Drama: Diploma vs. MFA

By: Carolyn Michelle Smith, First-Year Drama Student

Just last year, I was right where you are, trying to decide if I wanted to apply to an acting MFA program or to Juilliard. And I’ll have to admit: It can be quite a difficult decision!

My name is Carolyn Michelle Smith and I’m in my first year in the Drama Division here at Juilliard. I applied to the school as a Diploma student. Originally, I thought to myself: “How do I go back to school for acting for four years and not get an MFA!?” I received my BA from Fordham University at Lincoln Center some years back, graduated and thought to myself: “Yeah, I’m think I’m done with school for a while.” In my mind, as an actor in New York City, it was all about getting work. I completed an Acting Apprenticeship at Actors Theatre of Louisville, took classes at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C….and I worked! Then one day in the middle of a rehearsal I found myself stuck. There were certain tools in my “Actor’s Toolbox” that I needed to access. It was then that I realized…I didn’t have them! I could no longer simply rely on instinct, I needed technique.

It was at that moment that I decided to take matters into my own hands. I figured, now was the time: I was going to apply to grad school.

I began applying to schools, and quite honestly, found the process to be a bit dizzying! Deadlines, and essays, and fees…Oh my! When I looked into Juilliard, I found myself a bit hesitant about applying to a program that offered a Diploma instead of an MFA. My first thought was: “Ummm, not so sure about that!” The financial investment, plus the extra year (Juilliard’s Drama Division is a 4 year program) left me feeling a bit apprehensive. I sought advice about it, and then decided it was definitely worth a shot. Always good to have options, right?

I applied, auditioned and was accepted! It was the best phone call I think I’ve ever received! I accepted the offer after further research, a campus visit and many conversations with my actor friends over coffee. I realized it was an offer I couldn’t refuse! More than anything, it was really my visit to the school that cemented my decision. When I came, I saw a performance, and spoke to several current students in the Division. It just felt right… like the perfect fit.

My decision in choosing Juilliard instead of an MFA program was based on a few key factors. First off, I felt that the Drama Division demanded a level of focus and training that I’d been searching for in a program. Having worked in the industry for a few years, I was familiar with the type of actor that walked out of Juilliard. There was a level of professionalism they were equipped with, that was unmatched. Also, I saw the “extra year” as an added benefit. As I mentioned earlier, while some MFA programs are only three years, that additional year after graduation is all about getting your feet wet in the industry. While this may be an option for some, I’ve found that the shows, classes, and exposure offered in your fourth year at Juilliard can provide just as many opportunities as a year of “making the rounds” in the New York Theatre scene. Not to mention the fact that many of the directors, designers and playwrights that you collaborate with here are the same professionals you’ll be working with when you’re out in the real world. Receiving an MFA seemed to be a great idea because it would give me the option to teach. However, in my heart of hearts, I know that I got into this industry with a love for performance. Fortunately, Juilliard does offer several education outreach programs (both in the U.S. and abroad) that will allow you the opportunity to give back as an educator. Finally, when it came down to money, I was wondering what to expect in terms of loans. As a Diploma student, getting funding is hard but not impossible. Look for scholarships, Grants and Fellowships. Anything you can do to make the cost of tuition a bit easier to handle.

Above all else, when looking at schools and deciding, just remember whether it’s 3 or 4 years, you want to be in a place that feels like home. Too often we make decisions, based on reputation alone. Trust your gut. With every school that you’re applying to, remember that you are interviewing the school as much as they are interviewing you. Take your time, ask questions, speak to alumni, do everything possible to get the assistance you need. Go where you can grow.

Juilliard is exactly what I was looking for during this phase of my artistic development. Everyday in class, I look back, and remember where I was a year ago…I smile and then realize, I’m exactly where I was meant to be!

Note from Tina Gonzalez, Director of Financial Aid: It’s important to note that the diploma program is considered an undergraduate program, not graduate, which may affect students’ eligibility for federal aid.  Contact the financial aid office for more information.

“…my chances on the danger-line…”*

By Mónia C. Estima, Senior Assistant Director for Music Admissions

Hi again, Juilliard prospective applicants! I’m kinda, sorta caught up on the bulk of my pre-Thanksgiving work-load so I offered to write the Associate Dean of Admissions’ scheduled blog for today, on the topic of application deadlines.

Some of you already submitted your applications because you had an earlier deadline (November 1 for Opera Studies, November 15 for all brass, all woodwinds, double bass, harp and percussion). Well done, you! Now you can relax, kick back with your family, and load up on carbs this Thursday-unlike some other applicants who, with a December 1 deadline, may have yet to submit their applications! (I’m not trying to give you a hard time, guys, I know how it is-life is busy, busy, busy, and you’ve been itching to complete your Juilliard application, only you’ve just had to wait for the holiday so you could have a moment to fill it out properly and get everything in by Dec. 1. I understand. Have an extra helping of turkey this Thursday, the tryptophan will do wonders for your nerves.)

So, for you December 1 deadliners: the online application closes right after 11:59 PM (Eastern) on Monday, December 1, 2008! No joke! If you try submitting it after that time, you won’t be able to because it will shut off! If you’re online at 12:02 AM on December 2 and try to submit, you’ll get an error message telling you the deadline has passed. Do yourself a big favor-don’t wait until December 1, but try to finish up and submit it by November 30, because if you go to submit it and there’s some kind of technical glitch, you still have the following business day to rectify matters. Once you’ve submitted the application, you’ll receive an automated e-mail confirmation that it was submitted. After we officially “acknowledge receipt” of your application, you’ll receive another automated e-mail letting you know. If you believe you clicked “Submit” but you didn’t receive any automated e-mails, guess what? You didn’t “Submit” your application. If you realize this AFTER December 1-you’ve missed the deadline! Your application is LATE! For more tips on submitting your application, please see our receptionist Toni’s previous blog, as it has excellent information on the subject.

What else can make you “late?”

If you chose to pay your application fee by check, and you mail the check out but it’s postmarked after December 1, that makes your application late. If your major is pre-screened and your pre-screening materials are postmarked after December 1, that will also make you late. It may seem a bit nit-picky, to view an applicant as being late just because the application fee or pre-screening materials were postmarked the day after the deadline, but think about the hundreds of applicants who raced to their local Post Offices (or walked 15 miles in the snow, shoeless) just to postmark their stuff on time. Out of fairness to them, Juilliard must stand firm on the December 1 postmark issue. Also, for your own peace of mind, be sure to send your check or pre-screening materials by some traceable method (and keep your receipts!). If the postmark on your package is illegible and we question its timeliness, you’ll then be able to provide proof that it was postmarked by the deadline.

What happens if you’re late?

It’s a problem. A big one. We can’t just say it’s O.K., no matter what happened to make you late. It’s not that we wouldn’t sympathize, it’s that pesky “fairness” issue, as Admissions is charged with maintaining the integrity of the application process, for ALL applicants.

Generally, in the case of late application fees (for those who opted to pay by check), we can only approve your late application if there are audition slots available after we’ve scheduled all on-time applicants. The situation is the same for late pre-screening materials; those applicants’ pre-screening may be considered ONLY IF there are audition slots available after all on-time applicants have been pre-screened. Keep in mind, however, some departments’ audition slots will fill up rather quickly and, in that event, regardless of why your check or pre-screening was late, we will not be able to approve your late materials.

I know, this blog might come off as a real downer, but let it serve to inspire you to be the applicant who ISN’T sweating bullets on December 1, wondering if you’ll be able to get everything that needs doing DONE by 11:59 PM. DON’T take any chances on the danger-line-DO take advantage of the holiday weekend, keep a slice of pumpkin or apple pie by your side (‘cause pie helps, trust me on this one), and wrap everything up by November 30. You’ll be happy you did.

*The title for this blog was siphoned from Duran Duran’s song, “The Reflex.”

P.S. The Associate Dean for Admissions would like to sincerely thank Monia for writing this blog, as she is totally not caught up on her pre-Thanksgiving work. And on a side note, the original title was “Let’s talk turkey” – because the Associate Dean doesn’t know Duran Duran at all!

P.P.S. My title’s better. ;-)
~ M.C.E.

Next Steps at Juilliard

BThe Office of Admissions and the Dance Division teamed up to offer a new, FREE program this fall: Next Steps at Juilliard. Aimed at New York City high school juniors with prior dance experience, the goal of the program was to introduce the student dancers to Juilliard faculty and students through ballet and modern dance technique classes, and to offer informational sessions on dancing in college – everything from finding the right college program to application & audition processes to college student life!

Since this was the first time we have offered something like this, we were not sure what to expect – and we also didn’t know what the dancers expected of us! We decided to offer the program as a two-day experience on consecutive Saturdays, and to offer the program twice this year. I received 28 applications from 7 different schools for the November program, and a new group of students from a variety of schools will participate when we do this again in January. It was great to have so many fresh, young dancers in the building, eager to learn from our faculty and students. Some of them already knew that they wanted to major in dance when they signed up for this program, and some were still exploring the possibilities. We had different faculty teach on each Saturday, so that the dancers got to experience a variety of teaching styles and techniques. We had different Juilliard students demonstrate for the ballet and modern classes, so that the participants could see firsthand what type of student studies here. We discussed the application and audition process for Juilliard programs, but also talked generally about looking at college dance programs and things that high school juniors can do now to prepare for their college decisions.

The feedback we have received so far has been positive – the only negative thing participants said was that the program was too short! I think it’s easy for dancers, no matter where they study, to get caught in the “big fish, small pond” scenario. I hope that this program allowed the dancers to see what students at other schools are up to, what training is like outside of their own school, and some of the possibilities that are out there in the dance world. It’s important to experience and explore, and I hope that this program helped these young dancers on their own road to a future in dance.

If you are a New York City high school junior interested in learning more about this program, please contact me at (212) 799-5000 x506.

“This healthy little obsession we like to call dance”

By: Casia Vengoechea & Nathan Makolandra, First-Year Dance Students

For us, dance means: leotards, pirouettes, bun heads, kneepads, arabesques, band-aids, grand jetés, toned calves, IcyHot, pointe shoes (lots and lots of pointe shoes) and no sandals come the summertime. It brings: standing o’s, stage fright, aches, strains and sprains, injuries galore, physical therapy and blood, sweat and tears. It is: riveting, intimidating, discriminating, freeing, frustrating and completely, utterly and absolutely worth it. Dance: it’s what we do. And if you’re reading this, we can only presume you share this healthy little obsession we like to call dance.

Now, to address this idea of an ever elusive Juilliard-it is not as scary as it sounds! As overwhelming as your senior year in high school can be with applications, auditions, scholarships, performances and other daily stresses, it is imperative for you to relax, take a step back and realize: hey, it’s going to be ok. Trust me. Whether you attend a public or performing arts high school, there are always mentors and counselors, both arts-related and otherwise, to guide you through the process of choosing the college that is right for you and establishing personal paths to help you reach your dream school. Know that you are not alone in this taxing time and there is always a place to turn to for advice relative to your worries, dance and otherwise. A great way to get honest insight and information about the Juilliard School is by going to the source. Don’t be afraid to schedule personal appointments with the Dance Admissions Coordinator, or observe a class or performance in order to understand the true rhythm of a day in the life of a Juilliard dancer.

In terms of preparation for your audition, there is no denying you have plenty on your plate. For starters, the audition process is a long, stressful and arduous one. Be certain to give yourself personal time to prepare mentally and emotionally, and most importantly, be prepared to wait what seems like hours each time your number is to be called. Be patient! It is a virtue, after all. Secondly, there is the irrefutable pressure of any audition, from the competitive atmosphere amongst dancers, to the seemingly endless blur of faces watching your every move. As impossible as it may appear, try not to allow others to intimidate you with high legs or many pirouettes; dance for the satisfaction of performance and live in the moment for yourself. The myriad of staring faces is also not out to get you and though it seems hard to believe, the faculty is not waiting for you to stumble or breakdown, but on the contrary, to see you succeed. You are there because you have something special to offer. Show your gift and be proud of your capability, artistry and potential.

Finally, there is the importance of your solo, which is perhaps the only opportunity you have as a dancer to establish a sense of unspoken dialogue with the faculty, so be sure not to pass it up. Be honest with yourself and your dancing and do not shy away from the odd or uncomfortable. Despite what you may have heard, do not be afraid to create your own solo either, especially if you are interested in improvisation and choreography. Be open to outside opinions and suggestions while still remaining true to your own intention, and give yourself the benefit of performing your solo in front of peers and teachers alike. Show the faculty who you are as a dancer and individual, and do not fear any preconceived boundaries, for you can escape them through your movement. Your solo is your voice-make a statement!

Senior year may seem the biggest obstacle as of yet in your high school career, and making it out alive may be your main goal for the moment, but it is also a good idea to start thinking ahead. It is completely natural to be unsure of what the future holds, but having even the slightest inkling of what you want your artistry to develop into is important in discovering who you are as a dancer and individual. Do not fear your unknown destination, but embrace the process of arriving where you wish to be in the years ahead. Let dance take you there.

Embark: The Applicant’s Best Friend

By: Toni Rosenbaum, Admissions Assistant

Hi Everyone!

If you’ve called the Admissions Office, you have probably spoken with me before :)

Not only do I work at Juilliard (I’m here 9-5 Monday through Friday), I’m also a grad student at The New School. In fact, I went though the admissions process just a few months ago AND the application I had to complete was on the same system that we use here at Juilliard (which most of you are already familiar with). Of course I found the application to be super easy since I work with Embark almost everyday so here are some “insider” tips that I will share with you:

Embark is very user-friendly. There are links on each page taking you to instructions, preliminary questions, and requirements. Read the information on every page! It’s there for you to make your life easier so take advantage of it.

This might seem a bit silly but… DON’T FORGET TO SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION!!! HINT: When you submit your application, if you try to log into your application again, all you are able to do is track the status of your application parts (you are no longer able to edit). If you are still able to edit your application when you log in, you have not submitted your application!

If you turned in materials, (letters of recommendation, transcripts, resumes, etc.) BEFORE you submitted your online application, then there is a good chance that we have not entered that data into the system. Since we enter materials as soon as we receive them (usually within the hour when mail loads are light), if your application is not submitted when we receive your materials in the mail, we have nowhere to enter it. So the moral of the story here is: don’t freak out if you don’t see all of your application materials listed when you go to track the status of your application. It’s hard to remember the date you send everything out to each school and of course it’s stressful making sure each school has every required application part. Some nifty advice would be to keep a personal record of the date each part gets sent. I promise we will contact you if we are missing anything from your application file after all materials are entered. So don’t worry just yet if you see we have not recorded the receipt of your material, your papers are probably neatly filed away in our awesome new filing cabinets.

We want you all to succeed and get into the school that’s the right fit for you. Of course I’m a bit partial and would love to see you all come to Juilliard. The application deadline is fast approaching for most of you (I know for some of you it has already passed!) so feel free to call (212.799.5000 ext 223) or e-mail (admissions@juilliard.edu) if you have any questions or concerns!! Good Luck!!!!