Karen Lomas
February 28, 2016

How to Apply to an American Performing Arts College




In Year 10 my daughter, Holly said she wanted to apply to study at an American Performing Arts College. Her school based Career Practitioner said nothing and simply drew “$$$$” on her careers planner. Aside of the fact that the careers practitioner was, by doing this, making a values judgement upon my daughter’s dream, it did nothing other than to spur my daughter into working hard towards fulfilling her passion.

If your child has been a passionate performer over his or her school years, works hard and is determined to receive rigourous training in musical theatre, dancing or acting, there is rather more to be done than for most other course applications. If they wish to look beyond the home shores – after all there are not very many good quality performing arts courses in Australia, and those that do exist have tiny annual intakes (West Australian Academy of Dramatic Arts, as an example takes 10 male and 10 female applicants from over 800 applicants), it’s harder still to keep on top of the process.

So the American Performing Arts College singled out by my daughter and detailed in this blog, was the American Music and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). AMDA, set up in 1964 by actor and Instructor Phillip H Burton, adoptive father of Richard Burton, has it’s main base in Los Angeles, but also has a Manhattan campus. The first thing to be said about this choice was that, being a specialist College, offering bachelor degrees and conservatory courses in performing arts majors: Musical Theatre, Dance and Acting, it was not necessary for Holly to sit the SAT. The SAT is an aptitude test governed by The College Board. Typically students will sit an SAT in year 10 or 11, and it can be taken multiple times if the student is hoping for a particular score in order to gain entry to a desired College in the USA.

For performing artists who might be working on a show or taking extra dance classes outside of school, preparing to sit an SAT is arduous and time consuming, so we were reluctant to go down that path. What a relief then, when we found that all AMDA was looking for, from an academic record perspective, was her Grade Point Average (GPA). This was where the acceptance process, post the audition step (I’ll come back to that), really slowed down and became a bit nightmarish. So be warned, this stuff can take time!

To obtain a student’s GPA, his or her exam results must be sent to be converted into a result that the American College admissions board can understand. A Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) result is not well understood outside of Australia and so the conversion is required. Holly’s results from years 11 and 12, so NOT her ATAR, but her subject results, be they As, Bs, Cs, are recorded by, in her case in Victoria, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). Happily for Holly, a Merit Scholarship came her way by virtue of her GPA. Once an International Scholarship was added she was gratefully in receipt of a sum that more than covered her accommodation costs. Of course international colleges are pricey, and so do your due diligence, but with savings , by selling a car, and with birthday money added, our daughter was showing a resolve to contribute. This is the stuff you have to decide upon as a family; what financial commitment you are prepared to make to your child’s future. This is your business, nobody else’s!

Back to the issue of performing arts auditions. Australian and international dance and drama schools will all require either a face-to-face or recorded audition submission. The audition process is rigorous and performing arts students must be very well prepared. Universities and Colleges offering Acting, Dance and Musical Theatre courses will publish their audition requirements on their websites. Typically, for a course such as Holly’s bachelor of Fine Arts (Musical Theatre), prospective students are required to perform at least one song, one or two monologues and must learn a dance routine. The applicant will be expected to bring their own music, and for both songs and monologues is required to perform at audition without the script/words in front of them. It’s enough to send shivers through most, but if the student is serious about performing arts they must have the resilience to stand up to such scrutiny. Incidentally, AMDA takes students from a large number of international locations and auditions take place in major cities worldwide.

So my daughter commenced at her American Performing Arts College, AMDA, last week. She shares a dorm room and is having classes in subjects ranging from Critical Studies and English, to Piano, Ballet and Stage Combat. She is having to find her way in a new city in a new nation and is meeting students from all over the world. Who knows what will come from the experience, but as I’m telling so many students and parents, there are no promises or guarentees coming out of any course or attached to any profession. This was a challenging process to navigate and so I’m confident that having committed to all of this that my daughter’s dedication will endure. Only time, and a bit of song and dance, will tell.

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