College Audition Coaching: A New Cottage Industry?

By Mary Anna Dennard

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Parents hire all kinds of coaches for their kiddos. Coaches for young athletes and coaches for SAT Prep, even teen life coaches. Now there is a new breed of coaches for young performing artists that seems to have become a burgeoning cottage industry. College audition coaches are the new normal, and they are popping up everywhere. Each month or so during the audition recruitment season, new services appear virtually all over the country; in big cities, in medium sized cities and in small towns. In the Northeast, the Southwest and the Midwest. Those families who find themselves in the market for a college audition coach need only Google College Audition Coaching to see an abundance of offerings. Some of these college advisors also work as private song or acting coaches, and some are instructors at summer performing arts programs.

I began my coaching business, collegeauditioncoach.com, exclusively for college auditions in 2000. And I remember during the 2005-2006 recruitment year, the department head at one of the major university BFA theatre programs told me that, as far as he knew, college audition coaches, such as myself, had never existed in years past. That surprised me at the time, but I now know that was pretty much true. However, times have changed. Currently there are about 20 private advisors throughout the country who have set up shop offering some kind of college audition coaching services. And that number increases substantially if you take training schools, summer programs, and online companies into account. Many of those offer a college prep weekend or college audition prep workshops and seminars. And the largest coaching company for college auditioning which is based in New York City has about 50 individual coaches on their roster. (most of whom are recent graduates from BFA performing arts college programs). And there are college theatre faculty members who are available for private lessons and master classes focusing on college prep. In fact, more and more college and university theatre, music and dance departments now have summer pre-college programs.

So what is spurring this trend? I asked my friend and colleague, Amy Rogers, who is writing a book in the BFA Musical Theatre Process. Amy is director and founder of the Pace University BFA Musical Theatre program in New York City and their theatre department has a record number of applicants in the thousands. Amy had this to say, "Roughly a third (this is a very unscientific estimate) of students we see audition use a coach or a coaching company to help them prepare for their college audition. The growing competitive nature of acceptances into BFA theater programs has helped to fuel this relatively new cottage industry of college audition coaches. Families have realized they need help navigating this often overwhelming process, which coaches tend to do very well."

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Amy Rogers

But does coaching actually give these musical theatre hopefuls an advantage in the college admission process? She continues, "The truth is that while students who have coaches are often very prepared, organized, have strong repertoire choices, and strong audition skills, they do not have any kind of advantage on the final outcome of acceptances. Talent, skill and potential will get you accepted regardless if you are using a coach or not."

Colleges are reporting record numbers of applicants for theatre and most especially for musical theatre. Some have told me the applicant pool has increased by as much as 20% in a single year. I joke that students are "drinking the Glee Kool-Aid". The good news for this ever-growing army of prospectives is that there is plenty of help out there, if you feel you need it.

What exactly does a college audition coach do? A knowledgeable coach can help you build a list of college programs that fit your goals and advise you in your complete preparation including college audition requirements, scholarships, procedures and deadlines. And a coach can help you find appropriate audition material in addition to coaching your performance package. Having a coach in your corner can give families a sense of security and calm because navigating this very complex, constantly changing college audition process is stressful and time consuming.

Given all this, it seems only natural that the college audition coaching cottage industry has emerged. And with the continued rise in the number of thespian college applicants nation-wide, it is an industry that is most likely here to stay.