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Why Your Degree Doesn’t Matter

April 22, 2013

I can’t remember the last time I went to a dance audition and the casting director stopped me mid-pirouette to ask me about my college education. I can’t think of a time in my musical directing experience in which my decision to cast a singer in a role was changed as a direct reflection of a class I saw on their resume. Come to think of it, I can’t really recall a time where my decision about my major or my college has ever truly affected my landing a job.

Don’t hate me just yet, classically trained actors with thousands of dollars in debt lined up for the rest of your life. Let me take this time to say that I too chose a university based on their theatre program, that I too trudged through a theatrical major, that I too am proud of my classically trained skills, and that I too graduated with a mountain of debt. But I can recall spending countless nights, not only tearing myself apart about where to train and what degree to pursue, but also years getting sucked into the little bubble that my college theatre program invented, forcing myself to believe that what happened in that theatre department was the “end all be all” of the theatrical world.

“Where do I go to college?” This question has crossed all our minds at some point, but the question I wish I would have posed was simply, “should I go to college?” I look back on spending four years of my life, in my 20’s, when I am in the best shape to dance and get work, in a classroom undergoing fake auditions to prepare me for the real world, rather than going out and actually auditioning! Not only would I have gotten real audition experience in many different scenarios, I would have stocked up my resume with four years worth of shows, networked four years worth of people, and made four years worth of money, rather than four years of student loan debt.

“What should I major in?” This question not only cost me sleepless nights, but also a painfully large amount of time taking an array of classes that I didn’t really need. If I major in just acting, I wont get any singing and dancing training. If I try to earn a BFA in performance but don’t make the cut, I’ll have to start all over. If I pursue a general theatre degree, I’ll have to spend time taking lighting design and theatre management classes instead of the performance classes that will really benefit my chosen field!

“How do I feel about my decision now?” For those who have read my other posts, you may know that I started college as a physics major at a small, private university in LA that didn’t even have a theatre program. I changed my major when I finally admitted to myself that my love of performance will overcome my fear of being a starving actor, and subsequently had to switch universities. Here, I was left with a choice: work towards receiving a BFA in musical theatre (the degree that this university is known for), or graduate with a BA in general theatre arts.

Since I was a transfer student with many classes already completed, the BA would afford me the opportunity to graduate early, it wouldn’t prevent me from outside work (as the BFA would), and I would be able to study abroad like I’d always dreamed of. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get the prestigious “F” on my diploma that us artists value so highly, I would be forced to sit through scene design class rather than advanced jazz dancing for musical theatre, and (as I thought at the time), I would be infinitely less successful at auditions than my fellow BFAers.

After much frustration and indecision, I chose the path of the BA. I graduated college in a total of three years saving me a huge chunk of time and money, I got to study theatre at the University of London through a study abroad program and perform/study throughout Europe, and most importantly, since I was not locked into doing school productions, I was able to work (professionally) all over California. Instead of racking up student loans and filling my resume with numerous college productions, I made professional contacts, a good chunk of money, gained essential confidence, earned real world experience, and just had a hell of a lot of fun focusing on the bigger picture. When I graduated a year ahead of my peers, I was immediately cast in a contract abroad while they were still in school, allowing me to save up and pay off all my student loans immediately while travelling the world doing what I love.

There’s only one problem right? When I go to auditions and the casting director sees that the girl next to me has a BFA…and I have only a shameful little BA, he’s going to choose her right? Well fortunately for me, I’ve never encountered a director who disregards your live audition and chooses his cast based only on your resume. At casting calls, I get chosen for my performance, not my education. And when a director does happen to look at my resume, he sees my years of experience before he gets to the bottom and sees the name of my degree (which happens to look pretty cool with some international schools and experience on it).

What came to surprise me even more is that most of the people I’ve met in my travels working around the world, not only have never heard of the “prestigious” department that I placed on such a pedestal when I went there, but they don’t know what a BFA is. Moreover, most of my cast mates on my contracts abroad, didn’t even attend a University! They started auditioning when they were 18 were able to make a living as a performer. So why, they would say, should they quit making a living as a performer to go back to school and….uh…learn how to make a living as a performer?

I’m thrilled that I have a college degree, I really am. It’s important to me to be well-educated and I thoroughly believe that great professors and programs can make all the difference in the career of a classical Shakespearean actor, a prima ballerina, or other specific crafts. When someone asks me about my University experience, sometimes I regret that I don’t have the opportunity to tell them about the painstaking educational journey I plowed through to earn myself a BFA. But mostly I’m just thrilled to talk about how I spent my time flying over audiences in a stunt show after school, and the ballet classes I attended in Paris. Don’t waste your life doing what you think you should do and comparing yourself to others, the most successful path lies in doing what you feel to be worthwhile.

The Reckless Artist sig

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2013 1:45 pm

    I was also a transfer once upon a time ago ago. I also was debating between BA and BFA programs. Went with a BA, did undergrad in three years, now almost done with my MA. One of the best choices I ever made was to get my BA.

  2. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    April 22, 2013 11:09 pm

    This is really the important thing to remember, that my degree doesn’t matter in the end. Perhaps not what I wanted to hear while I still have a paper to write and student loans waiting for me in another year or when I’ve just been told that no, I cannot take certain classes because BFAs get priority – but choosing to do “general theatre” over performance may have been the best decision for me too.

  3. azupanwan permalink
    February 3, 2014 9:38 pm

    Do you think it really matters what you end up majoring in if you’re trying to go the route for Musical Theatre? Because I am planning on majoring in Dance and then minoring in Music and Theatre.

  4. July 14, 2014 3:05 pm

    Great post! I quoted from it in a blog post I just wrote about BA and BFA programs.

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