Student Blog: Deciding on a School

Every school describes its program as the best, so it can be challenging to know which is right for you.

By: Feb. 26, 2024
Student Blog: Deciding on a School
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When I was a senior in high school, I put so much pressure on myself to find the best school to attend for musical theatre. I was very serious about my future. I knew I wanted to find the perfect program, but it can be easy to get caught up in the buzzwords when researching colleges and conservatories. Every school describes its program as the best, so it can be challenging to know which is right for you.

For a while, I was dead set on going to NYU. Because of a canceled trip due to the pandemic, I never got a chance to visit the school or learn more details about the training. In all honesty, I just loved the idea of going to NYU. I felt like if I went there, everything would fall into place. But when I got waitlisted, I was forced to consider which of my other top-choice schools would benefit me. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t a 4-year university. 

Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, people judge you if you don’t get a degree after high school. I don’t know if those judgments swayed my opinion of what I wanted for my future, but most of my top choice schools were to earn a BFA. For most of my high school career, I thought I wanted to attend a four-year university, but I hadn’t considered why I wanted to take that path. When I stepped back and thought about what I truly wanted, none of those expectations ultimately impacted my decision at all. I knew I wanted to be in New York City, but other than that, I just wanted to get the best training I possibly could, 4-year school or not.

I didn’t know what I wanted until I was faced with the opportunity to go to the Institute for American Musical Theatre, and suddenly that just felt right. Earning a degree had absolutely nothing to do with it. IAMT was in the city and had the training and opportunities for networking that I greatly admired. Location, training, and networking turned out to be the main selling points for me, and I argue that if you find a school whose values in those three categories align with yours, you should go there.

When it comes to the location of a school, training in New York was vital to me because of the vast amount of resources. While speaking to Sam Stein, an actor in NYC, he said, “People ask me why I think training for musical theatre in the city is important. I always say for the same reason you wouldn't study marine biology in the Sahara desert.” There are so many opportunities, inside and outside of the school environment, particularly in places like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Many people plan on attending school and then moving to a big city after the fact. While every performer’s journey is unique and on their own timeline, I do find it beneficial to just move to the city for school if you’re able. By going to school in NYC, you are already naturally networking just because you’re so close to all of the action. While you’re a student you can go see new work productions, you can take classes from Broadway professionals, you can work on student films, and you can attend auditions and open calls. When you can do all of this while also taking class every day, it is incredibly inspiring, and it ultimately helps you get your foot in the door as an artist.

Networking while in school goes hand in hand with your location. At a conservatory program in the city, I am networking just by showing up to school. All of my teachers are working actors, directors, producers, and choreographers, and I am grateful to have the chance to work with them every day. Not only that, but students have the opportunity to have audition slots with agents and masterclasses with casting directors. If you have the chance to attend a school that helps you build those relationships sooner rather than later, it makes it so much easier to go to auditions when you know some friendly faces.

Lastly, when picking a school, find a program that gives you the training you need. When you’re touring schools, ask current students what their day-to-day looks like, and find something that suits your needs. If you have an interest in film and television acting, but you want to primarily study musical theatre, make sure the theatre school you want to attend has some film/TV classes. If you are a dancer first, find a school that has an array of dance styles and teachers. A well-rounded education is essential for all performers.  Hone in on your strengths, while also improving your weaknesses. For instance, if you aren’t the best dancer, make sure you have some dance classes. There are jobs out there for every kind of performer, no matter what your strengths and weaknesses are, but if you can strengthen every facet of performance, you will be better off.

If you are someone deciding on which performing arts program to attend, consider the school’s location, training, and networking, and ask current students and faculty what they have to offer. While deciding on a school, it is so easy to put so much pressure on it, but at the end of the day, you have to go with what suits you. Find a school that aligns with what you want out of a musical theatre program, and go for it.