by: Gigi Watson, MCA Coach
As you set out on the exciting journey of deciding which college theatre programs are right for you, you’ll quickly find that there are many roads you can take to get to your dream theatre destination. Two of the main highways may seem similar, but they represent different paths in terms of how your time will be spent along the way. These are the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). Both have their peaks and valleys, beautiful scenery, fun rest stops, and many late nights of rare and blurry Lin-Manuel Miranda throwback videos with your friends over the finest ramen and diet coke in all the land. So, which road is right for you? Let’s break it down!
What type of person are you?
Do you already know that what you want more than anything is to fully immerse yourself in your chosen focus (acting, singing, dance, or otherwise)? If your heart skips a beat at the thought of getting to live and breathe studio-style theatre classes all day, every day, before heading off to rehearsals for a show at night, then a conservatory BFA program (such as Boston Conservatory or Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) might be calling your name. If you’re thinking you would love that level of intensity with a little more breathing room for non-theatrical classes and activities, then a non-conservatory style BFA (such as Emerson College, Syracuse University, or Elon College) might be the ticket. Are you a self-directed type of person? If you’re thinking “woah woah, I’m so interested in a variety of elements of theatre, I don’t want to start off by limiting myself when I could instead design my own path to suit my needs,” then the more open road of the BA is looking good. With a BA, you will often have more room to choose your own adventure in terms of classes and experiences, but that also means more responsibility to map your own journey through four years of a program.
What do you want from your education?
Ask yourself if opportunities like studying abroad, exploring your writing abilities, getting that improv class in, honing your stage combat skills, or giving film acting a try are important to you. Are you excited by directing, playwriting, design, teaching, stage managing, or other elements of theatre? There are absolutely ways to explore these interests in either a BFA or BA program, but there is no getting around the fact that it will be harder to do so in a BFA track, where your schedule is more heavily preconfigured for you with required theatre classes. Sadly, there are only so many hours in a semester. However, every program will be different, and remember that this isn’t a Tesla Model S - you are steering this car! Which leads me to my final and perhaps most important piece of advice…
Do your research!
Each school will have a course credit outline on their website. It’s essentially a general map of how each year would look for you as a student at that school. This is a great way to see how your time would be used in each BFA program, or how much free time you would have to play with in each BA program. Each school has different requirements for credit hours spent inside and outside of the theatre studios. At Emerson, for example, I was able to pursue the BFA track and also take the hardest academic classes offered in other subjects that I was passionate about, like history and literature. But again, this is all school-specific, so use those Googles!
If you aren’t finding all of the answers you’re hoping for on the college’s website, or if you just want a more specific idea of the student experience, call or email the school and ask them! As someone who has worked as the person on the other end of that phone call in the Performing Arts admissions office at Emerson College, trust me when I say that they want to help you. I used to get a lot of calls that started with “well, I saw on College Confidential…” or “I heard from someone else...”. The best way to get answers for many of your BFA vs. BA questions is to go directly to the source. You are auditioning these schools and programs as much as they are auditioning you. Empower yourself with knowledge, and you can’t go wrong. And remember, this is your four years. No matter what you choose, college is what you make it. You’re in the driver's seat, starting now! So buckle up those character shoes, fire up your curiosity engine, and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be great.
Monologue Coach/Acting for the Song Coach @ My College Audition
In addition to coaching with My College Audition, Gigi is a Boston-based actor whose work can be seen and heard on the stages, screens, radios, and dog instagrams of New England and beyond. She has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Emerson College.
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