College theater majors: To BFA or not to BFA, that is the question

High school sophomores and juniors start your engines. It is time to begin considering colleges for next year's college application process. With many of you planning to visit schools during spring break, I thought it would be both helpful and fun to guide you towards the right performing arts degree with a little self-assessment quiz. Scoring is below. In the coming months, Denise will explore questions about college admissions in a series of free upcoming teleseminars with theater professionals from several well regarded programs throughout the country.  

1.  I have known that I wanted to be an actor and have been performing since: 

A.  Elementary school or before 

B.  Middle School 

C.  High School 

D.  I have very little or no acting experience 

E.  I've acted in some shows, but I've taken some breaks from acting too 


2.  I am mostly motivated by: 

A.  Making money 

B.  Performing 

C.  Both

D.  Neither 


3.  What is your attitude about the business of show business?

A.  It is something I pay attention to, but my focus is on being the best actor I can be. 

B.  It turns me off or is scary. 

C.  The business part of the industry is really interesting; I want to learn more. 

D.  I'm going to be an incredible actor. The business will take care of itself. 


4. Do you possibly want to teach acting, voice, or dance someday?

A.  Yes. It would be kind of cool to teach.

B.  No. I'm on stage or bust! 

C.  Not sure. Do I have to know everything at 17 years old? 


5.  Are your parents OK with your decision to study acting? 

A.  No, They wonder why they're about to spend all that money on an acting degree. 

B.  Yes, Your parents tell you to go for it. 


6.  Are you an unbelievable salesperson when promoting your talent and ability? 

A.  Maybe not incredible, but I can hold my own. 

B.  I don't have to; people notice my talent wherever I go. 

C.  You bet I am and I don't take no for an answer! 

D.  The thought of self promotion makes me nauseous. 


7.  Are you consistently on the high honor roll?

A.  I nail it in the classroom and on stage. 

B.  My grades are good, just not the high honor roll all the time.

C.  My grades could be better, but I'm going to really apply myself in college.

D.  Grades don't matter, I'm developing my talent. 


8. I want to go to a school with a lot of school spirit and cheer for really good sports teams. 

A.  Absolutely, I'll be the one with his face painted in school colors.  

B.  No way, I only watch the Superbowl for the commercials.

C. It might be fun, but it's not a big consideration.


9. Are you planning to work while you go to school? 

A.  Absolutely, I need the dough. 

B.  Probably, I could use a little extra spending cash. 

C.  Not likely, I'm concentrating entirely on school during the semester. 


Scoring: 1. A2, B2, C1, D0, E0; 2. A0, B2, C1, D0; 3. A1, B0, C0, D2; 4. A2, B0, C0; 5. A0, B2; 6. A1, B0, C2, D0; 7. A2, B1, C0, D0; 8. A0, B2, C1; 9. A0, B1, C2. 

Results: 13 or less, you're leaning toward a BA. 14 or greater, you're leaning toward a BFA.


Before we analyze your scores, let's talk about the difference between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) versus a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in broadest terms. The difference is usually in the required coursework. The BA generally requires 40 - 45 semester hours of training in a performing arts concentration, such as theater, while the BFA requires 70 - 80 semester hours. In a nutshell, that means the student in a BFA program will not have time for much else. Let's look at the quiz results to see how this may impact you. 


Questions 1 - 4 Are meant to help you consider your goals. Students who are deeply committed and motivated to performance above other goals including making money are great candidates for a BFA program. The extra coursework in your major provides additional opportunity to hone your craft. However, it is almost impossible to double major in the BFA track without taking more than the typical 8 semesters to graduate. That makes the BA particularly appealing to students who have wide interests and talents and/or who might want to double major. A double major in business, for example, could be ideal to prepare for a career in the business of show business. On the other hand, students who aspire to teach in the arts often choose the BFA for its rigorous, focused training and its appeal to graduate programs.


Questions 5 - 6 Assess whether you have the support and personal qualities to succeed in show business. Students without solid support from their families might reach a mutual understanding with a BA in theater and another major. Family support can be important when entering an exceedingly competitive career. Fearless self-promotion doesn't hurt either. If you are not sure that you are up for the challenge and sacrifices typical of actors in the business, a BA degree that gives you wide career options could be best for you.  


The remaining questions focus on the college experience. Regardless of degree type, success in school requires a commitment to hard work and smart planning. The BFA track has more required coursework in theater and the order in which the coursework is taken often matters. Demanding courses sometimes pile up altogether without much scheduling flexibility. Though not impossible, it can be harder to hold a job or attend football games when in the all-consuming experience of a BFA program. Students who eat, breathe and sleep theater should go for the BFA while those who want to do it all or have many outside demands might be happier on a BA track.


The scoring on this quiz is decidedly unscientific, but the questions are designed to you give you some clarity and focus. I encourage you not to get caught up on which degree is best. Rather, focus on which degree and individual programs best meet your goals. Do that and you will end up with a wonderful college experience and a promising career.