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Performing Arts High Schools: Should You Attend?

Performing arts high schools allow young actors to practice and develop their craft in a vibrant and creative atmosphere. And I should know, because I attended one of the finest: The Cab Calloway School of the Arts. From grades seven through twelve, that school was my home, and helped shape who I am today: an actor, musician, teacher, and entrepreneur.

The Benefits

  • The Training
    Kids who attend regular high school have to take classes on their own time. Nights. Weekends. And it's usually Mom & Dad who do the driving. (And the check-writing.)

    Performing Arts High Schools

    Performing arts high schools can save you time, money, and agita by providing professional-grade training during the school day.

  • The Schedule
    When I was going to high school, I needed time off for several professional acting endeavors. As long as I made up the work and my grades didn't suffer, it was never a problem.

    No ordinary high school would have ever allowed that to happen.

  • The Atmosphere
    The greatest benefit for me was the nurturing and creative vibe that pervaded my performing arts high school.

    Creativity needs an outlet, or it will wither and die. Had I gone to a regular high school, I would have had performance opportunities, yes. But not nearly as many. And not nearly as often.

The Drawbacks

  • The Pricetag
    Some performing arts high schools are magnet schools: schools in the district that are specialized and therefore draw students away from their feeder pattern. They're public schools, and are paid for with tax dollars. Everybody wins. (An example of that would be the famous LaGuardia Arts in New York City.)

    But other schools are private, and can charge a hefty tuition. Not to mention application fees, books, even room and board if applicable.

  • The Competition
    Admission to a performing arts high school usually requires an audition. And the low acceptance rates can make kids (and parents) very nervous. And while performance opportunities are plenty, even those can dry up pretty fast.

    The bottom line? Entertainment is just like any other industry: exclusive and competitive. So dive in and do your best.

  • The Commitment
    Sure, you can still go to senior prom, vote for student president, maybe even play a sport. But let's be serious: If you're memorizing lines, rehearsing, performing, and doing homework, there's little time left for that high school stuff.

    If you want to attend a performing arts high school, be prepared to give up the science club, French club, and the free time club.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the admissions process?
    Most often, there's an audition. If there isn't, you should be asking why.

    In addition, you need to provide transcripts from your previous school. Some schools will have you complete a math and English assessment. I was even asked to write a short essay about why I'd like to attend.

    A couple letters of recommendation can't hurt, either. You can get those from your current voice teacher, a recent director, or monologue coach.

    And of course, bring your checkbook for that application fee.

  • Are private schools better than public ones?
    Generally? Yes. Privately funded schools like Interlochen or Thacher draw higher quality teachers, have better facilities, and are not censored by any school district. Let's face it, money talks.

    But I spent six years at a wonderful public school, and got a great education.

    It's up to you to make the best decision.

  • Can going to a performing arts high school help my chances of getting into a top university or conservatory?
    Acting colleges themselves are only interested in a couple of facts: Your grades, SAT scores, your extra-curriculars, etc. And whether or not you can pay the tuition.

    However, it's the faculty that conducts auditions, evaluates, and makes decisions regarding perspective students. So having a performing arts high school on your actor resume couldn't hurt.

    But remember: universities and conservatories are first and foremost a business. They're interested in accepting students who will become distinguished movers and shakers in the industry. (Then they can send you junk mail about donations for the rest of your life.)

    The bottom line? Colleges accept you based on your grades, your marketability, and your audition. Period. Anything else is just fluff.

So, is a performing arts high school the best place for you? Well, I can give you the info, but only you can decide.

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