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So, You Think You Can...Be On Broadway?

Guest TMU contributor Mary Anna Dennard provides an overview on preparing for audition-based college degree programs.

Mary Anna Dennard

Maybe it's the popularity of Glee, American Idol, Smash, The Voice, Duets, So You Think You Can Dance, YouTube, or our fascination with celebrity. There is a massive tidal wave of jazz hands and belt-your-face mania rolling through the U.S. Even PBS has thrown their hat into the musical theatre ring with the new 3-part series that premieres September 9th called Broadway or Bust.

Whatever the cause, a phenomenon is occurring that has resulted in record numbers of performing arts applicants to college theatre programs. And you young artists have passion! Some universities recently reported a 20% increase in performing arts applicants in a single year. This means more degreed graduates than ever before are pursuing careers in the performing arts. Just look at a Broadway Playbill and you will see the college training credited in actors' bios.

Being able to pursue conservatory style performance training while in college, is a relatively new concept. Back in the early 1970s, when I went to college, I had to leave my 4-year liberal arts education as a theatre major, in favor of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, in order to get the intense actor training I was craving. But the good news for you is that today there are over 100 audition-based college degree programs for acting and/or musical theatre in the US. So you have a lot to choose from. You can get both your academic education and your performing arts training simultaneously. Pretty cool.

Getting excellent training during college can mean studying at one of the many Bachelor of Fine Arts University training programs. Most of these selective programs require an audition for admission. And it is a very competitive process. Some of the most competitive college programs accept only 1%-4% of those who audition. Some of the slightly less selective accept 15% of those who audition. To give you an idea of the numbers at a highly selective school, Carnegie Mellon School Of Drama and Music Theatre auditioned over 1,200 students last year and accepted only 7 boys and 5 girls for musical theatre.

In an audition-based college program, the audition itself counts for as much as 80% in the admission process. This means that you can have the highest test scores and grades, but if the auditors are not impressed with your audition, you will not get an offer for admission into the program. Being completely and thoroughly prepared and presenting yourself at your best will give you an edge over the other audition applicants.

Many students are now using a private college audition coach to help do just that. A coach will help select appropriate audition material, advise you on your audition package, help you compile a list of schools that will meet your goals, oversee your applications and auditions to schools (often 10 or more), and guide you and your family through the complex audition process. If you are in the market for a coach, look for one with a good track record of successful students, plus 5 or more years of coaching specifically for college auditions. And get references from their previous students and families. Expect to spend $75-$200 per hour for private coaching.

This year, I launched the first-ever Online Prep for audition based Acting and Musical Theatre programs, called College Audition Coach Online. It is currently being used successfully by hundreds of students nation-wide. And high school college counseling offices, as well as independent college counselors are enthusiastically utilizing the Online Prep to help students and families prepare for the college audition process. You can learn about my Online Prep by clicking here.

So…if you think you can be on Broadway, go ahead and pursue your dream. But have realistic expectations, be thoroughly prepared for your college auditions and enjoy the journey. You are following your passion, and for that, I applaud you!

Please visit my website:, and go to my Store page to purchase the Online Prep and get a complimentary copy of my book, I GOT IN! The Ultimate College Audition Guide For Acting And Musical Theatre

Break a leg!


Mary Anna Dennard has been a college audition coach since 2000. She is the author of the book, I GOT IN! The Ultimate College Audition Guide For Acting And Musical Theatre and was special contributor to the New York Times Theatre section. She is also guest faculty for the Broadway Dreams Foundation, and a member of the National Association Of College Admission Counseling. For more information, visit


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