The Costs and Benefits of a College Degree
Amanda Charney weighs the pros and cons of going to college to study theater.
When you're up at 3:00am on your laptop in the library, slaving away at a paper on the Italian Renaissance, do you ever look up and suddenly think, "I'm a theater major. What am I DOING?"
Believe me, I had that specific question, and I've been wondering ever since. What are the real reasons to get a degree in theater? Where would I be right now if I had just started auditioning?
College degree holders are statistically proven to make more money. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor, people with a college degree have lower rates of unemployment and higher earnings than people with only a high school diploma. Even attending some college helps your chances!
Let's face it: an unfortunately high percentage of us will not "make it big" in show biz. If you get that degree (even just in theater), you give yourself a leg-up on finding other means of paying your bills. Even if you just need a temporary job, the ones that are higher paying and have more benefits tend to go to college grads.
Yes, it's not for everyone. But it was for me! One of the reasons I chose to go to college was because I didn't want to miss out on what I felt was an essential chapter in my life. When I'm sixty, I want to be able to look back on dorms, football games, and parties, and say that they were the best days of my life.
For most people today, college is an essential transition period between high school, which you spend trying to get into college, and adulthood, which you spend wishing you were back in college. Some people would feel they were missing out.
Especially at schools known for their arts programs, by attending the school you're given access to prime professors and professionals and almost guaranteed four years of acting training. And you have shows through your school where you're not competing with half of LA for one role!
There's a reason that I had my first formal acting class my freshman year of college. Good acting teachers are hard to find! On top of this, while going to all those auditions, are you actually getting performing experience from singing 30 seconds of "On My Own" and waiting for a phone call?
Remember that guy you chatted with in Voice class? Well, he's written a show and needs actresses, and thought you'd be perfect! Sweet.
Speaking of "On My Own", there are much fewer of those handy connections when you don't have school in common.
And now to switch it up…
This is my term for the mindset of theater in college, and for a lot of people it's going to burst in their faces after graduation. The biz is a tough place to get launched into face-first, and if you're 4 years behind other people your age, you're 4 years less prepared.
Perhaps the biggest benefit is getting to jump right into auditions and productions. When you're 22 and everyone else is just graduating, you've been auditioning and performing for four years!
College is expensive. BIG TIME expensive, for some private schools and conservatory programs. Trying to make it as an actor and pay rent and bills is hard enough, but when you tack on thousands of dollars in debt? We're not just talking a second day job here; we're talking a secondary career!
You're right out of high school, probably still living with your parents, and you don't have to worry about a class schedule. Basically, you can work a job, not have to worry about bills, and not have to deal with crippling debt after four years.
Personally, it drives me insane that I have to take two writing classes and a language course in order to graduate. College isn't just about theater and acting; the university has requirements that are out of your control! Not only this, but you have to worry about actually passing the classes you don't like.
There are some people who know that all they ever want to do ever in the whole world is perform. If you don't go to college, you don't have to worry about getting all the classes required for a major. You can take ballet three times a week and acting classes in the evenings and not have to worry about GRADES for crying out loud!
So take a look and decide—go for the degree? Or jump right in to the wild world of showbiz? Here's a hint: there's no right answer.