The Room Where It Happens: An Insider’s Guide to the College Audition

Written by Joe Deer

October 9, 2017

We’re heading into college audition season. If you’re in that group of students who are getting ready for this exciting and sometimes scary process, let me pull the curtain back on college auditions and give you an insider’s guide from the other side of the table.

Perhaps the most important thought I can offer is that there is no single, unified set of criteria for admission. Each program reflects the differing tastes and specific instincts of the faculty members watching. And every year yields a different group of prospective students who form the incoming classes for that year alone. So, there are a lot of variables — and a lot of ways to succeed.

That said, let me offer a few thoughts on what “they (we)” are looking for:

There is no “Should”.

Students often try to game the system by presenting what they believe they “should” do. While some schools may ask for a specific range of songs and monologues, there is no magic combination of Shakespeare comedy and Barielles ballad. Instead…

Do what you love AND what you’re great at.

The overlap of excellence and passion is the only consistent feature I know for successful auditions. If you only love it or only do it well, you will be less successful.

Training is essential.

Successful auditions are supported by some degree of technical development of the voice and body over a sustained period. So consider skipping that fourth production of the year and get into singing lessons that you actually practice for, instead.

Great auditions are personalized.

It isn’t a singing contest — it is an acting contest among exceptional singers. Do the homework of preparing the inner life of your song, the circumstances of “who” and “what for”. This also helps you focus at your auditions.

Prepare to succeed.

Making your song and monologue selections at least 6 weeks prior to your first audition, doing the daily vocal and acting preparation, giving yourself a chance to present the work in front of other knowledgeable impartial advisors and in front of strangers or friends who make you a little nervous is all part of getting ready. Don’t wait to test yourself.

Get good help.

Work with qualified advisors, such as your music teacher, vocal coach, drama teacher, or other people who understand what proper technique and truthful/believable acting are. Your parents may not be the right people for this.

Finally, I encourage students to look past the various “Top Ten” lists to identify excellent programs in your region and those that are emerging nationally with strong teachers, ample production opportunities, creative cultures and rigorous training that suits your way of learning. Successful careers begin in many exciting ways.

Good luck and enjoy the process!

Need some advice? We’ve got you covered.

Joe Deer runs a well-respected BFA Musical Theatre program at Wright State University and has auditioned thousands of students across the US for the last 21 years. His graduates populate Broadway, national tour and international stages around the world. Joe is a Broadway veteran who has performed and directed internationally. He was founding president of the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance – International, and is author of the books ACTING IN MUSICAL THEATRE (with Rocco Dal Vera) and DIRECTING IN MUSICAL THEATRE.