I Think I Am Ready to Start the College Audition Process: What’s My Ideal Timeline?


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11 minutes

“Am I too early?” 

“Am I too late?!”

“When should I turn my Prescreens in?”

“When should I audition for my favorite school?”

“If I start working now, will my material get ‘over-cooked’?”

“Can’t you just tell me what to do and when?”

“I’m on a tight budget — can I still make this happen?”

These are just a few of the many timeline related questions we hear when we meet with students for the first time. Ironically, at basically no time of year do students come to us and say “I think I’m starting at the perfect time”. They all seem to think they are very early or way too late! The truth of this process (as you’ll hear us say many times, in many ways) is that it is incredibly individual to each student. There is no one Magic Timeline that will work for all families. And you’ve already begun Your Timeline by reading this blog! You are at the very least in the Discovery stage. If your child has taken a class or done a show, they have also begun their artistic training. If they’ve been reading books, watching plays (or let’s be honest, Netflix) they are cultivating the kind of young student-artist they are going to present to these schools. In short, the work has already begun and will continue beyond this college audition process, so the question is more in what direction to best focus that work. 

All that said, below I’ve provided a rough template that may be helpful as you construct your own personal timeline. I’ll again give the caveat that there is no one Right way, and this is by no means definitive. I am also going to provide a general idea of when these things might happen under two different starting scenarios: “Early” or “Later”. I’ll trust that you can make the adjustment that feels right to you in the sliding scale of where you are in the process. 

You’ll also note that for the first half of the timeline I’ve separated out the College and Artistic lines. For our purposes “College” will refer to all of the parts of the Application that a non-auditioning student will need (Constructing a School List, Writing Essays, Letters of Recommendation, etc…) and “Artistic” will refer to all of the “audition-based” parts (Skills training, Material preparation, Audition Practice, etc…). In my perfect world these two processes will actually stem from the same Artistic Mission, so that your Artistic work will influence Logistical aspects like your School List construction, and your Essay work might affect your Material Selection. This kind of holistic approach can set you up for success as you get further down the line as we get into the Auditions themselves. However, I think separating them out in a list like this will at times give you an idea of how to best make a plan of attack, especially if you are dividing any of the work.

Discovery

College:

From a college perspective, this stage should be all about exploration! I would look at all kinds of different options before narrowing down. See what’s out there! If your child is precocious enough, have them write out some goals of what you are looking for in a program. Are they looking at BFA, BA, BM? Audition-based on non-audition? Are they hoping for a Liberal Arts environment or a Conservatory? There are pluses and minuses to all of it, depending on what you are looking for. And that is the most important aspect of this stage for me: listen to what comes back to you as you research together. It is not at all uncommon that goals can change the more deeply you explore.

Artistic:

This is a time to be building your skills! You still have real time to make substantive changes to the artist you are bringing in the room. Start off by evaluating where you are realistically, and then invest time in the areas you feel you need the most help. As a Musical Theater applicant, this can mean a lot! You are going to have to Sing, Act, and Dance for these schools. Aside from just your skills, this is a great time to grow and explore your artistry. Remember these schools are looking for curious, flexible young artists and not finished products. One of the best things you can do for yourself during this time period is to lay the foundation of process-based work. If you can start by figuring out how you are going to rehearse, and carry that idea of rehearsal process forward throughout prescreens and into auditions, it will prevent you from ever feeling “stuck” in your choices. Once you start thinking Process over Product, you’ll never go back!

Possible Timing = Early: Freshman + Sophomore year – Fall of Junior year 
Later: Winter – April of Junior Year

Honing in

College:

This is a great time to start zeroing in on the shape of your college list. Based on your personal goals, what kind of net are you going to be casting? Have you explored enough different types of schools so that the balance matches the amount of risk you want to take on (remember, all audition-based schools have an element of risk in them!)? If you feel zeroed in on the approximate shape of your list, you can start looking up Artistic requirements to get a sense of what you’ll need to prepare, though you’ll need to check these again when the official requirements are released for your calendar year. This is also a great time to check in on what you have prepared in terms Letters of Recommendation, Artistic and Academic Resumes, and to plan for the SAT/ACT.

Artistic:

Picking up from your artistic exploration, you’ve started to decide on some material you may be presenting to these auditors. As you build your repertoire, is it representing you in the way you want it to, both from a skills perspective and what you are saying about yourself as an artist? Remember, this is your chance to present the musical revue “(Insert Your Name Here)!” in the form of a few songs, monologues, and dance choreography. Is this the story you want to tell? This stage doesn’t have to be about final decisions, but about expanding possibilities. If there’s an artistic element that scares you (Dance? Shakespeare?), there’s no time like the present to rip off the band-aid and start working on it.

Possible Timing = Early: Winter – April, Later: May-June

Going Deeper

College:

A great time to start forming that Rough Draft of your initial School List. You can always add more schools later! Also a great time to start on your Essays, if you haven’t yet. You can even begin to fill out aspects of the Common App, with official applications opening August 1st.

Artistic:

Now is a great time to really challenge yourself artistically. You’ve likely chosen most of your Prescreen material now, so put it to the test and do the work! The only way you’ll really know if that piece is “right” on you is if you dig deep into it. Don’t let yourself get stuck on the exploration stage and have a bunch of partially worked on pieces. Now is the fun part. Go for it artistically! Also, if you haven’t yet started to think about a Wildcard, now is a great time to do so. We put our MTCA Faculty Masterclasses in this time period as an opportunity for our students to truly dive deeper into the work, as well as potentially make an early connection.

Possible Timing = Early: May-July, Later: July-Sept

The “Prescreens”

College:

Now is the time to finish any of the above aspects of the applications that you haven’t gotten to. In general you are submitting the prescreens and the applications at the same time, though it does vary school-by-school in terms of the exact process.

Artistic:

You’ll notice the quotes on “Prescreens” because it’s one of my pet-peeves in this process. These are Self-Tape Auditions! Anything that happens afterward should be considered a “Callback”, in my humble opinion. If you’ve done the work up to this point, and your work is representative of your best artistic self, then it is time to click record!

Possible Timing = Early: Late August – September, Later: Late September – Early November*

*Be sure to check those deadlines!

Preparing for “Live” Auditions

College:

As you start hearing back from Prescreen Schools, or for those that don’t have Prescreens, you can start scheduling those auditions. Remember for any Early auditions to check that they may have earlier application/prescreen deadlines. Which might you do at Unifieds, On Campus, or over Zoom?

Artistic:

Now that your prescreens are filmed, it’s time to turn your attention to the “live” audition aspects you may have been neglecting. Note that this applies to both Zoom and In-Person Auditions. Have you worked on how you walk in a room, slate, and talk to an accompanist? Have you practiced getting adjustments on your material and answering interview questions? We put our MTCA Mock Auditions in this period for our students to practice those Audition Skills, as well as continue to work on their material.

Possible Timing = Early: September – October, Later: October – November

Early Audition Season

Now you are beginning your Audition journey in earnest! At MTCA, we love Early Auditions. It allows you to spread out a long audition season over multiple months. Slowly getting your feet wet into the process, and strategically figuring out what should be scheduled first versus what is scheduled later in the audition season. Remember, you’ll get better as an auditioner as you audition!

Timing = Oct – Dec

Prime Audition Season

This is the fun part! Your weekends are going to get pretty crazy in these months. Clear that calendar if you can! Lots of sleep, an open heart, and a sense of play will be your friends in these months.

Timing = January – February*

*Later auditions can continue into March/April!

Gathering Results

You can start hearing back from schools almost anytime after you start auditioning! But you’ll be getting the bulk of your results in March and into April. These could say Accepted, Deferred, Waitlisted, or Rejected (as well as a bunch of other things that mean Deferred/Waitlisted). Some schools will split your Academic and Artistic acceptances, which can be heartbreaker is one is a yes and the other is a no. This can be a great time time to get away from the college process while you’re waiting. Get outside! Watch some Netflix! Hang out with your friends who you’ve been neglecting these past few months!

Timing = March – April

Making a Decision

You’ve done it! Our goal for our MTCA students is always for them to have multiple options. We offer a free consultation at the end of the year for all of our students, and nothing makes us happier than when we have multiple good options and can help our students with financial negotiation! The process really loops back around to where it began: what do you want in a program? Has it changed as you’ve gone through the Crucible of this process? So often the schools that are the right fit for a student are the ones that accept them! Remember, this process is a symbiotic one: the schools want to accept students that will flourish at their programs!

Timing = April – before May 1st*

*National Decision day is May 1st!

I know that looks overwhelming. It can be as you look at the whole year. But you can absolutely do it! I know from doing this over 15 years, where there’s a will there’s a way. I’ll leave you with an Arthur Ashe quote: 

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”. 

As you approach your own personal timeline one chunk at a time, if you have the resources to use a program like MTCA, I highly recommend it! If you don’t, I’d recommend using what resources you do have access to and approach this process as well as you can with your own artistic integrity. I believe in you!

Charlie Murphy

About Charlie Murphy

Charlie is a proud graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s BFA program. As an Actor he has performed with theaters such as: NY Public Theatre’s “Shakespeare in the Park”, The Pearl Theatre Company, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Chautauqua Theatre Company, Kinetic Theatre Company, and the Shakespeare Theatre of DC.

With MTCA, he has been helping prospective theatre students through the college process for over 15 years. As a Teacher and Co-Director, he is able to do a few of his favorite things in life: help students to find their authentic selves as artists, and then help them find their best fit for their collegiate journey.