Fine arts and performing arts students have additional application requirements. 

Photo by Wendy Wei on

If your high school student is even considering majoring in any of the arts or an arts-related major (think sound engineering), realize that most colleges ask for more than just the Common App and SAT/ACT scores. These programs almost always require a portfolio review or audition. Read on to learn the details.

The basics Students in the arts have an additional piece to their admissions process compared to those applying to non-arts majors: Performing Arts students audition for a spot in their program and Visual Arts students present a portfolio for review. Note that potential arts students must be accepted to the college in addition to receiving acceptance into the arts program. 

At most colleges, art students complete the same application as non-arts majors, whether it’s the Common App, the Coalition for College application or the school’s own. If applicable, SAT/ACT scores must be included, along with any AP/IB scores. 

Additional materials usually include a recommendation letter from an art teacher, instructor or other related professional and, sometimes, an artist statement.  

Some programs request prescreening materials with the application, like an audio or video sample or a few pieces of artwork, to determine if a student receives an invitation to audition or show their portfolio. 

Generally, a student must submit a completed application before they can schedule an audition or portfolio review, even though an admissions decision may come after these screenings. 

Requirements for auditions and portfolios are usually found on the How to Apply section of the Admissions page of a college’s website. If your student has difficulty finding that information, they should contact the college’s admissions office to learn where to access those details. 

Timing The challenging part of this process is that your student will likely submit their application well in advance of their audition/review date. Though some schools open auditions/reviews as early as December, the more common scenario is that your teen will audition/have their review sometime after the New Year, as late as March at some schools. 

The later audition/portfolio review dates offer plenty of time to prepare. Preparation is essential because the college, not your student, chooses the audition materials or portfolio requirements. Arts programs look for students they believe will have the best chance to succeed in their chosen field and who take the audition/review process seriously. Submitting incomplete materials or showing up unprepared will only hurt your student’s chances of acceptance into the program. 

Finding assistance Your teen’s instructor, whether a teacher at their high school or a professional outside of school, has been through this before with other students. They can hopefully provide an initial list of colleges whose programs they recommend or share where their former students have been accepted. They should also be familiar with the audition/portfolio review process and may be able to help your student prepare.

If they can’t, ask if they have a list of private coaches. This is a good option if you can afford it because these instructors are usually very familiar with audition/review materials. They will also focus on the specific skills that your teen needs to improve.   

Research the audition/review requirements beforehand so that your student can bring the lists from each college to their teacher or instructor. Sit in on this initial meeting, if possible, so that you understand what’s involved. Teens often gloss over the important details.

The workaround Some students don’t have a strong background in the area they want to major in because they developed their interest late. One option is to find colleges that don’t require auditions/reviews for their arts programs. There are fewer of these schools, but they exist if you and your teen are willing to search.  

Your student can also apply as a liberal arts major to a college and use freshman year preparing for their audition/portfolio review. In the spring they can apply to the program as a student of the college and hopefully gain admission for their sophomore year. Because they’ll take general education courses in freshman year, your student’s unlikely to fall behind in their graduation timeline, depending upon the college. 

Learning the requirements for arts programs in advance, by spring of junior year, will help the college admissions process run smoother for your whole family when application season arrives in the fall.