To B(FA) or Not To B(FA)

Preparing for College in a BFA Program

Preparation and Application Steps for High School Students Interested in Pursuing the Visual and Performing Arts

Overview

The earlier a student can identify that they wish to pursue a course of study in the visual or performing arts the better. Generally speaking, students in music and dance will have begun learning their respective instrument or dancing at a young age, while students in visual and other performing arts (film, video game design, theater, opera) may have begun their practice come middle school or even high school. For all students seeking a BFA in the arts, rigorous practice and dedication in high school is essential. 

Many people mistakenly believe that pursuing a degree in the arts is less rigorous and challenging than a pursuing degree in another field. This is not the case! Students who apply to BFA programs not only have to undertake and complete the same applications and essays that other college seeking students do, but they must also prepare a portfolio or an audition for presentation. 

BA vs BFA vs AA

Not all colleges offer a BFA in the respective artistic discipline, but still offer a BA in Music, Visual Arts, Theater, etc. Students should understand the difference and make a choice accordingly. For BA visual and performing art majors, no audition is required. The BA is different from the BFA in that students will continue to take the core requirements of their particular college and receive a broader and more balanced liberal arts education. Depending on the school, a student pursuing a BFA will still likely have to complete the school’s basic general requirements for study, but these requirements will be far fewer than that of a student completing a BA and more immersion into their respective art will take place. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, for instance, a student studying at Juilliard will not have to complete a science reasoning course, while a student working towards a BFA at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor will still need to complete the school’s general core requirements of math, science, and humanities courses. 

Students can also complete an AA degree in the arts. This is generally best for fields of graphic design and possibly the visual arts, but for the others (Dance, Theater, Film) a BA or BFA is best. 

Students who are clear that they wish to focus on nothing but their particular artistic field of interest should likely pursue a BFA degree, while students who wish to keep their horizons broadened and open should likely pursue a BA degree. If a student so chooses, come time to apply for MFA schools, either degree is fine and auditions and portfolio materials will be again required along with the application.

BFA or BA? Which is better for graduate school and a career beyond?

  • Theater - either BA or BFA
  • Dance - either BA or BFA 
  • Film - BFA
  • Video Game Design - BFA
  • Music - BFA
  • Visual Arts - either BA or BFA, possibly AA

 

BFA in Music

For students pursuing a BFA in music, an audition is needed. Depending on the school, the student can either film themselves playing their instrument or singing, but some schools require an in-person audition. Each school has slightly different requests, but generally, schools request that a student prepare 2-3 pieces of contrasting nature. For example, an opera student would prepare a piece from one of the Italian masters, along with a Mozart Lieder, and possibly a more “modern” piece of their choosing. Similarly for a cellist or pianist or other instrumentalist, the school will likely request that the student prepare two contrasting pieces, possibly one baroque piece and one more modern selection.  Students should also choose pieces that may have different emotional natures or tempos - i.e. a melancholic and slow Faure paired with a rousing Rachmaninoff that shows off their breadth of expression and ability. Clearly, work with a trained teacher to support preparation of these pieces is necessary.

BFA in Theater

For students pursuing a BFA in Theater or Musical Theater, an audition is required. Depending on the school, the student can either film themselves performing or visit the school and audition in person. Three times a year, their are general larger auditions held in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York through National Unified Auditions, and 26 universities attend these auditions. These can be daunting and feel somewhat like a cattle call, but a student also has the satisfaction of “hitting 26 birds with 1 audition stone”. Generally, BFA programs ask for two to three contrasting monologues - one classic (Shakespeare, Marlowe, or from one of the ancient Greek playwrights) and one modern monologue. Sometimes they request one comedic and one tragic, and students should work with a trained teacher to prepare pieces that showcase their emotional depth and range and prepare pieces in alignment with each particular schools requirements.

BFA in Dance

For students pursing a BFA in Dance, an audition is needed. Depending on the school, the student can either film themselves performing or visit the school and audition in person. Generally, BFA programs request two contrasting dance techniques to be shown - generally one contemporary dance style and ballet technique. Many schools also request a third “creative” component of the students choosing and own choreography, and in person auditioning students often warm-up in a group while teachers observe them at the barre. In selecting work, a student should follow each school’s particular guidelines, and work with their teacher or mentor to consult on what they feel are their strongest styles and moves, all the while focusing on showcasing their depth, range and skill. 

BFA in Film

For students pursing a BFA in Film, a portfolio of work is requested. This can be challenging for some students who have not had any experience in film creation because it was not offered at their school, or opportunities within their town do not exist for film study and creation. Most schools request a short film (under 5 minutes) along with a writing sample and visual artwork as well. Because of this, student seeking to horse a BFA in Film should begin to create work early in high school and seek out as many opportunities as possible in order to gain experience and exposure in the field. Most schools use the platform SlideRoom or DesignDesk which allows students to directly upload their work to the school’s internal site and a separate login and password is required for this in addition to the student’s application to the school itself. In selecting work, a student should follow each school’s particular guidelines, and work with their teacher or mentor as well to consult on what they feel is their strongest work, showcasing their depth, range and skill. 

BFA in Video Game Design

A newer field branching off of Computer Design and Graphic Design, Video Game Design BFAs are sprouting up around the country and growing in popularity (and competition) fast. Some of the top Video Game Design programs include: UC Santa Cruz, SCAD, University of Utah, UCLA and USC. Students applying to a BFA program in Video gGame Design may face similar challenges to those applying for film - they have not had experience yet in the creation of video games. For students interested in pursuing this hot field, they should take courses in high school in coding, CAD, graphic design, and visual art. A portfolio is required for entrance into this major, and generally consists of a variety of media - from visual art and photography, to computer graphics to film. Each school has a slightly different set of requirements, and students should begin their preparation early for this major in order to have their portfolio complete come senior year.

BFA in Visual Arts

For students pursing a BFA in the Visual Arts, a portfolio of work is required. Most schools request a variety of work along with a writing sample and each school is specific in their requests. Most schools use the platform SlideRoom or DesignDesk which allows students to directly upload their work to the school’s internal site and a separate login and password is required for this in addition to the student’s application to the school itself. In selecting work, a student should follow each school’s particular guidelines (ranging from 6 paintings, 2 photographs and one multi-media image) to, as was last year’s UCLA requirement - simply “RED: please submit artwork that you feel corresponds with the prompt of RED”.  Again, work with a teacher or mentor is essential in order to consult on which pieces are best felt to represent the student’s strongest work, potential and talent.