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Tips for Navigating Art, Film, Architecture and other Special Programs
So you want to be the next Picasso...Or the next Scorsese...Or the next Frank Lloyd Wright?
In other words, you have decided to depart from the well-trodden path of law, medicine, engineering, computer science, and business. Instead, you have decided to pursue an artistic calling such as film, architecture, design, music, or theater. But you are wondering where to start:
Should you also aim for schools like Harvard and Stanford? Are you expected to ace the SATs like everyone else? Are there special scholarships for art-oriented students? What kind of preparation do you need?
Here at Hale, we have worked with students who have passions outside traditional fields. Many have gone on to successfully pursue these programs at the college level. Based on our experience, here is what we recommend:
- Conduct Proper College Research
While schools like Harvard have produced luminaries such as Natalie Portman and Yo-Yo Ma, there are other institutions that excel even more in these particular fields. For instance, University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts is regularly ranked as the best film school in the world. With cutting edge facilities, vast Hollywood connections and alumni such as George Lucas, Forest Whitaker, and Ron Howard, it is easy to see why this is the case.
Proper research entails paying attention to different criteria, ranging from the amount of resources that a school provides to the industry connections that the school has. Working with a counselor can greatly smoothen the process of researching and selecting schools that are suited for your specific field of interest. A counselor can help you identify whether a school that has the kinds of resources that you need to thrive and how these resources compare with those of other schools.
Hale counselors can also help you figure out where the most outstanding professors are, the best locations for internship and work opportunities (for example Los Angeles and New York for film students), and the correlation between rankings and recruitment into the industry. Companies are known to recruit from some schools more than others, and you certainly need to be aware of this dynamic when doing your research.
In the past, conducting college research was a tedious process. However, the internet has made a huge difference today. A simple Google search can get you started on the right track, but you need to spend plenty of time checking different college profiles on reliable websites such as Niche and US News, and more importantly, on individual college websites. Ensure you take note of everything that strikes you in the course of your research; knowing your schools is the first step towards earning admission.
Once you begin your research, you will realize that universities that offer the best programs in film, music, architecture and similar disciplines are not necessarily the ones you hear about every day. If you are interested in film, for instance, your choices could range from Emerson College in Boston to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Future architects will learn that schools like Syracuse and Virginia Tech have top notch programs, while painters and visual artists will find unrivaled programs in schools such as RISD and SCAD.
The more you do your research, the more you will find out which schools are a good match for you. You must start your research early, and for every school that you decide to add to your list, ensure that you subscribe to their newsletters and click on any emails they send you. According to the Washington Post, these days, many colleges gauge the level of interest of potential applicants by tracking the amount of time they spend engaging with their digital platforms.
- Understand the Requirements
You have done your research. You have settled on a long list of fifteen or twenty schools that you want to seriously consider applying to. What next? The second most important thing you need to know is the requirements. Often, admission to these programs requires more than your grades.
Most schools will want you to demonstrate a strong passion in the area that you plan to pursue. This means showing that you have taken related courses, done summer programs in this specific field, attained some work experiences, or pursued personal projects. Again, counselors can come in handy in assisting you to enrich your profile by providing guidance on what courses and activities to pursue ahead of the application season.
The most critical component for application to these programs is the portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of work that you have produced as an artist, painter, designer etc. For aspiring painters and visual artists, schools will expect to see a range of ten to twenty five pieces that you created in the past. For students interested in film, most schools will expect to see a sample of a film or script that you have created in the past.
Portfolio requirements vary with the school. For instance, RISD, one of the best schools for visual arts, required students to provide a portfolio with twelve to twenty pieces in any visual medium. In addition, applicants were expected to complete an extra “assignment” that involved creating a visual reaction to an object in the natural world. On the other hand, NYU’s Tisch School of Arts required students to submit a 1-page creative resume, a short story, a two-minute video about yourself, and a creative submission (a film or piece of creative writing).
Requirements are updated every year, so you need to make sure you have checked the most recent ones and start preparing accordingly.
- Be Aware of Deadlines
Some of these programs have deadlines that differ from the regular college deadlines. For instance, while the regular deadline for the University of Southern California is January 15, applicants to the School of Cinematic Arts are expected to submit their applications by December 1. Similarly, students interested in pursuing film production at Chapman’s Dodge College are expected to submit their applications by November 1. Applications submitted after this date are considered late.
To prepare a winning portfolio and craft memorable essays will take several months, and for this reason, you need to start now. If your application is outstanding enough, you might even get awarded a substantial merit scholarship like many of our past students!
Elijah Koome is an educational consultant and a graduate of Amherst College.
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