College Timeline for Acting and Musical Theatre Majors
Compiled by Meg Alexander and Taylor Williams
The ideal time to start working on college is junior year. While it is possible to start this process the fall of senior year, it is INTENSE and not for the faint of heart. Basically, you and your student will have to cram all the junior year and summer-before-senior-year tasks into August-October.
JUNIOR YEAR: FALL
Consider hiring an audition coach. While you can certainly do this process without a coach, they will make your lives a lot less stressful and provide professional advice on what audition pieces to choose, how to get the most out of your pre-screen recordings, give you access to private auditions and workshops taught by leading college theatre teachers, and offer one-on-one tips for auditioning. Some coach recommendations include:
Get your student talking about what kind of college they might like: small or large, urban or remote, cold weather or warm weather, close to home or miles away. Consider visiting local campuses to get a feel for what colleges of different types are like.
Join the MT Parents group on Facebook. Warning: if you are by nature an anxious person, do not join this group. MT parents tend to FREAK OUT. However, there can be some good information in there if you’re willing to hang on and ignore most of the noise. You will need a recommendation to join. Feel free to email Meg or Taylor for a rec.
HOT TIP! Hiring a coach is an investment. While the cost may seem steep at first, over the long run you could end up saving thousands of dollars in unnecessary travel costs. In addition, coaches may give your student access to the heads of top-notch theatre schools to work with one-on-one and in small groups. That kind of exposure to the best-of-the-best is priceless. (Especially if that person participates in the admissions process.)
JUNIOR YEAR: SPRING
Start Your College List
Create a balanced school list that includes safety, fit/target, and reach schools is key to a successful college audition season.
Reach schools accept less than 5% of those that audition and typically have an incoming freshman acting or musical theatre (MT) class size of between 12 and 30 students.
Fit, or target, schools accept 15% or more of those that audition and accept an incoming freshman acting or MT class size between 40-60 students.
Safety schools are schools that have solid theatre, acting, or MT programs that don’t require an audition.
You want to cast a wide net! MT schools can be very selective, so make sure you have a broad range of schools, at least one safety, and mostly fit schools. Many students apply to 20-25 schools to cover all their bases.
HOT TIP! Many families spend spring break junior year and the summer before senior year visiting college campuses. That is a choice your family needs to make. Please keep in mind that many of these schools are extremely selective, and a student has a less than 5-15% chance of getting into many of them. Try not to get your heart set on a particular school too early in the process. There will be time to visit schools in the spring of senior year.
Choose Your Audition Materials
Most schools now follow the Musical Theatre Common Pre-Screen Guidelines on Get Acceptd. Check these guidelines in the summer prior to senior year – they may adjust them slightly.
In 2023, Acting and MT applicants will need:
- Two contrasting 60-90 second monologues: one should be contemporary (written after 1950) and one should be classical (written before 1950)
- Wild card video showing off your personality or additional talent (for most schools this is listed as optional, but it is a chance to show schools who you are as a person – don’t pass up that opportunity!)
In 2023, MT applicants will also need:
- Two contrasting 60-90 second songs: one should be a ballad, and one should be uptempo. In addition, one should be published before 1970, and one after 1970.
- A 60-90 second choreographed dance combo
HOT TIP! Not sure where to look for monologues? Besides the internet, you might want to subscribe to the New Play Exchange and get access to tens of thousands of plays for a $10 annual subscription.
Create your Common App account and fill in the basics. It will take longer than you think.
Create your Acceptd account. This is where you will submit most of your prescreens.
Ask academic teachers and artistic advisors to write reference letters for you – do this before summer so they have time to think about it before they have to actually write the letter in the fall.
JUNE and JULY BEFORE SENIOR YEAR
Finalize your audition materials, memorize, and block them
Find recordings of your music to use as a backing track – many recommend hiring a pianist to record the track for you in your preferred tempo
Learn your dance combo and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
You can use a piece from a previous show you've been in, choreograph something of your own, or hire someone to choreograph a piece for you
Generate ideas for what you will do in your Wild Card video
Start Writing Your Essays
You will need one general one for your college applications, and one that answers the question, “Why MT or Why Acting?” which you will adapt for certain applications. Common App will list the topics that are for that particular year over the summer, but they don't tend to change much. Generally, a student can write pretty much anything and afterwards make it fit into one of the prompts because they are very general.
In addition, some schools will have supplementary essays for you to write. Check their websites to see what the topics will be or were in the past. Generate ideas or start a draft.
Create a spreadsheet of application and audition requirements for each of your schools. Include application deadlines and prescreen deadlines. Make an additional column to jot notes on what makes each school special to you – this will come in handy with some of the supplementary questions.
SENIOR YEAR: AUGUST
Common app opens August 1. Finalize your college list and review their deadlines.
Film your prescreens and wild card video. Give yourself plenty of time to create multiple takes over the course of several days or weekends. Do not wait until the last minute to film! This is a stressful time and you may have to do many, many takes. Give yourself time to take a break, walk away, and start fresh on another day. (Save the outtakes for later – you will want them after the process is over and you can have a good laugh.)
Begin submitting your Common App (or similar) to the colleges on your list. Many will wait until your app is received before sending you access so you can submit your prescreens.
HOT TIP! On your spreadsheet, collect the general admissions email address for each college on your list. Once Common Apps open August 1, email the admissions address and ask for a fee waiver. While the rules say that students must work with their counselors on whether they should receive a fee waiver, many schools just give them out. You can save HUNDREDS of dollars in fee waivers this way. If they do not offer a fee waiver, that is ok. The schools will not hold it against you for asking!
SENIOR YEAR: SEPTEMBER
All of your applications should be submitted by the end of September. In addition, the earlier you apply, the better chance you have of scooping up scholarship money and other perks, like first pick of on-campus housing.
HOT TIP! Block all of Labor Day weekend on your calendar so you can concentrate on knocking out your applications or recording prescreens if you're not completely done with them.
SENIOR YEAR: OCTOBER
Submit your prescreens by October 15.
The earlier you apply and submit prescreens, the better chance you have of being asked back for an audition date that works well for you. Some schools even close their audition bookings by late October.
Schedule your auditions
This is where you have to do what’s best for you and your family. Most, if not all, of your auditions will happen in January and February. Most schools offer both in-person and virtual audition opportunities. Schools do not have a preference. Many students are chosen based on live virtual auditions.
For in person auditions, Unifieds is the most well-known gathering of colleges auditioning acting and MT students. There will be about 25 official Unifieds schools, but there will also be about 25 or more additional "non-official" colleges that will hold auditions in the same hotel or surrounding hotels at the same time. This makes it very easy and economical to attend one Unifieds session and knock out most of your auditions at once.
HOT TIP! Chicago Unifieds features the most schools in one location. NY Unifieds is often in two locations nowhere near each other, so schedule accordingly. Many East Coast schools do not attend LA (Anaheim) Unifieds.
SENIOR YEAR: JANUARY/FEBRUARY
Get ready for auditions
- Practice your prescreen materials
- Add one more monologue and two more songs (including one pop song) to your book so you are ready if the schools want to see more
- Prepare your book
- Prepare your music
SENIOR YEAR: MARCH/APRIL
Most schools will make their decisions between March 1-April 1. You may be placed on a wait list for some programs.
This is a great time to decide with your family how you are going to receive the news about acceptances, deferrals, waitlists, or rejections. Most notifications will come via email or phone call, or you will have to check the school's website. Decide who is going to do that. If it's the student, make sure parents honor that plan and don't sneak a peek prematurely.
Visit any schools where you have been accepted.
SENIOR YEAR: MAY
You must put down a deposit on a school by May 1.
Some families may wait to see if their student is taken off the wait list for a certain school. This is super risky if you don’t have a backup that will admit them after May 1.
Families and parents of non-MT/Acting students have no idea how crazy this process is. Your student is doing more than twice the work of other students applying to college. Surviving this season is a huge accomplishment!