Is higher education right for you? How to find the best fit

o mind here, as well as Viola Davis and many others. But don’t start writing your acceptance speech just yet. First, get the skills and practice you need, and that may mean higher education.

What is right for you here and now, based on what you’ve achieved so far, what skills you’ve mastered, and your temperament (are you outgoing or a bit of an introvert like me?) may work fine in high school, but college will most likely be a different experience. And you may need even more skills to hold your own.

How does that translate into where to get a higher education? Here are some things to keep in mind as you look for the where you belong:

  • Large or small?
  • Are you sure about what your specialty may be? If not, maybe a large performing arts department will give you the chance to dabble a bit before landing on what is right for you.
  • If you are sure about your talents and interests, do you know which of the colleges you are considering will give you the background to become your kind of professional? If you don’t know, now is the time to:
    • Research what professionals in your field actually do, and what courses they suggest you take.
    • List courses that you have to take. Then list courses you’d like to take.
    • Compare your course list to those offered at the universities, colleges, and conservatories you are considering.

Not sure whether a university, college, or conservatory is right for you? Read on.

University

You like crowds? You like being surrounded by loads of people who are either as competitive as hell or think higher education is a marking time device? Or large departments with lots of research, taught by people who have worked in the performing arts? A large and maybe prestigious theatre, film, dance, and music departments with plenty of people to compete with for the lead role? I’m sure Jessica Chastain could hold her own in that environment, but what about what you need? Is it too big, too impersonal? Too competitive?

College

College. Something smaller, with more personal attention, where it isn’t about competition but rather about picking up the skills and techniques you need. Now we are going from the large university, to something smaller and maybe more manageable: colleges within the university or stand-alone colleges.

Colleges—maybe something called the College of the Performing Arts—might be part of a large university, where you can get the university life along with personal attention. Or, as was my college, a liberal arts stand-alone college with a major in theatre.

With either a university or a college, you can earn a four-year degree, such as Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Don’t forget the two-year college, but if you want to go on to a four-year degree, be sure you know what courses will transfer and what courses are required for the degree from the four-year college you’re thinking about.

Conservatory

A conservatory is a place where excellence in the arts is at its core and it’s smaller than a university. You’ll take some general education courses, but nowhere near the requirements of the university and college degrees. A conservatory concentrates on the arts and the skills you need to achieve a career in the performing arts. Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis both went to Julliard, a conservatory. You get a degree, but your education is pretty much condensed to what you need to be a good artist. You spend more time on your art and less on academics. My niece, Sara, went to a conservatory (SCAD), and she is a bright, outgoing, talented, educated person, and has gotten the skills she needs to not only act, but to get into the profession of acting.

Liberal arts

Here comes my bias. A liberal arts college with emphasis on your art, is something any artist ought to consider.

At the heart of art, of making something that asks people to think about their lives, to feel empathy for other people’s trials, and to feel emotions in perhaps a stronger way than most people do in the course of their daily existence, an artist has to understand about the civilizations humans have created and evolved over time and why. Why do they change?

How do you make art that moves people? How do you capture someone’s soul, then recreate it for others in the way that moves them? By knowing what it is to be human. That takes education, observation, empathy, and thinking. Now we are talking about the kind of courses that takes in history, literature, music, science, psychology, philosophy, and the host of achievements and failures of human existence. A liberal arts–generalized studies–helps enormously in understanding what you are creating, why, what form it might take, how it fits in today’s civilization, and where it might be tomorrow.

If you found that last sentence out of your realm of expectations, maybe you are aiming too low. As Les Brown (motivational speaker) said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Get the wisdom from choices already made

Ask your coach/teachers, guidance counselors, and people who have gone ahead of you what you need for the next level. Ask them to help you see things realistically.

I follow Sara and some of her friends on Facebook, and am able to see where the twists and turns their choices take them, and it is enlightening. The point is, ask for help in deciding what comes next. Ask others about their experiences and see how that might affect your decisions.

Your decision: are you up for it?

My liberal arts bias aside, what your authentic person wants to do is personal. It is up to you. At the heart of this kind of decision making shouldn’t be: What would Jessica or Viola do? But what do you need, right now, to get to the next level? What do you want to do? What is your next level?

Keep at it. You don’t make this kind of decision overnight. Know yourself, what makes you get up in the morning, what feels right, what you need to get where you’re going, and what kind of environment you need to get there. This is not about what your friends need or even your parents or teachers. This is not a right or wrong decision. It is a decision that needs self-knowledge, self-awareness, and mindfulness to make.

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