Preparing for Your College Tours

Visiting a school is really a 2-way street. It does send a message to a college that you are interested. It also gives you a chance to visualize being a student on that campus. Time and again I am surprised by the visceral responses students have to different school environments. Too big? Too remote? Not urban enough? Not enough places to eat late at night? I have had students make their final decision about a school based on what they ate during their visit!

Here is a brief checklist of things to consider:

  1. Do you like the physical environment? How big is the campus? How many students?
  2. Do you like the academic environment?
  3. Do you like the social environment?
  4. Are there financial aid considerations that you should keep in mind when looking out of state or at private school options?
  5. What type of access will I have to studio, performance or production space?
  6. How many students drop out or transfer after their freshman year?
  7. When I visit can I meet someone in a particular department? Is there a current student I can talk to?

Here is how you can be prepared when you tour:

  1. Do your research. Identify courses and professors who are of interest to you.
  2. Plan your questions. Do not ask something you could easily find on their website. Do ask about research opportunities, internships and career counseling.
  3. Make an appointment with a faculty member. Do not just “drop by.” Set up an appointment with a faculty member you have identified.
  4. If Admissions offers “optional” interviews, you should try to schedule an appointment when you are on campus. This will provide an opportunity for you to show your interest in the campus by discussing what you have researched.
  5. If you do not have a scheduled appointment with a faculty member in your department, make sure to either schedule a tour of that specific department or if those are not offered, stop by and introduce yourself to someone in the office.
  6. Inquire as to whether you are able to sit in on a class. Some schools are happy to let you do so.
  7. Pick up a copy of the student newspaper while you’re on campus. It generally offers an uncensored take on the issues facing students and the college as a whole.
  8. Walk around campus and talk to students. Ask them about their experience with registering for classes, the dorms, student support services and anything else they want to talk to you about. Most students who see someone touring the campus on their own are happy to stop and talk about their life on campus.

Be creative in how you schedule tours to make the most of your time and cut down on travel expenses. Do not just show up on campus. Registering for an official campus tour is important and will put you in their “system.” Don’t miss out on this important opportunity to discover if a particular school and program has what you are looking for!

Posted in Admissions Requirements, Choosing a College, Counseling for Visual and Performing Arts, High School Junior Year | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Programs in Acting and Musical Theatre by Robynne O’Byrne

Hey Juniors!

If you are seriously considering applying to college for acting or musical theatre, now is the time to start thinking about doing a summer theatre program. The vast majority of kids who are accepted into the top acting and musical theatre programs have participated in at least one rigorous summer program. Attending one of these programs offers you several benefits.

– Many of the more competitive summer programs offer serious training by experienced faculty. Often the faculty come from BFA programs at colleges around the country. By participating in a summer program you can receive excellent training around monologue work, acting, voice and dance technique and audition preparation.

– Some of the programs are offered at universities with strong BA or BFA programs. Attending one of these programs can give you a good sense of the program at the school in which it is offered. For example, UCLA has a summer program that is staffed by the UCLA faculty. Students attending the UCLA summer program have an opportunity to learn a great deal about the program as well as to become familiar with the faculty. The faculty also has a chance to become familiar with you, which can be an advantage when you’re auditioning down the line (if you made a good impression that is!).

– Many summer programs allow you to meet faculty from different BFA programs across the country. You can get exposure to many different teaching styles and learn a great deal about the programs in which the faculty teaches. For example, The Performing Arts Project (TPAP) offers an excellent summer program for both theatre and musical theatre and the teaching faculty is comprised of professional actors and faculty members from a wide variety of BFA programs. Attending a program such as TPAP will allow you to make connections with all of these faculty members and also help you decide if you are interested in applying to their programs.

– Attending a rigorous summer program also gives you an opportunity to discover whether or not a conservatory style program is interesting to you and whether you are more inclined toward pursuing a BA or a BFA. For example, my son Sam (currently a sophomore in the Acting program at Carnegie Mellon) attended the musical theatre summer program at the University of Michigan the summer after his junior year in high school. Heading into the summer Sam was convinced he wanted to pursue a BA so that he could get a broad education while also focusing on theatre. After spending three intensive weeks at MPulse Sam realized that he really wanted to pursue a BFA. He also learned quite a bit about both the University of Michigan and the industry as a whole. Sam was exposed to people involved in many aspects of the industry and realized that pursuing a BFA in Acting would prepare him for many possible jobs within the industry.

– Attending a summer program away from home indicates to faculty and admissions counselors that you are capable of being away from home and that you are serious about your discipline. Also, you will have an opportunity to experience what it is like to study your craft full time. You’ll make connections with other students interested in pursuing the arts and get a sense of how your skills and talent compares with other students auditioning for top programs.

There a many good summer programs out there. Some are audition based and some simply require an application. Which sort of program you choose depends a great deal on your objectives. If you are interested in learning more about summer program opportunities here is a good resource:

http://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/resources/15-amazing-pre-college-summer-theater-programs/

This is not a comprehensive list. If you would like some advice or guidance on choosing and applying for a summer program feel free to contact me at: robynne@creativekcc.com.

Posted in Counseling for Visual and Performing Arts, High School Junior Year, Summer programs for high school students | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In The Thick of It: Helping Your Child Get The College Applications In! By Robynne O’Byrne

I still remember the moment my son Sam pressed submit on his first college application. We stared at the screen for a long time before he finally pushed the button. It seemed as if his entire future rested on that one little motion. We both worried about whether or not everything had been filled out properly, whether or not his essays were good enough, were his academic records and recommendations linked to the Common app..… So many worries!

We held our breath as the beach ball spun around and around and after what seemed like an eternity an error message popped up. The credit card number that we used to pay for the submission had been entered incorrectly. Ack!!!  So we went through the entire process again. When the message came up that the application had been submitted successfully we sighed with relief. It got easier and easier to press the submit button over the course of the next few months.

What didn’t seemed to get easier however was the time in between submitting one application and finishing the next one. This was particularly true in October. There was still so much to do – multiple applications to complete, supplemental essays to write, pre-screens to film – but nothing was really due until November at the earliest. So although I felt the urgency for Sam to keep things moving, he seemed to feel he had all the time in the world!

I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to make sure Sam stayed on track. So I nudged, sometimes nagged him to work on his essays or enter information into the next application. I checked and rechecked the application time-line and the spreadsheet containing all the pertinent dates and deadlines. Over and over again I questioned whether I was doing enough, doing too much or doing the wrong things.

Some time in the middle of October I realized I needed to take a step back and figure out what I could do that was truly helpful to him and what was just getting in the way or creating conflict between us. I had hired a team of people to help Sam, as is often necessary for kids applying for the performing arts, and I decided I needed trust that they were guiding him and keeping him on track. His acting and vocal coaches were working with him on the artistic parts of his applications and my partner Harriet was working with him on his essays. I knew it was important that he have an outside person guiding him here because it would be easier for Sam to take critical feedback from Harriet than from me.

Still, I knew he needed my support. So I finally just asked him – how can I be most helpful to you? He told me that hovering over him, nagging him about dates and deadlines, was very irritating. But he also admitted that he was feeling pretty overwhelmed and that he did need and want my help. To my surprise he said the thing that caused him the most stress was worrying about scheduling his auditions, figuring out how to upload his pre-screens, making sure everything was entered into his applications correctly and just keeping track of all materials he had to prepare for auditions. So we figured out a way for us to work together on these things.

I find that my experience with Sam is not unique. At this time of year I get many phone calls and emails from parents of the students I am working with. They ask me if their child is on track, should the essays and applications be getting done more quickly, what more can they be doing as parents? I empathize with their worries and acknowledge that October is a hard month. If this process is a marathon, October is only the 5th mile. Students are still getting the hang of writing their essays and many are still waiting for their school counselors to do their part to link up the Common App with Naviance. Pre-screens are still being filmed, resumes are being revised and head shots being taken. Most performing arts students are also performing in their fall show. So there is a lot on their plate.

I reassure parents that I am tracking their student’s progress and remind them that the application spreadsheet I create for my students has all the pertinent dates, deadlines and application requirements for applying to each school. I encourage parents to refer to it often to keep track of what needs to be done. I also create a monthly timeline for completing each application and I review it weekly with my students. The “to-do” list I send to my students after our sessions gives them a framework for working on applications and helps to limit the sense of overwhelm that can set in. I also I ask my students to send me essay drafts between our sessions so I can make suggestions. This helps students stay engaged in the writing process.  And I promise to send out an alert if a student is falling behind. I remind parents that most applications aren’t due until at least Dec 1st (though certainly a few are due in November) and that there is still plenty of time, so long as the student is actively engaged with me in the process. I tell them we can work together to support their child.

In terms of parental involvement, I encourage parents to speak with their children, ask them what would be the most helpful. Often they will find that it is the more practical or logistical aspects of the process that their child needs help with. Something as simple as filling out the demographic portion of the application can seem confusing and overwhelming to a teenager.

I tell parents it’s ok to take over some of the “administrative” tasks, like filling out the family information section of an application. I encourage them to think of themselves as the Administrative Assistant, helping to get the ancillary tasks done so that the student and I can focus on the essays and the artistic aspects of the application. Most students are happy to have their parents help out with these sort of tasks and many feel relieved to know that they don’t have to manage them on their own. The process itself is so complex, with so many steps, that most students simply cannot manage it without a great deal of support. I encourage parents to review each application before it is submitted just to catch any discrepancies.

For the most part I find this approach works very well. As long as no one on the “team” is working harder than the student, things have a way of getting done on time. Essays get written, applications get completed and auditions get scheduled. In the few instances in which a student is truly resistant to participating in the process, I remind parents that when students are not able or willing to put in the time to apply to college, then they are probably not ready to handle to responsibilities of being in college.
Fortunately for those of us who have children interested in applying to performing arts programs, their passion for their craft is a great motivator. I find that most of my students enjoy sharing their love  of music, theatre or dance through their essays and auditions.Yes, the process can be demanding and stressful, but it can also be a celebration of all the years of hard work and preparation. Although the next few months might seem interminably long, the end of the process will bring big rewards. In my experience there is a place for every student and every student will find their place. When they do, you will share in their joy, knowing you played a pivotal role in helping them get there!

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Guiding A Child Through the Application/Audition Process for the Performing Arts

On the last night before the Unified auditions, I sat alone in my hotel room, reflecting on what the previous year had been like. I almost couldn’t believe the whole crazy experience would soon be over. Somewhere in the hall my son Sam was filming a silly Snapchat story with one of his friends. As the night wore on, I fought the urge to tell him it was time to come in and get some rest. Eventually I texted him and suggested that perhaps it was time to call it a night. Predictably he sent back a text telling me not to worry, that he “had it under control”. This had been the dance we’d been doing for the last 7 or 8 months. Sometimes he took my advice, sometimes I didn’t give him a choice, and sometimes he would push back hard and I would back off.

If there is anything I see other parents struggle with as they try to help their children navigate this process, it’s finding that balance between helping and controlling, doing too much or not doing enough. Figuring out the “right” way to be involved is tough. Every child is different and what works for one may not work for another. But the important thing is to be involved. Most kids cannot handle all the demands of this process alone. In addition to getting through their senior year, theatre students are also performing in shows and managing the complicated and confusing application and audition process. In order for kids to be successful in this endeavor, they need to truly understand the programs they are applying to and carefully prepare for their auditions. They need to present their best selves and remain poised under enormous pressure. In order to do this they need tremendous support from the important figures in their lives.

I spent a great deal of time considering when and how to be helpful to Sam. I wanted to make sure he was engaged in the process and that it was his process, not mine. I knew that if I took on too much responsibility, or did the work for him instead of with him, he wouldn’t feel ownership over it. On the other hand, I could see how overwhelmed he was becoming as he tried to balance the demands of his senior year, school performances and the application/audition process. So I began to think of myself as a scaffold, there to support him and hold things together. I wanted to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.

I saw my primary role as that of a consultant. I offered him advice when he asked and sometimes even when he didn’t. Occasionally he needed an assistant and I would do the busywork of the applications so that he could focus on his audition material or his essay writing. Sometimes he needed a manager, so on a few occasions I set limits around social activities when I knew there were important deadlines coming up. And sometimes we argued. More times than not I let him choose how he wanted to handle things. When I thought it was really important, I pushed harder for him to prioritize his applications or audition prep. We had countless conversations about deadlines, priorities, preparation, rest, focus, commitment, and many other application/audition related topics. Those conversations didn’t always translate into the action I was hoping for, but more times than not Sam did what he needed to do. I could see that he was learning from his mistakes and even though it wasn’t always obvious, he was listening to me. Together we muddled through and in the end it made us closer.

Supporting my son through the application/audition process was one of the most challenging and gratifying experiences I have had as a parent.  Watching him handle the ups and downs, push past his fears and ultimately succeed in finding his way was exciting to witness and share.  Along the way Sam needed to know he had a touchstone, a steady hand to guide him. This gave him the grounding he needed to hang in there when it all felt like too much or when he felt an audition hadn’t gone well. More than once he said “thanks Mom, I couldn’t have done this without you”.  All children need that steady hand. Exactly how your hand will guide your child may be different than how I guided mine, but with gentle and persistent support your child will also find the way. In the end, you, and they, will be richer for the experience.
My next few blogs will focus on the technical aspects of the application process and how to navigate the many minefields your student may encounter along the way. I will talk about how to make a balanced list of schools, when to start preparing audition pieces and a variety of other important topics that can help you and your student stay on track. Robynne O’Byrne

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THE NEW 2016 SAT AND HOW IT AFFECTS VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS STUDENTS

Changes are coming to the SAT in 2016! The redesigned SAT will debut in March 2016 and will affect the class of 2017 and beyond. I have asked my colleague Patrick Hennes to break down the changes so that students can make informed decisions regarding their test prep plans. Patrick serves as Senior Director at AJ Tutoring, a group of professional educators located in the Bay Area. He’s been working with students in support of their SAT and ACTs for over 10 years.

Rising seniors (class of 2016) will not need to take the new test. Rising sophomores (class of 2018) will only have the option of taking the new test. Rising juniors (class of 2017) can choose to take either the current SAT or the redesigned SAT, or both.

The 2015 PSAT will be based on the redesigned SAT and will reflect the new format. The last administrations of the current SAT will take place in January 2016.

The current SAT vs. the new 2016 SAT
Score is out of 2400 points total Maximum score is 1600 points
3 sections: critical reading, math, and writing 3 sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math, and the optional essay
25-minute non-optional persuasive essay that requires students to develop their own evidence 50-minute optional essay that asks students to analyze evidence from a source and examine the persuasive abilities of the author
Critical reading includes multiple-choice reading comprehension questions based on passages In the evidence-based reading and writing section, students will have to support answers with evidence drawn directly from the passage
Sentence completion questions include a range of vocabulary, with obscure words in the most difficult questions Vocabulary will be easier and more focused on words students will use outside of the SAT
A calculator is allowed on all math sections Students will not be able to use a calculator on one math section
“Guessing penalty” (-.25 points for wrong answers) No points subtracted for wrong answers
3 hours and 45 minutes long 3 hours long, plus 50 minutes for the optional essay

Which tests should visual and performing arts students in the class of 2017 plan to take?

While there are many testing schedules that could work, most students specializing in in the creative arts should fall into one of three tracks:

  • The “hedge your bets” plan: take the current SAT in fall 2015, the redesigned SAT in March 2016, and the ACT in April 2016.
  • Spring semester testing plan: take the redesigned SAT in March 2016 and the ACT in April 2016.
  • The “SAT only” plan: take the current SAT in fall 2015 and the redesigned SAT in March 2016.

Patrick and everyone at AJ Tutoring are always happy to chat about a particular student’s needs, learning style, and goals to help identify the best plan as a student begins his or her standardized testing.  Please feel free to reach out to AJ Tutoring at (650) 331-3251 or (408) 345-5200 for more information or to discuss a great testing plan and visit their website, ajtutoring.com. You can reach Patrick directly at (650) 331-3251 ext. 704 or pat@ajtutoring.com.

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The College Waitlist: rational advice on what to do next

I know that there have been many articles written about the limbo of being placed on a waitlist. Trying to figure out who gets admitted off the waitlist, how colleges prioritize those candidates and what if anything can be done to get the attention of admissions is an age-old conundrum. I want to cut through the noise and give very practical advice to any student giving a second thought to their position on a waitlist.

  1. Accept an offer of admission from one of the schools that have admitted you by May 1. Don’t just accept the offer, but fully engage. Wear their sweatshirt, join their Facebook group, put down your housing deposit and fully embrace your status as a member of their incoming class. There is a reason that they accepted you and it just may be that they are the best fit for you. Don’t underestimate how important this is.
  2. If you remain focused on a school that has placed you on their waitlist, please remember that this isn’t personal. There are just too many qualified students who are applying to the same schools. You should, however, take advantage of every opportunity to let them know why you want to be considered for admission. Email them, let them know about accomplishments more recent than the data in your application and above all, respond with a “yes I will attend” to let them know you mean business.
  3. A visit to the school can help. Try to make a connection to the department where you want to study and make sure your admissions counselor knows you are there.
  4. Request that your high school counselor contact the school to reiterate your interest and to determine if they can provide any additional information that could support your desire to attend that school.

Trying to predict what percentage of students will be admitted off the waitlist at any given school is nearly impossible. Schools will not publish if they rank their waitlist and the truth of the matter is that they have deeply ingrained reasons for using their waitlist. Sometimes it is to placate alumni. Sometimes it is to manage the demographic of their freshman class. If you really want to find out how colleges have used their waitlist to craft their freshman class, you can Google “X College Waitlist 2014” to see if they publish this information. You can also check the Common Data Set to see if your school has published their waitlist data. You can either search “Common Data Set” on the school’s website or Google “Common Data Set” and the institution name. For instance, you can find out how many students were enrolled from Northwestern’s waitlist in 2013: Northwestern University Common Data Set.

What we do know for certain is that schools put large numbers of students on the waitlist with a relatively few number of students ultimately being offered admission. My final advice is that you do not leave your future to the whims of the waitlist. Commit to the top choice school that admitted you and if a waitlist spot is offered to you then make the final decision that meets your needs. You may just find that you don’t want to take off that comfy sweatshirt from your initially admitted school.

 

 

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The Growth of the Creative Economy and a Changing Jobs Landscape

I am speaking this weekend at the Dare 2b Digital Conference here in Silicon Valley. My topic is: The Growth of the Creative Economy and a Changing Jobs Landscape.

The growth of interdisciplinary degrees is proof that educators are looking closely at the benefits of a culture of learning where both right and left-brain thinking are encouraged. The happy result of blending a conceptual and technical education is a student ready to fill jobs new to our economy. As I have written previously, I believe that the skills that an arts-based degree develops are extremely valuable attributes in our changing work environment.

Interdisciplinary programs such as those offered through the BXA Program at Carnegie-Mellon, The Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts program at UC San Diego and the Computing and the Arts Program at Yale are evidence that colleges are looking to satisfy the demand for integrating a study of the arts with computer science and other diverse fields.

The reason graduates with creative degrees are highly sought after is that hiring managers understand the essential skills that these degrees engender. These attributes are the skills that a valuable employee exhibits:

  • Fearlessness
  • Communication
  • Analytic Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership

The culture of collaboration in these interdisciplinary programs is a predominant characteristic. I am convinced that learning how to solve problems creatively will ultimately play a significant role in our ability to successfully compete in a global economy.  I am not alone in this opinion.  As Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent New York Times column, “Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so in many non-traditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one….”

Posted in Choosing a College, Choosing a Major, Counseling for Visual and Performing Arts, Jobs in the creative arts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment