Students who hope to gain an undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre and Acting are, essentially, completing two college admissions processes. You can, and should, consider what these Seniors do as a part time job on top of their senior year commitments.
Beyond the normal application process (completing and submitting apps, writing essays...oh, the endless essays!) for any undergraduate bound senior, students are required (all while juggling the demands of their senior year): create a college list that is realistic not just in terms of academics but also talent/ability, record and submit prescreens to receive callbacks to auditions (many with different audition material requirements), travel to countless locations for live auditions, juggle Zoom filled weekends of virtual auditions, wait for not just the admission decision but also the artistic decision, somehow pay for all of this...and the list goes on. And on.
Which leads us to the “Gift of the Gap” - a phrase coined by Maggie Clark and her family after witnessing the confidence and growth from her gap year that enabled her to stay calm to present her best self during college auditions. Maggie is currently studying Musical Theatre at Point Park University and credits her year off to her successful go at college auditions - and a successful first year at her chosen program. “It’s not just about having that extra year to audition or to get into a more “prestigious” or better fit program - it’s about the fact that once you get there, wherever that is, you’ll be so much more ready” Maggie says, “I felt so prepared maturity-wise, emotionally, and I think that working and living as an adult, especially first semester, I was able to be much more present and get more out of my training.”
Some students come to the conclusion to take a gap year after they have done the college audition process their senior year. For many reasons - being unhappy with their offers, having a list that wasn’t representative of what they wanted, not getting any offers - a student can then make the decision to take a gap year after undergoing the chaos of college auditions. And most of the time, they are able to see the college audition process with a new lens after some time away and dipping their toes in for a second time.
“I’ve now seen the back end of the stick - I’ve seen the side nobody really wants to see of doing college auditions. It’s important to have dream schools - they’re inspiring - but you want to keep a level head. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there is no bad program. These are all audition based programs. The fact that you got chosen to be in that program means something. It’s hard to see that the first time you do the process because you’re so focused on what you think are ‘better’ programs.” - Greta Bedell, Current Gap Year Student
But what exactly do you...do? How do you fill a year before school? “I had plenty of time to prepare and train. I recommend everyone who plans on taking one takes an honest look at the gaps they have in their training and focus their time and energy on this,” Maggie says, “I took voice lessons with a local teacher and got dance and acting training through My College Audition. I also worked full time to be able to pay for my coaching and audition fees. The options are endless - just keep training! But also, take some time to discover other things you love! I travelled and spent time in nature.” In order to have a successful gap year, you should create a schedule for yourself. Map out hours that will be devoted to training, hours devoted to working, hours devoted to simply being creative (Journaling! Painting! Learning an instrument!), exercise, etc. Creating a schedule similar to what you would do your Freshman year is a great way to prep yourself and stay productive, yet find fulfillment and joy.
Take time to fill out your Acceptd profile thoughtfully so you have the greatest potential of schools finding you. Within Acceptd, there are also countless opportunities that cater to Gap Year Students - from summer intensives to year long training programs. To kick off your search, take a peak at Berridge Arts Programs, Artsbridge and summer programs at universities of interest. You can also supplement your training with things like Music Theory, which is essential to a successful first year at an MT program. Check out opportunities at My College Audition (a digital, self led Music Theory Course) or with TheoryWorks (online music theory courses for vocalists and actors.)
In addition to training, working and sparking some joy - there are so many free resources to take advantage of to help supplement getting ready for the college audition process. Greta honed in on an area she felt she needed to devote solid energy to, mentioning that she “spent a lot of time working on dance - finding YouTube tutorials, learning dances. There are a lot of free resources online” while Maggie “went to the library a lot, because there were so many free plays there, and I listened to new music. I learned so many new shows from listening to Spotify, and I got some new rep that way.” Read a new play a week (places like Playscripts and New Play Exchange have many free resources) or learn a new song on your guitar.
Even knowing the benefits of a gap year, performing arts students often worry if taking a gap year will affect them negatively in the college audition process. “Contrary to popular belief - taking a gap year doesn’t hurt your chances of acceptance! If it came up at all, my gap year was a great talking point in the audition room” Maggie says, “I remember an auditor remarking that they wished more students would take one.” There’s a maturity that comes with taking a year to focus on personal growth that is unmatched.
Quin Gordon, Director of Recruitment for Acting & Directing at UNCSA (University of North Carolina School for the Arts), says “We are always interested in students that take the gap year. Often, we find that those applicants are in our audition room for the right reasons. They've had time for self-reflection after the pressures of high school. Hopefully, they come to us knowing what they want and are ready to take on the rigor and singular focus of conservatory training.” He encourages students that take a Gap Year to “immerse yourself in your art. Seek out local theatrical or on-camera opportunities. Get yourself a good coach that you connect with and allows you to express your own impulses rather than imposing them upon you. Do a ton of research on the kinds of programs that you are interested in so that you're making informed decisions on your applications.”
And what about from a parent’s perspective? Greta’s Mom, Missy Bedell, noticed “a huge, massive change in her confidence and growth during her gap year. In many ways she’s an entirely different person.” Her advice to parents with students considering a gap year is to “have guidelines, but allow flexibility. Give them space to breathe even when you don’t want to, but help keep them accountable. In many ways growth can be painful, so expect some soul searching and be ok with the results! It’s their journey, after all.”
For anyone out there contemplating taking a gap year, just know you are in good company. You are making a conscious decision to better yourself, take care of your mental health, enjoy your senior year and become a more well rounded human being and artist. This should be celebrated. Maggie mentioned that “there were moments that were really hard, but remembering that I was making the choice that was best for me and not doing what other people expected really helped me to flex my independence muscle and affirmed for me that I know what’s best for me.”
So, when you see your friend’s social media announcements on where they are going to college next Fall - just know your time will come. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll appreciate it that much more.
Written by Chelsea Diehl
With Contributions from Gigi Watson, Erica Spyres & Anna Schaeffer