The New York Times posted an article yesterday called Beyond Ivy Walls: Why Colleges With a Distinct Focus Have a Hidden Advantage. It’s not about art schools per se, but it is familiar territory for young artists trying to choose the best schools for their futures. The article talks about a young man who applied and was accepted to ten schools last year—including Harvard and Northwestern. He chose Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California because he felt there was the combination of a demanding technical education paired with some advantages of a smaller liberal arts college—enthusiastic professors, a less cutthroat feel than some bigger schools and a greater sense of fun—that appealed to him even more than the name Harvard. His college visits made all the difference in his choice.

I had a talented piano student that applied to the usual list of conservatories—Juilliard, Curtis, New England, Boston Conservatory, Oberlin, Peabody and Eastman School of Music. He was accepted almost everywhere and used his spring break to visit campuses with his mom. Eastman was not at the top of his list going in but when he returned he said he walked in the door of 26 Gibbs Street in Rochester and felt immediately at home. ARTS-ED Plus theatre director Howard Shangraw worked with an actor last spring who also applied to several schools. When acceptance letters came out she arranged a campus tour of her positively first choice school and scheduled an additional tour at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle on her way home. She met theatre students at Cornish, attended classes, visited the dorms, got a sense of what was going on there and came away completely sure that Cornish was the right school for her.

Students without a special focus may have first choice schools but would likely be just as well educated and happy at a broader range of colleges and universities. Those of you who DO have a special focus should learn as much as you can about the programs that interest you. Don’t just rely on a list of the most high-powered schools with the most famous names. They have famous names because they are really good at what they do, but they may not be right for you. You may need to know which dance schools concentrate on classical ballet above all else and which ones offer a more inclusive curriculum? Where can you study African dance or flamenco? What acting programs teach Meisner technique? Where can you study clowning or commedia dell’arte? What music schools have programs in music production and engineering? Or ethnomusicology? The counselors at ARTS-ED PLUS are ready to help you decide what to study and where to study it, aid in your application process, talk about financial aid and anything else that needs attention. And one of our top recommendations will always be visit your schools. Just walking onto a campus can make all the difference.