COMMENTARY | 10 College Tips for Future Performing Arts Majors

Archive, Opinion, School Year 2021-22, The Arts

By: Rose Coomes

In your senior year, you will make decisions that may decide the course of the rest of your career and life. The college process is becoming more and more stressful and competitive, especially for performing arts majors. After going through the process of applying and auditioning for a degree in violin performance at several different music schools, I asked myself and my colleagues what they wished they had known, what they did that helped them, and what advice they had for people preparing to do the same next year, and these ten tips are what I thought would be most helpful. 

1). Get started now. 

If you take anything away from this article, take this. It’s always better to be too early than late. At this point, juniors should have a running list of colleges. Some things you can get out of the way are your resumes, repertoire lists, essays, etc. They are the little things that turn into what can determine your acceptance into your dream school. The summertime is a great opportunity to add things to your resume, visit colleges, and do trial lessons. You don’t want to have to worry about paperwork and traveling when you have upcoming auditions to practice for. If you need examples of a resume or repertoire list, click on the links. 

2). Audition Repertoire. 

The audition panel hears the same concertos and movements of Bach every year. At an in-person audition, I heard three people play the same Mozart concerto back-to-back with little difference. Make sure to take advantage of the requirement for an extra piece, it is usually described as a, “short virtuosic piece that showcases your ability.” At one audition, I opened with Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 1. I had a lesson with one of the audition personnel a few days later. Although they didn’t remember the concerto or movements of Bach that I played, one of the first things they asked me was, “you were the one who played Jessie Montgomery right?” Most colleges get well over a thousand applicants and auditions, make sure to be memorable. 

Secondly, start thinking about your repertoire now. If you choose to start your repertoire at the beginning of the next year you will be fine, but it will be considerably less stressful if you start during the summer, especially for pre-screen recordings. Even just making a plan before the year starts would be extremely helpful. In addition, when picking your pieces there are a few things to consider: definitely talk with your teacher, don’t play things that are too difficult for you simply because they are difficult-play something you will be able to play well under stress, and don’t change your repertoire at the last minute even if you think you have time. I played two different concertos, one for pre-screens and one for the final audition. I only had about two months to really learn the final audition’s concerto. It is important to refine the piece you play so much that you can play it very well under stress. I could play the piece well in the comfort of my practice room, but as soon as I was in front of an audience it would fall apart. It cost me the quality of my first auditions. 

3). Taking care of yourself. 

BSA’s school schedule is demanding as it is, for those of us who go home just to practice more it can be especially difficult. Over the years, whether you like it or not, we have learned time management skills, like how to balance academics and our arts. Now is the time to use those skills and add in scheduled time for yourself. I can’t count the number of times I wanted to give up this year. Forcing yourself to take time away from your art and school work even if it costs you your grades or approval from teachers is just what you have to do, especially so you don’t burn out or get injured. If your teachers or parents can’t understand, then that’s their problem, not yours. Getting proper sleep, eating well, drinking water, and taking care of your overall well-being, are some of the best things you can do for yourself and are much more important than school. 

Senior violist Sofia Scherer advises that exercise can help decrease stress (safe exercise). According to Mayo Clinic, “exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.” Exercise, meditation, listening to music, or simply taking a walk- whatever works for you- are all things that can help put you in a better state of mind and, in turn, increase your chances of being successful under stress. 

4). Practicing performing. 

No matter how well you play by yourself, nerves can make you forget everything you worked on. Thankfully there is a way to improve performing: by performing. Take advantage of BSA’s repertoire classes and the summer time. During the summer, many churches, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and other community centers are desperate for volunteer performers; it’s a very easy, judgment-free performance opportunity. (Not to mention it looks great on resumes and spreads positivity). 

The thing to remember about performing is the importance of your mindset. It’s not something you can just do when you’re actually performing, you need to practice going into that mindset. “My teacher and I worked on a lot of mental practice this year, and specifically how to practice mindfulness. It’s not just something you can nail during your audition like, ‘oh I’m going to be super mentally aware at the moment,’ because when you’re in a stressful situation, you’re not going to remember to do it. So you have to practice it along with your intonation and bow-distribution and things like that so that you can nail it during the audition and it’ll help you a lot with nerves and things like that” says Leah Vey ‘22, Violist.

5). Colleges and professors do not determine your worth or ability. 

You have to be prepared to be rejected, and know that it doesn’t mean anything against you. Performing arts schools have become increasingly competitive. It doesn’t matter how prepared and talented you are, it costs the school nothing to reject you. Whether you get accepted or not usually has absolutely nothing to do with your worth or ability as an artist or person. Rejection happens to everyone, it’s important to keep your mental state positive. 

Another thing to remember is that the professors and admissions teams you meet are just average people. “Remember that whoever’s judging you is just a human being even if they’re like a professor, you can’t see them as being someone who’s so big, they’re just another person. And they’re probably just as nervous as you are because they’re looking for good students too” says Avagail Hulbert ‘22, Violinist.

6). Check and double check for requirements. 

Whether it’s the application materials or the required repertoire, keep checking it every so often and especially a week or two before the deadline/audition. At my last audition, while waiting for a practice room about an hour before my scheduled audition, I heard other people playing more than one concerto. I thought it was strange so I checked the repertoire, and sure enough they were asking for a whole movement of Mozart with a cadenza along with the usual required concerto. I panicked and wasted a lot of time trying to quickly memorize a movement. Luckily, they didn’t even ask for it in the audition. Not being informed and prepared in an audition can lead the audition panel to think that you’re not interested enough. In addition, most colleges have enough applicants to easily take someone who took the time to check the requirements over someone who didn’t. 

7). Presentation matters. 

The people you will meet are human, and people naturally make biases based on appearances and manners. Wearing a nice audition outfit, hair out of your face, and greeting people with a smile are easy ways to stand above other applicants. No matter how talented you are, if you make a rude or too-good-for-this-school impression, you can be denied over someone who simply made the effort to say good morning or send a thank you note. 

8). Do your research. 

Applying to a school just because of its name is not a good idea. Among many things you should pay attention to who your future private lesson teacher would be. Picking the right teacher is especially important because you will have to spend your next four years with them. That means stepping out of your comfort zone to have trial-lessons. Speaking from this year’s experience, trial-lessons are really not as nerve-wracking as you expect. Just be yourself, and try your best to work well with the professor. An important thing to remember is to take notes after each lesson. Trial lessons will help you decide which school you want to go to. They also show your improvement during your audition, since the teacher will most likely be on the audition panel. 

A few other resources to take advantage of are, “day in the life of a … student,” videos on youtube, and current students’ social media pages. You can usually find current students’ practice routines, concerts, recitals, and information on what going to a certain school is like. 

9). Be organized. 

Senior year will put a lot of demands and expectations on you, both academically and in your art. Staying organized can be the glue that holds everything together. For academics, investing in a planner or wall calendar can help you keep track of everything. For your art, organizing your time and planning out when and what you will practice is important in order to get things done. For the college process specifically, it is imperative that you have some sort of organization technique for due dates, required paperwork, audition repertoire, notes for each school, etc. For me, I kept a live google document with a list of all of my schools and notes for each, like teacher preferences, audition dates/locations, etc. 

10). Be confident in yourself. 

In the end, going to college should and will be a fun, exciting experience. But to get into your dream school, you can’t only rely on luck. Almost no one gets into top schools without hardwork. My last tip is to be confident in yourself. You are unique, talented, and colleges will want you. Don’t downplay anything in interviews, auditions, resumes, or your essay. And don’t be afraid of the odds, there is no harm in applying to a school even if you don’t think you would get in. 

Feel free to ask me or any senior questions, and even about the school we attend next year. A special thanks to senior instrumentalists Sofia Scherer, Leah Vey, and Avagail Hulbert for their tips.

To contact this writer, email Muse Newspaper at