some conservatory programs that don't care as much about grades and/or test scores, but keep in mind, they will only accept a small fraction of the students who audition for them, and many variables, including talent, will be considered. Their needs can vary tremendously. Do they need to round out their current pool of students with someone of your height, skin tone, body or voice type? Do they need a character actor? Are they a contemporary musical theater school? Do they only like belters? Legit singers? Triple threats? Strong dancers? What shows do they have slated in the next few seasons? These are all variables over which the actor/applicant has absolutely no control. Once again, we find ourselves thinking like professionals. Your job is to control whatever variables you can. That means honing your craft and getting the best possible grades while taking academically rigorous coursework throughout high school.
This is a difficult challenge for many students who are passionate about the arts, but not so passionate about anything else. In most of these programs, there are still liberal arts courses that need to be addressed. I admit, the system is flawed. My musical theatre degree didn't require one math class, but 1/2 of the standardized testing to get into said college was based on my math ability. My daughter might have to take a total of 2 math classes in any of the programs she's vying for. So, yes, test scores count too, but getting the work done in class and learning what you can in those classes will help set you up for greater success on the standardized tests.
As we continue to await results, we took grades into account early on. She just didn't have the number of AP's the most academically competitive programs would expect and we knew even a few B's knock you out of the running for those schools. This led her to look for schools that were closer to a sure thing for her academically, with a few "reach" schools that may or may not accept her based on grades and test scores (those are some of the ones from which we're waiting on decisions). Her goal has been to be seen in the audition setting so that they would at least consider her talent, and in most cases that worked out.
So, for whatever it's worth, "get good grades" is a for real thing. Annoying as it might be, it's a must in order to keep as many program options open as possible.