When does “backup” become “first choice”? When the letters are in your mailbox and the schools have made their choices. Up to this point you’ve made all the choices and you still have more to make. You decided where to apply. You decided on your first choice school and you selected what were to be your “backup” schools. You were definitely in the driver’s seat as you filled out applications, wrote essays, prepared monologues and participated in interviews. Now the schools have spoken.
It’s not an easy role on the other side of the table. Admissions decisions are made in part on numbers. Grades, SAT scores, class rank, the number of students applying and the number that can be accepted, etc. In BA/BFA hybrid programs where auditions and interviews are a big portion of the decision, the admissions committee has to look at the makeup of the incoming class. Ensemble appeal and the likelihood of retention through the program is another consideration. It’s a tall order and it’s a “crap shoot.” But it’s a crap shoot built on years of experience. To a great extent, knowing their school and their faculty they really do know, better than you, whether you’re a fit for this incoming freshman year.
I often hear from chairs of theater and film departments that the talent is so amazing that they could have fielded two complete freshman classes if only they had the faculty and facilities. That’s really a testimony to you and your talent but it’s probably not great solace when that “skinny” letter arrives. What do you do next?
Now it’s time to seriously look at your backups. You chose them ostensibly because you thought that IF you didn’t get into your first choice premier school it would be a good place to go. What is a first choice premier school. It’s your school. It is the school you decide to attend and make your own. It is the school that invests in you and the school in which you invest.
Now is the time to visit the schools to which you are accepted with an open mind. Now is the time to forget what might have been and to accept what will be. Sometimes what we think we want for ourselves is not always in our best interest and when we can get beyond our own limited view of ourselves there is a big wonderful world awaiting us.
If your school offers it visiting a school’s Open House for accepted students is a great way to take a fresh look. It is very different from the pre-admissions’ view. Now you can see who your fellow classmates will be if you decide to accept the invitation to enroll. This is a really important preview. Much more so than if you are a general admit. These students will be your scene partners, your movement and dance class groups, or your film collaborators. This is your investment in yourself and your craft for the next four years.
There’s another decision you can consider. You can request a deferral and choose a “gap year“. Some schools will readily defer you for a year while others will not for the very reason of their selection criteria so it is something you should explore carefully. If you do take a gap year it should be with a goal and a purpose. Spending a year broadening your life experience might just be what you need to form a unique artistic voice. Whatever your final decision a great opportunity awaits you!