What Colleges Are Really Looking for in Arts Applicants: A conversation with Chris Andersson
Applying to college can be an overwhelming process that can take months to prepare for. And if you are a student looking to further your education in the arts, well your work is most likely doubled. Many students often wonder what a college arts programs look for and where to start. How do you know what is the best choice when picking audition pieces or writing samples to submit? What can you do to better prepare yourself for this painstaking and ever-so-important leap into the college audition experience?
Meet Chris Andersson, a fellow artist and friend of Berridge Programs. Berridge Founder and Director Andrea Mardon sat down with Chris to discuss his wealth of knowledge and insider's perspective of the college admissions process. After many years as the Director of Admissions for the Drama Department at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Chris formed his own consulting business Nothing But Drama, LLC, dedicated to helping young artists navigate the college arts admission process.
Here’s what Chris had to say:
Andrea Mardon (AM): Tell me, for the record, what do you do?
Chris Andersson (CA): I help students navigate the college admissions and artistic review process for undergraduate and graduate programs in theater, film and dramatic writing.
AM: Can you describe is meant by ‘artistic review process’?
CA: The artistic review is kind of a parallel process along with the application when you’re applying to a college arts program. It’s an opportunity, really for the different departments to get a sense of you as an artist, learn about what you do and how you do it. It encompasses all of the supplemental artistic materials to an application including auditions, portfolios of work and writing samples.
AM: How did you got into all this?
CA: Oh well! [laughs] I was an actor for a long time, and while I was doing that, I moved into higher education administration and I ended up doing that for over 25 years, exclusively with Theater students. At NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I oversaw the whole artistic review process so that really launched me into doing what I do today, helping students navigate this process and navigate it with confidence and hopefully with a sense of enjoyment.
AM: What kind of students do you work with? When do they come to you?
CA: I usually start working with them in the spring of their junior year. Our time together would usually span from the spring of their junior year through the fall of their senior year. Students come to me from all different kinds of schools. I’ve had public school kids, private school kids, I’ve had boarding school kids, kids from all over the world!
AM: Do your students have to audition for you?
CA: That’s a great question! No, they don’t! I am happy to work with anyone who wants to work with me. There’s no audition for me because I’m not here to crush dreams at the beginning! What I look for is something inside them, the fire, the drive, the passion and raw talent. Is there something in there that we want to reach in and grab hold of and yank out of there so it can blossom and bloom and grow and all of that wonderful stuff.
AM: I like that! That’s similar to the language we use on our programs too. So, how do you actually work with them? Where do you start?
CA: I’ll give them resources to start researching and reading tons of monologues, so that they can choose the material that they are attracted to, that they connect with or relate to in some way - that’s the monologue that they should do because that passion, that enthusiasm for the character or for the material is going to shine through in all these auditions they’re going to have to do. And the same with the portfolios and films too. I give them feedback - not so much critiquing, more just to give them feedback. I’ll say, “Well this is what I’m getting from the story…this is what I’m understanding. I loved this, I loved that.”
AM: So what’s the benefit of a student using your services?
CA: This is a big unknown, this process. No high school student has gone through the college artistic review process, right?! So I help them navigate a big, potentially scary unknown. I also have students that didn’t have a drama or voice teacher and I can be that for them. There are other students who come to me and they have a lot of support, but there’s the bigger picture of talking about schools. I’m helping them define what schools are reasonable for them academically, schools they’re viable applicants for, AND that have good Drama programs!
AM: Could you say a thing or two about the importance of doing things in the summer, exploring opportunities outside of their high school?
CA: Oh yeah, oh happy to! People ask me all the time: “How important is it for the students to do a summer program - does it look good on college applications?” And I say, “Any summer opportunity where they will grow, they will be with other artists, will be an amazing experience.” They will make fast friends and it will be a fantastic experience on its own AND for college. I think these programs, like Berridge Programs, are just so valuable for the students because they’re still finding themselves as people and as artists.
AM: So, I have a fun little question here…what’s the advice you give most often?
CA: OH! I have a two word answer to that. Be yourself. It’s so simple but it really is the best advice I can give. In the little bit of time they have with you as an artist, they’re trying to get to know you. They’re saying, “Is this a person I’d like to have in my class?” I say to students, “Don’t think about what you think these evaluators want to hear from you, or want you to be. You need to be you. Just be in the moment with them, like we are in theater, just be in the moment and answer the questions honestly and frankly and just as you would.
AM: Good advice! Yeah, we have a three-word phrase that we use a lot as our mantra which is, “You are enough.”
CA: That’s great!
AM: “You are enough!” Because you must see this a lot for kids this age, that’s very difficult for them to process. They’re like, “Who do you want me to be? What do I have to put on?” You know, it’s really difficult for them to understand that actually, you, that authentic you, is the thing.
CA: Yes, that’s wonderful!