11/11/2014 10:11 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Know Your BFA "Must-Haves"

A little ancient history lesson: the uber popular BFA degree for performance didn't exist in its current form back in early 1971, when I was applying to colleges. If an aspiring thespian wanted an intense conservatory course of study, there were limited options. At that time, there were only a handful of drama, vocal and dance conservatories: Carnegie Mellon, Juilliard, Boston Conservatory, American Conservatory Theatre. The possibility of pursuing conservatory training while, at the same time, gaining a liberal arts college degree was not an option. So I chose to abandon my liberal arts college education after sophomore year for more intense training, and was accepted at the American Conservatory Theatre's 2-year advanced training program.

The birth of the modern BFA has been a gift for millennial performers. Both conservatory training and general education pursuits are happening in tandem at hundreds of universities throughout the country. In fact, the BFA degree offerings seem to be ubiquitous with new ones popping up each year. Take, for example, the new BFA in film acting, which is attracting some interest. Add to that the new specialized degrees for pop vocal and commercial dance. These fine arts tracks are gaining in popularity along side the much sought-after acting and musical theater degrees. The University of Michigan, Pace University, Texas State University, Otterbein University, Penn State University, Rider University and many others are working overtime to keep up with the increased number of applicants.

With so many BFA offerings, students and families can be overwhelmed with the task of compiling a college list that fits their needs. I ask my students to write down their six "Must-Haves." These are the 3 things they are looking for in a college training program, and the 3 things they want in a university. In this new world of BFAs, students travel down these two roads, simultaneously: the academic education road, and performance-training road. No need to abandon one for the other, as I had to do. But application and audition fees can add up. If you don't know where to begin to establish your "Must-Haves", check out my examples of university and program criteria and interview questions, referred to in pages 38-39 of my book, I GOT IN!

But do be sure you know what you want on each road. Let your "Must-Haves" guide you in finding the right college to fit your needs, both academically and in your training. My advice: find the college that gives you what you want. Don't try to be what the college wants. But you have to know what you want! I tell my advisees how fortunate that they can pursue training in a conservatory-styled college curriculum, while also receiving a liberal arts college degree. It can be a win-win, if you know what you "Must Have."