Does a student pursuing performing arts need a college degree? And if so, how can you get the best return on your investment? College degrees are very expensive, and a performing arts degrees can cost even more when students attend specialty colleges- I wondered if it was worth it. As you may know, asking someone whether it’s “worth it” is a loaded question.
I’m an extremely hard sell when it comes to education. It’s been decades since I bought into the “at all costs” college propaganda that is fed to families in the United States – part of the reason Homeschooling for College Credit exists is to help counsel parents against the hype. Yes, I think teens need a credential, but it’s the unicorn that actually needs a specific degree from a specific college. Performing arts, respectfully, is exactly the kind of degree I hate. Colleges and universities selling a $1,000 solution to a $5 problem and sending teens out into the world with a quarter million dollars of debt… so they can sing? No. Hard pass. But, having zero experience in performing arts, I wanted to talk to an expert who was in the industry but not coming from the college industry. Luckily, I had a contact that I could ask – maybe.
I want to share the backstory because it’s very important for the context of this post and my enthusiasm for sharing it with you.
Last year a man contacted me about sharing his online classes with HS4CC, but I totally shut him down. He wanted to talk to me about how his homeschool classes could help teens with college admissions in performing arts and maybe even a scholarship! After his pitch, I gently explained that I have zero interest in helping HS4CC families pander to admissions committees, get into debt for a degree in singing, chase scholarships, or attend colleges that didn’t even accept transfer credit. But, you know me, I didn’t say it like that. Instead, during our conversation, invited him to think of ideas about how a students who wanted a career in singing/performing arts could do it without a degree, could save money, use transfer credit, etc. If he could do that, then we would have something to share.
My redirect usually shuts people down. Most people don’t want to ask the hard questions about whether or not a degree makes sense. They can’t think about creative ways to build a plan to do so without debt, and they also are so focused on admissions and winning scholarships, that they don’t want to think about degree completion or paying the rest of their bill (after the scholarship) because…. well, it’s So. Much.Work.
And then, I received an email back. Attached was a 9-page Google Doc (single spaced) list of classes, work programs, college credit, networking opportunities, free education, and hundreds of ways for a student to make it happen without debt. With links. Richard, my contact, explained to me that he was relieved after he talked to me because he had a successful career, and he did it without a college degree! He actually knew a lot of ways to creatively work in this business without a degree, and for those that wanted a degree, he had a lot of great advice. But, assumed that when he pitched to me, I would only talk to him if he dropped words like “scholarship” and “admissions.” Ohhhh, ok. Now we can have a real conversation!
Let me introduce a new friend of Homeschooling for College Credit: Richard Fink IV.
- Richard is the founder of the Vocal Gym
- He is a #1 Best-Selling Author in vocal education.
- Labeled as the “world’s leading online vocal coach” by the Wall Street Journal.
- He has worked with singers in over 100 countries around the world, including multi-platinum selling artists, professional actors, political leaders, and Broadway stars.
- As a vocalist, Richard is a 3x Guinness World Record holder .
- He is an award-winning singer for solo performances as Jesus (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Jean Valjean (Les Miserables).
There’s more, but let me say that he is very well qualified to offer advice and tips to the Homeschooling for College Credit community! With that, it gives me great pleasure to share Richard’s suggestions with you! I also had the pleasure of interviewing him for my podcast College on the Cheap (Episode 8: Like a Rockstar)
KEEPING COSTS DOWN (High School and College)
- Look for Affordable Costumes: Consider renting or borrowing one rather than buying a new one. You can also look for low-cost options at thrift stores or online marketplaces.
- Practice at Home: Conquer your fear of family and neighbors hearing you sing and try practicing at home instead of renting rehearsal space. This can save you money on rental fees. However, if this is not an option, seek local community centers and churches that may offer low cost rental space instead of a professional sound stage.
- Take Advantage of Free Performance Opportunities: Look for free performance opportunities at school or in your community (including talent shows/competitions). This can help you gain experience and exposure without spending money on rental fees or production costs.
- Minimize Travel Costs: If you need to travel for performance or back and forth to rehearsals, find others to carpool with and take turns driving. This also gives the opportunity for the performers to rehearse lines in the car and warm up together.
- Find Affordable Sheet Music: There are several resources online to purchase, download, or buy sheet music used – also speak with local teachers as they may have copies from previous productions.
- Invest in Quality Equipment: If you need to purchase equipment for performance, invest in something that will last for several years – this costs more upfront but you might find a fair payment plan and it will still have value to resell when you’re ready to upgrade. Alternatively, find quality instruments or equipment that others are reselling. This can save you money in the long run by avoiding frequent replacements and repairs. This includes everything from keyboards to stage lighting to microphones and computers.
- Consider Crowdfunding: If you need to raise funds for equipment to perform, online classes, summer programs, or recording professionally (ie producing EP, filming dance or a ring reels, etc) look at GoFundMe and Patreon to ask friend, family, and/or fans, to help.
- Seek Sponsorship: Look for local businesses or organizations that may be willing to sponsor your performance in exchange for recognition or publicity. (Can be a non-local company if the event takes place online with a large enough social media following).
- Look for Scholarships and Grants: Many schools and organizations award grants specifically for singers, musicians, dancers, and actors to help offset the cost of tuition (list below).
- Attend In-State Schools: Attending an in-state school can often reduce tuition costs, especially if you can commute from home rather than living on campus. You can then transfer to another school out of state after the first two years pending your goals.
- Take Advantage of Work-Study Programs: Look for work-study opportunities in the music or theater department, or in other areas of the school. These programs can provide valuable experience and help you earn money to offset tuition costs (list below).
- Community College: Consider attending a community college for general education courses or for the first two years of your degree while taking a couple of online courses towards the performing arts. This can save a significant amount of money.
- Look for Paid Gigs: Look for opportunities to perform and earn money outside of school, such as local gigs, weddings, and events. This also helps to network and build your resume.
- Take Advantage of Free Resources: Many schools offer free resources for music, dance, and theater students, such as practice rooms, recording studios, performance opportunities and volunteer work that can build experience and networking.
GRANTS & SCHOLARSHIPS FOR PERFORMING ARTS
- National YoungArts Foundation – provides grants and scholarships for performing artists in various disciplines, including music, dance, theater, and visual arts. (https://www.youngarts.org/)
- The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival – offers various scholarships and awards for student actors, directors, designers, and playwrights. (https://www.kennedy-center.org/)
- American Music Therapy Association – provides scholarships for students pursuing a degree in music therapy. (https://www.musictherapy.org/)
- National Association of Teachers of Singing – offers scholarships and competitions for undergraduate and graduate students of voice. (https://www.nats.org/)
- The Society of American Musicians – offers scholarships for instrumentalists and vocalists in the Midwest region of the United States. (https://societyofamericanmusicians.org/)
- American Guild of Musical Artists – provides grants for young opera singers and dancers. (https://www.musicalartists.org/)
- The Shubert Foundation – provides grants to nonprofit performing arts organizations, including theater and dance companies. (https://www.shubertfoundation.org/)
- Dance/USA – offers scholarships and fellowships for dancers, choreographers, and dance administrators. (https://www.danceusa.org/)
- American Ballet Theatre – offers scholarships for dancers in their pre-professional program. (https://www.abt.org/)
- Broadway Dreams – offers scholarships and intensive training programs for aspiring musical theater performers. (https://www.broadwaydreams.org/)
- The Juilliard School – offers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students studying music, dance, and theater. (https://www.juilliard.edu/)
- The New School for Drama – offers scholarships and financial aid for graduate students pursuing a degree in acting or directing. (https://www.newschool.edu/)
- The School of American Ballet – offers scholarships and financial aid for students in their pre-professional program. (https://www.sab.org)
- The American Academy of Dramatic Arts – offers scholarships and financial aid for students pursuing a degree in acting. (https://www.aada.edu/)
- The National Association of Schools of Dance – offers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in dance. (https://nasd.arts-accredit.org/)
- The Paley Center for Media – offers scholarships for students pursuing a degree in media and entertainment, including performing arts. (https://www.paleycenter.org/)
- The National Society of Arts and Letters – offers scholarships and competitions for performing artists under the age of 30. (https://www.arts-nsal.org)
- The National Endowment for the Arts – offers grants for nonprofit performing arts organizations and individual artists. (https://www.arts.gov/grants)
- The Princess Grace Foundation – provides grants to support emerging artists in theater, dance, and film. https://pgfusa.org
- The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation – offers grants to emerging artists in the visual arts, including painters, sculptors, and printmakers. https://www.elizabethgreenshieldsfoundation.org/
- The SAG-AFTRA Foundation – provides financial assistance to performers and their families in times of need. https://sagaftra.foundation/assistance
- The Actors Fund – offers financial assistance and support services to actors, dancers, musicians, and other performing arts professionals. https://actorsfund.org
- The BMI Foundation – provides scholarships to songwriters and composers studying at accredited colleges and universities. https://bmifoundation.org/
- The Society of Singers – offers financial assistance and support services to professional singers in need. http://www.singers.org
- The Musician’s Foundation – provides financial assistance to professional musicians in times of need. https://musiciansfoundation.org/
- The Fulbright Scholar Program – offers grants for international exchange and research in the arts and humanities. https://us.fulbrightonline.org/applicants
- The American Association of University Women – offers fellowships and grants to women pursuing graduate degrees and careers in the arts and humanities. https://www.aauw.org/
- The American Music Therapy Association – provides scholarships to music therapy students. https://www.musictherapy.org/
- The National Dance Education Organization – offers scholarships and grants to students pursuing dance education degrees. https://www.ndeo.org/
- The National Association for Music Education – provides scholarships and grants to music education students. https://nafme.org/
- The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers – offers scholarships to student composers and songwriters. https://www.ascap.com/
WORK-STUDY PROGRAMS FOR PERFORMING ARTS
- Federal Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, including those studying performing arts. (https://studentaid.gov/)
- Berklee College of Music Work-Study Program – offers part-time jobs to students enrolled in the college’s music programs. (https://www.berklee.edu/)
- Juilliard School Work-Study Program – provides on-campus employment opportunities for Juilliard students. (https://www.juilliard.edu/)
- New England Conservatory Work-Study Program – offers part-time jobs to students enrolled in NEC’s music programs. (https://necmusic.edu/)
- Columbia College Chicago Music and Arts Work-Study Program – provides employment opportunities for students in the college’s performing arts programs. (https://students.colum.edu/)
- American Musical and Dramatic Academy Work-Study Program – offers part-time employment to students in the school’s performing arts programs. (https://www.amda.edu/)
- Cornish College of the Arts Work-Study Program – provides on-campus employment opportunities for students in Cornish’s performing arts programs. (https://www.cornish.edu/)
- Boston Conservatory at Berklee Work-Study Program – offers part-time jobs to students enrolled in the conservatory’s music and dance programs. (https://bostonconservatory.berklee.edu/)
- San Francisco Conservatory of Music Work-Study Program – provides employment opportunities for students enrolled in the conservatory’s music programs. (https://sfcm.edu/)
- Manhattan School of Music Work-Study Program – offers part-time jobs to students enrolled in the school’s music programs. (https://www.msmnyc.edu/)
- The New School Work-Study Program – provides employment opportunities for students enrolled in the university’s performing arts programs. (https://www.newschool.edu/)
- The Chicago College of Performing Arts Work-Study Program – offers part-time jobs to students enrolled in the college’s music and theater programs. (https://www.roosevelt.edu/)
- The Hartt School Work-Study Program – provides employment opportunities for students in the performing arts programs at the University of Hartford. (https://www.hartford.edu/)
- Point Park University Work-Study Program – offers part-time employment to students enrolled in the university’s performing arts programs. (https://www.pointpark.edu/)
- Savannah College of Art and Design Work-Study Program – provides employment opportunities for students in the university’s performing arts programs. (https://www.scad.edu/)
- College of Performing Arts at The New School Work-Study Program – offers part-time employment opportunities for students in the college’s performing arts programs. (https://www.newschool.edu/)
- New York University Steinhardt School Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students pursuing a degree in music, dance, or theater. (https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/)
- University of Southern California Thornton School of Music Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students pursuing a degree in music. (https://music.usc.edu/)
- Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music. (https://peabody.jhu.edu/)
- California Institute of the Arts Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music, dance, theater, and film. (https://calarts.edu/)
- University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music, dance, or theater. (https://smtd.umich.edu/)
- Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music. (https://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/)
- Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music or dance. (https://www.temple.edu/)
- University of North Carolina School of the Arts Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music, dance, theater, and film. (https://www.uncsa.edu/)
- Texas Christian University School of Music Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music. (https://finearts.tcu.edu/)
- University of the Arts Philadelphia Work-Study Program – provides part-time jobs for students studying music, dance, theater, and visual arts. (https://www.uarts.edu/)
WHAT TO PREPARE DURING HIGH SCHOOL
- Take classes and participate in school productions: Join your school’s drama club or performing arts program and take advantage of the resources available to you. This will help you develop your skills, gain experience and build your confidence as a performer.
- Take private lessons (find an appropriate mentor in your field of study). Search teachers online for the best possible options.
- Attend workshops and summer programs: Look for local workshops and summer programs that offer training in your area of interest. This will give you the opportunity to work with professionals in the industry, learn new techniques and network with other aspiring performers.
- Build a portfolio: Start building a portfolio of your work, including videos of performances, headshots, and resumes. This will be useful when you apply for colleges, auditions, and other opportunities.
- Network: Connect with professionals in the industry, attend performances, and take advantage of any opportunities to meet and network with people who can help you advance your career. Including performance opportunities (dancers can find a band with a song, choreograph a dance and film it for exposure for both).
- Start preparing your audition materials and repertoire and catalog or reel early. Many schools offer scholarships and financial aid, so it’s important to apply early and explore your options.
- Volunteer: Volunteer at local theaters or performance venues to gain experience and build your network. You may also be able to attend performances for free or at a reduced cost.
- Apply for scholarships and grants: (see list) Apply for as many as possible.
- Use social media: Utilize social media to connect with other aspiring performers and industry professionals. You may be able to find mentors and networking opportunities that can help you advance your career without breaking the bank.
CAREERS IN PERFORMING ARTS WITHOUT A COLLEGE DEGREE
- Session musician: Session musicians are hired to play music for recordings, TV shows, and movies. They may work for individual artists or for music production companies.
- Music producer: Music producers oversee the recording, mixing, and mastering of music for albums and other projects. Many music producers work independently as their own business as well.
- Singer/songwriter: Perform their own music. They may perform at small venues, release albums, and collaborate with other artists and make a living from platforms like Patreon and Youtube royalties/commissions.
- Music promoter: Music promoters are responsible for promoting and booking live music events. They may work for music venues, festivals, or production companies.
- Voiceover artist: Voiceover artists provide voices for TV shows, movies, video games, and commercials. They may work independently or for a production company.
- Actor: Actors perform in TV shows, movies, and theater productions. Many actors start out in community theater or take acting classes rather than pursuing a college degree.
- Dancer: Dancers perform in ballets, musical theater productions, and other live shows. Many dancers start out in dance classes and may go on to join a dance company or perform in live shows.
KEY ADVANTAGES OF GOING TO COLLEGE FOR PERFORMING ARTS
- Concentrated skill development (if unable to get proper training otherwise)
- Building connections with industry professionals and social circles that would otherwise not be accessible. (finding your tribe with like-minded individuals)
- Accessing resources/equipment/performance experience that can help advance your career
- Getting high grades and praise from college professors suggest to employers that one may be more prepared and capable of the rigorous expectations of a full-time performer
- If interested in teaching, a BA or Masters degree is required to teach music, dance, or drama at a High School or University/College in the United States (teaching private lessons does not).
WAYS TO EARN COLLEGE CREDIT WHILE IN HIGH SCHOOL
- Dual Enrollment Programs: Many colleges and universities offer dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level performing arts and music courses for credit.
- AP Courses: The College Board offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Music Theory, History, and Appreciation. These courses are available in many high schools, charter schools, and homeschool-flex programs.
- Summer Programs: There are many summer (and year-round) programs available that offer college credits in performing arts and music.
- Online Courses: See list below for courses available that offer college credit in performing arts and music. Check with local colleges and universities to see if they offer in-person courses as well.
ONLINE COLLEGE CREDIT COURSES FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS
Here are several programs to consider while in High School to count towards College, while taking further steps to ensure that your child truly wants to pursue the Performing Arts beyond High School. This also helps to cultivate relationships and networking advantageous to selecting the right college or program when the time comes. Additionally, online courses can be a good option to further expand networking and opportunity at other campuses (or during the summers) while in college. This is especially valuable for those who are taking a 2-year college or community college program in advance of pursuing higher education at another University.
- Berklee Online: Online courses include Music Theory 101, Performance, and Introduction to Music Production. There are also several summer programs for high school students, including the Aspire: Five-Week Music Performance Intensive, which allows students to earn up to six college credits. https://online.berklee.edu/
- Indiana University: Online course in music theory https://onlinesummer.music.indiana.edu/
- University of Minnesota: Online course in music appreciation https://onestop.umn.edu/
- University of Wisconsin: Online course in music fundamentals https://www.wisconsin.edu/
- University of Florida: Online course in theater appreciation https://www.distance.ufl.edu/
- University of Maryland: Online course in music theory https://www.eiu.edu/
- California State University: Online course in music appreciation https://www.calstateonline.net/
- University of South Carolina: Online course in music appreciation https://sc.edu/
- Rutgers University: Online course in music history https://online.rutgers.edu/
- University of New England: Offers an online course in theater history https://online.une.edu/
- University of California, Berkeley: Online course in music theory and analysis https://www.edx.org/
- University of North Dakota: Online course in music history https://und.edu/
- Western Carolina University: Online course in music appreciation https://www.wcu.edu/
- The University of Texas at Austin: Online course in music theory https://utdirect.utexas.edu/
- Carnegie Mellon University Pre-College Program: Pre-College Program in music thttps://www.cmu.edu/
- Arizona State University: Online courses in music and music education https://music.asu.edu/
- Boston University: Online courses in music theory and history https://www.bu.edu/
- New York University: Online courses in music production and technology https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/
- The University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Online courses in music education https://vpa.uncg.edu/
- The University of North Texas: Online courses in music theory and history https://college.unt.edu/
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2 thoughts on “Performing Arts Like a Rockstar”
Hello Jennifer. I have so many questions. My friend has referred your emails to me. I came upon this one and I was crying. My son is certainly a scholar, but only the bright and insightful know this about him. When I opened this email I began to cry. My son has the world at his fingertips, because he is a Christian, and he is equally creative and academic. His learning styles are unpredictable. He knows that he belongs in music. Is it possible for you to call me at some point. I’d be most grateful. Martha.
Hi Martha, please send me an email and I would love to answer some of your questions. email@example.com