Seniors Liam Pham and Hunter Hurt prepare for pre-screens and more

Alexandra Warner

After perfecting his songs and monologues with his voice teacher Vonda Bowling, senior Hunter Hurt is ready to film his pre-screen. Setting up his camera in his room, Hurt takes a deep breath and hits the record button. Lights. Camera. Action.

In the fall, seniors are busy applying to colleges. But for senior performing arts students, like Hurt and Liam Pham, their route to college is more complex. They practice more intensely and submit pre-screens on top of writing additional essays to submit to their Common Application.

“Some of our students applying as performance majors are going through a process right now which is required by many colleges that offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater or Theater and Performance,” Director of College Guidance Chris Gonzales said. “They go through a pre-screen process in which they film and upload videos meeting specific requirements [for each school].”

The application process used to be more time consuming because students would have to drive or fly to in-person auditions. When Covid-19 hit, colleges changed their process to pre-screens and submitting videos, and they have decided to keep this routine, allowing applicants to save money.

“When I was a student and going through the auditioning process, I flew to multiple campuses and drove to two regional auditions,” upper school acting teacher Lauren Redmond said. “Because we’re coming out of this Covid-19 era, a lot of places are opening up the option of video submissions.”

Redmond also said that in the past international students could only do video submissions, so it’s not a new concept to receive applications this way.

“It’s just more readily accessible now because colleges are now realizing that kids are applying to like 20 schools,” Redmond said.

The pre-screens are one of the most important aspects of the application process. After the student has submitted their pre-screens to colleges, the college will review the submission in the fall and inform the student on whether or not they should continue to submit their application for the arts program.

“As talented as our students are, you have to throw the net wide [in applying to schools], because theater schools are looking for such a specific fit.”

Chris Gonzales

“Student may be offered an invitation to audition for a place in their program [while those denied] would need to select another major before continuing their application to that college,” Gonzales said. “By doing the pre-screen process upfront, applicants can learn if the programs they’re interested in would like them to audition, which means they don’t have to complete the entire application process for schools that might not be a match for their artistic talent.”

Because applying to college for fine arts requires extensive practice, it can be easy to forget or procrastinate parts of the application. Pham and Hurt have found ways to organize the colleges they’re applying to and keep their pre-screens available for submission.  

“I have a spreadsheet of colleges, and I keep the school size, the GPA requirement, the ACT and SAT requirements all in that folder so it’s organized,” Pham said. “And then I have what I need to submit as far as monologues and songs and dance goes, and most of them are through this website called Acceptd. I like to load all my stuff into Acceptd, and then I submit to the schools through that for pre-screens. [Sometimes colleges] also use slide room.”

Applying to these fine arts programs can also be difficult because these programs are often looking for a specific look or gender in a performing arts student. Hurt is applying to a lot of programs because “the colleges only accept about 30 or less kinds into their programs” out of around 1,000 that apply.

“As talented as our students are, you have to throw the net wide [in applying to schools], because theater schools are looking for such a specific fit,” Gonzales said. “Sometimes they’re looking for a very specific type of actor to round out that program, and your pre-screen might be wonderful, but you just don’t fit that type. So that’s why BFA theater applicants should generally complete pre-screens for a large number of schools.”

Standing out is crucial when applying to fine arts programs. Not just in the application portion but what songs, dances or soliloquies an applicant uses in their pre-screens and auditions.

“I’m trying to pick songs and monologues that aren’t overdone,” Pham said. “I think what works best to make you stand out is if you just pick things that are good for your voice and for you, then you’ll show the best part of yourself and that’s what you want to do.”

Pham and Hurt are also using resources to guide them through this process whether it’s help on their pre-screens or the application and essays with guidance counselors. Pham works with Redmond and upper school choir teacher Joe Snyder on songs and monologues where Pham is “acting while singing.”

“I worked with [Liam] throughout the summer, and I’m still working with him,” Redmond says. “We had set times [where] we would meet here at school and we would go over song selections or we would go over monologue selections and work those pieces. I’ve been helping him relearn his dance piece for auditions.”

While Pham has been taking advantage of the school resources, Hurt has been utilizing his voice teacher Bowling. He still asks his school teachers for a second pair of eyes, but Hurt’s main guide has been his private voice teacher.

“I go to my voice teacher once a week [for] an hour long lesson where we work on repertoire stuff [like] when I was filming my prescreens and my audition,” Hurt said. “We picked out songs I was going to sing… and then other songs in case [colleges] wanted to hear anything else.”

As Hurt and Pham continue their journey in submitting college applications, the resources they have are always supporting them and want to make their process easy while having a fun and enjoyable senior year.

“These students are very self-directed,” Gonzales said. “They already have given a great deal of thought about applying to this major, so we find that they are typically very organized, and we’re just trying to keep them on track to make this process less stressful and fun.”

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