you’ve decided to pursue a career in the performing arts, but how do you decide
which college to go to?
Tertiary education is probably one of the biggest investments you will make for your future - and WHERE you want to study is almost as a big a decision as WHAT you want to study.
We understand what a daunting decision it can be so we’ve put together ten questions to ask yourself before making your choice.
1) WHAT IS THE SUCCESS RATE OF THE GRADUATES?
Do some research into the success of the institution’s alumni. Ask how many of their graduates actually go on to forge successful careers in the professional industry and what percentage of them have been signed up with SA’s top agents. Keeping an eye on professional production programmes and cast lists will give you an indication of where many of the professional performers completed their studies. Remember though to take the ages of the performers into account as well as WHEN they graduated. An institution that produced a large batch of successful graduates five or ten years ago might not necessarily have maintained the same success rate over the years, so make sure to check the institution’s current/recent contribution to the industry. While some graduates may decide to branch off into other fields after their training, a successful performing arts institution will produce students who are ready and able to enter the professional industry as working singers/dancers/actors.
2) WHAT ARE THE OPINIONS OF INDUSTRY ROLE-PLAYERS AND PROFESSIONALS?
Agents, producers, directors, choreographers, musical directors …. are all important role players in the entertainment industry and are always looking for new talent to cast in their next projects. They have very clear views on what makes a young performer employable and what type of training they expect the performer to have. While it may seem a bit intimidating approaching these professionals for their opinions, remember that when a young person shows a genuine commitment to training in their chosen field and take their decision to study seriously, most role-players are more than willing to advise them on which direction to take and will happily spend some time guiding and chatting.
A good place to start is the website of the Personal Managers’ Association (PMA). Most of SA’s top agents are members of the PMA and their contact details are listed on the website. Remember that these professionals are usually exceptionally busy so if you are making contact be prepared to wait for a reply and slot in with their times.
3) WHAT DO CURRENT STUDENTS HAVE TO SAY?
Successful institutions have happy students. One of the best ways to assess whether students are satisfied with the training they are receiving and pleased with the decision they made to study at a specific institution is to ask them directly. Speaking to current and past students and getting it ‘from the horse’s mouth’ will give you a very realistic view of what to expect at the institution. Bear in mind that it is impossible for even the most amazing institutions to always keep everyone happy all the time. Sometimes a gripe/concern expressed by one or two students might not be a true reflection of the majority of the student’s experiences - so try to speak to as many students as possible to get a general view.
4) ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS BEING OFFERED ACCREDITED?
If it is important to you that you receive a formal qualification on completion of your studies, make sure to check whether the institution is registered with an official accrediting body such as CATHSSETA. Any institution offering a full-time, one year training course (or longer) with 120 credits (or more) should be registered (or provisionally registered) with the Department of Higher Education and Training, under the Higher Education act, 1997. The institution should be able to provide you with the correct registration certificate number. Although the institution may have all the necessary registrations you will also need to ensure that the nationally recognised qualifications being offered are in fact accredited by the Council for Higher Education and aligned with the National Qualifications Framework. This can be traced by the institution’s accreditation number and SAQA ID.
Also, be aware of institutions that claim to offer “internationally recognised” qualifications and exploit this term for marketing purposes. The phrase: “internationally recognised” should be used with extreme care as it implies that there is one, universal qualification that is accepted by all institutions world-wide. This is misleading.
The truth is, that although one MIGHT receive subject credits for the various NQF levels at different institutions, each institution has its own unique set of criteria and syllabi and may base their acceptance of a student or grant Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) based ONLY on their specific criteria - despite the previous NQF level. It is entirely possible to receive credits for recognised qualifications but this is NEVER a given, so be cautious of such claims.
5) WHO ARE THE LECTURERS?
Find out who the current lecturers are and what subjects they teach. Another point to consider is how diverse is the faculty? In the performing arts it is important that students are exposed to a variety of styles, methods and influences. Also, are the lecturers practising professionals in their specialised fields? Do they have hands-on experience? Are they familiar with the current trends and demands of the performing arts industry?
Besides the lecturer’s expertise and experience, inter-personal relationships are also important and it is essential that a lecturer is able to connect with a class. Sometimes HOW the class content is taught is as important as WHAT is taught. Speak to current students for their opinions. Some institutions allow prospective students to observe a class or two and this can also be valuable in helping you to assess the quality of lectures and classes. Furthermore, institutions who take the opinions and feedback of their students seriously, also conduct regular lecturer evaluations which are assessed by students. The general outcome of these evaluations could be of value to you if the institution is open to discussing these with prospective students. And lastly – find out whether the students are exposed to working with external professionals (who are not part of the faculty) through workshops, guest lectures, work integrated learning, etc.
6) WHAT IS THE SYLLABUS?
It is imperative that you know what you are signing up for so that you do not have unrealistic expectations after you have registered. Most institutions will provide you with a list of subjects that will be covered in the syllabus but it is also important to have a clear idea of how those subjects are broken down and what the learning outcomes are for each subject. Find out what percentage of the training is practical and what percentage is theory; whether all subjects are compulsory or whether there are certain choice subjects; whether you will receive any individual classes (particularly important when it comes to practical subjects such as singing and acting) and how many group classes you can expect and how many annual contact hours you will receive. It is also a good idea to ask for an example of their daily timetable. Although most institutions can only confirm their schedules and timetables at the start of the academic year, they should be able to at least provide you with an example of an “average week” which should give you a better idea of what to expect and what the core focus areas are.
7) ARE THE FACILITIES UP TO STANDARD?
It is very possible to receive exceptional training from institutions that have very average facilities. Do keep in mind, however, that injury prevention should be a priority at all times – particularly in courses that require much physical training. For example: dancers who are required to spend more than ten hours per week training may be susceptible to more injuries if they are dancing on a cement floor as opposed to a sprung floor. Also, the institution should ensure that the facilities are able to support and not hinder the student’s progress. Does the institution provide the necessary equipment (ballet barres, pianos, stretch bands, sound systems, dance mats etc.)? How big is the space and is it adequate to accommodate the class sizes? Is hygiene a consideration and are bathrooms and showers readily available? Are basic comforts (such as air-conditioning) provided? Are facilities well maintained? While certain expectations should be met, remember that fancy details and excessively modern finishes are often unnecessary ‘window dressings’ and will come at a premium cost which will be evident in your tuition fees.
8) WHAT ARE THE COSTS?
Tertiary training is probably one of the biggest financial investments you will make for your future. Ideally, you will want to get the best training from the most reputable institution. Affordability will, however, play an important role in your final decision. Unless you have parents/sponsors who can afford the tuition fees, you will need to consider the financial implications and how you intend funding your studies. Will you need to take out a study loan? Does the institution offer any bursaries or are there scholarship opportunities available through other sources? What are the various payment plans? Ask for an exact breakdown of costs from the institution and make sure you ask them to include ALL “extra” or “hidden” costs (such as text books, dance attire, make-up kits etc.)
Keep in mind that private institutions that are not subsidized and rely solely on tuition fees to keep their doors open are usually more expensive than state-funded government institutions. You will need to ascertain for yourself exactly what your priorities are and what kind of financial sacrifice you are willing to make to invest in your long-term career opportunities. Also, be aware that it can be extremely difficult to fund your own studies through part-time work while still studying in the performing arts, as you may often be required to be available outside of regular class hours for rehearsals, productions, workshops etc. Also, remember that as a paying student you are also a CLIENT of the institution so take note of their “client service”, how promptly and efficiently your queries are handled and how much assistance and support you receive from the administrators. This will add to your assessment of whether you think you will receive good ‘value for money’ and how efficiently the institution is run.
9) WHERE IS THE INSTITUTION LOCATED?
While the location of an institution might not be the ultimate deciding factor, it is still an important consideration. Would the location of the institution mean you would have to move away from home and are you ready/willing to make this sacrifice? If you do not have your own transport you will need to investigate whether the institution is located on major bus or public transport routes. While personal safety cannot ever be guaranteed you will also want to consider the type of area where the institution is located and whether you would feel comfortable/secure travelling there and back on a daily basis, often at unconventional hours. If you are sourcing your own accommodation you will also need to take into account whether there are acceptable residential areas surrounding the institution.
10) ARE YOU LISTENING TO THAT INNER VOICE?
Still battling to make a decision? There is one final factor to consider: your inner voice. The fact is - when all is said and done – your gut instinct will help guide you. You could find an institution that ticks all the boxes and seems like the logical choice and yet something doesn’t resonate with you; much like trying on a pair of shoes you have had your eye on. They might be exactly what you have been looking for but when you try them on they are just not the right fit. Finding the right place to study performing arts is an incredibly personal decision. Much of the work of performers requires EMOTIONAL investment and this can only be achieved at an institution where you feel supported and that it is the right “fit” for YOU. Can you see yourself attending classes there? Do you feel like you would fit in with the people there while still maintaining your own uniqueness and identity? Do you agree with the values and ethos of the institution? Does the vibe and the energy of the place excite you? Do you believe in your gut that you have found a place where you ‘belong’?
Be honest with yourself. Yes, it is important to make logical decisions based on facts and research but don’t dismiss your inner voice. Listen to your heart! It too, should be given a place in the decision making process.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: “May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.”