How to Afford College Acting Programs
by Ruth Kulerman
The problem of affording college is nearly universal but as a former professor I do have a few suggestions.
"I really want to go to college to study acting, but I'm not sure if I can afford it. I've been told for years that I should pursue acting as a career, but now I need to decide whether I really should make the leap. Any advice?"
Even if money for school is not a major issue, toward the end of this chat is some advice that I would give to EVERY young person considering acting as a profession.
The problem of affording college is almost universal! As a former college professor (before fulfilling an old dream of acting), I do have a few comments and suggestions.
1. Do you have a college advisor in your high school? If yes, go and talk openly to her/him.
2. There are many scholarships available and many ways to borrow money for school.
I personally borrowed several thousand dollars the last two or three years in graduate school and since I wanted to teach, I did not have to repay the borrowed money. Instead, I had to teach for five years and that wiped out the entire debt.
I am currently coaching a young woman in her early 30s who finished her Masters Degree in music about four years ago. She is still paying off her student loan. She is NOT a teacher but it seems that government student loans are very generous in the length of time they give you to pay back loans.
3. There are numerous scholarships available for minority students if you happen to be in that category.
So yes, education beyond high school is available to almost everyone in America.
If your high school guidance counselor cannot help, then write to your district's member in your state House of Representatives or in your state's Senate. Or find out the names of three or four of the richest people in your town. Write them a nice polite letter telling them your problem, and asking if they will help you. Yes, this does happen! These people are called "mentors" and they will be deliriously happy to sponsor you if you are brimming over with talent. That's a huge "if." Let's look at it a moment.
EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY
I think nearly every teenager in America wants to be a famous movie actor or pop music star. They see this as a way to be famous and rich. But the chances of attaining that goal are very slim.
What I am strongly suggesting is to truthfully ask yourself why you want to go into the acting profession. It is one of the toughest fields to break into and one of the toughest to even make a living in.
1. My advice to almost everyone is to find something you really like to do where you can earn a living and then do community theatre. If you live in a large city, there are often movies shot in your city and you could do extra work. In other words, train for a good profession and yet keep your finger in the acting pie, only as a good amateur rather than someone struggling to live off acting.
2. While you are still in high school, be sure to work very hard to make good grades. Being able to read well and to write clearly are great advantages, regardless of your profession, but especially in acting. So really apply yourself to your studies. It will also help bag that scholarship.
3. Before you invest money and emotions into trying to become an actor, I suggest that you get some professional evaluation of your ability. There are thousands of people who are very talented here in New York. Hollywood has even more competition. You need to know if you have the potential to swim in the deep auditioning pool.
Wanting to act and having a talent for acting are not the same thing. Find someone in your state who can evaluate your potential. Write to college theatre departments and ask if it is possible for one of the acting instructors to hear you for FIVE minutes and to give their honest opinion of your ability. You prepare two short monologues and let them hear your work.
A few months ago the parents of a very beautiful young 14 year old brought their daughter to interview, sing, and audition for me. This young girl wanted passionately to become an actress and singer. Now lots of teenagers are "late bloomers" but this particular girl will probably never have the ability to compete on a professional level. It is difficult to tell a young girl that. But it is better to know it at 14 than to spend the next 20 years trying to do something that she simply does not have the ability to do.
I AM NOT SAYING THIS IS YOUR SITUATION. But what I am saying is that parents and friends are not really capable of impartially evaluating your talent. That is why I strongly suggest you find a college level acting teacher and let him/her advise you. And be sure to ask them to tell you the truth. Many people do not want to hurt someone's feelings and so they go very easy in their critical comments.
4 Acting requires the skin of an alligator. Which is to say, the constant rejection inherent in this profession takes a toll on the psyche. An actor must audition and perform and that requires enormous courage.
5. Although what I am about to say goes against many people's opinion, nevertheless let me say it--with the caveat that it is MY opinion and is not written on a tablet from Mount Sinai.
There is, I firmly believe, a performing mentality: positive, gutsy, determined, self-confident about yourself and your ability, full of energy and vitality. I do not believe it is the role of a teacher or a coach to pull or to elicit from a student the energy, the vitality, the joy, the confidence that this profession requires. Of course shy people become actors. But their shyness drops off when they audition or perform. Acting requires almost superhuman self-confidence, at least during an audition or performance. You certainly can be taught how to say a line or deliver a speech. But that drive to perform must be so strong that no amount of shyness can prevent or destroy your ability to shine at an audition or performance.
A few weeks ago a June graduate of one of America's prestigious drama departments asked if I would coach her acting and guide her in how to audition. I agreed. Then she went home to visit a brother and his children. When she returned, she said their life was so good (family and home) that she wondered if she really wanted to act. I strongly suggested that she return home, find a job she enjoyed, and build a good life. I was absolutely sincere in my advice.
And to all would-be actors I give the same advice. As stated before, I am most alive on stage or in front of a camera. For me, not to act is not to be whole. BUT THAT IS ME. Relatively dull in real life, but a cyclone when performing. I do not recommend this profession to anyone unless you have the drive, the talent, the ability to function well in spite of rejection, and a joyous inner energy that is contagious to casting people and to audiences.
Money is to be had. Even at the most prestigious schools. Student loans, government loans, scholarships, work/study programs.
Apply yourself diligently to your high school courses.
Ask yourself very truthfully why you want to act.
Get an impartial evaluation of your talent.
Determine if you have the traits unique to this profession.
I wish you luck and sincerely hope that in another ten years we will see your name in lights on Broadway or on a movie marquee on 42nd Street. Or that you will be happy in Montana, or Maine, or Mississippi, with a good job, a home, and a lovely family.