by Abby Tozer
Can I pursue a creative career without a degree in it?
As seniors prepare to decide which schools, majors, and program types are best to advance their dreams, I want to take a moment to debunk the myth that your college major determines your future (hint: it doesn’t). This article is for anyone who is unsure what their major should be – particularly, anyone interested in a creative career.
I am a full-time actor, writer, producer, and college counselor living in Los Angeles. I went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate career and pursued a degree in Neuroscience, as well as a double minor in Acting and Music (Jazz piano performance). I am the poster-child of pursuing a career in your true passion despite the concentration of your degree, but I want to break down a little of my path to help anyone currently building theirs.
Did you always want to pursue a creative career?
Yes and no. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, I grew up performing in countless musicals – from school to community theater and everything in between. I felt welcomed and free expressing myself on the stage. When I reached high school, I realized how academically strong I was and was pulled in several directions. I pursued every possible AP class, club, sport and acting opportunity. When application season came, I was completely torn on which path to pursue. So, I applied to both academic BA programs and performance-based BFA programs, trying to delay my decision until the last possible moment.
How do I choose what to major in?
If I had taken more time to figure out what I truly wanted from my college degree, I could’ve saved myself a lot of time auditioning and writing essays for programs I was only half invested in. As someone whose interests teetered between musical theater and pre-med programs, my advice is to take the time now to ask yourself what you really want from your four years. Consider these questions to help you start:
Do you want ‘the college experience’?
- If YES then maybe a university is the right choice
- If NO, perhaps a liberal arts college or conservatory
Do you want to continue developing skills in areas outside theater?
- If YES, then maybe a performing arts program within a university (think University of Michigan). This allows you to pursue a minor or at least take classes outside of your Acting/Performing Arts major.
- If NO, then perhaps a conservatory is the right fit (think Berklee or Julliard)
I started Berkeley with a concentration in International Relations (see how little the major matters?). It wasn’t until the end of my second semester that I realized how much I missed science, and the types of students I was surrounded by in science courses. So, I switched to Neuroscience. I found it incredibly interesting and just wanted to learn more about it, simple as that. By the end of sophomore year, I missed music and added my music minor, and by the end of junior year, my theater itch had returned and I added my second minor: acting. A large university like Berkeley allows you the flexibility to pursue interests in many different areas, all to the highest degree. If you’re someone who’s succeeding across the board in high school, and finds many different subjects interesting, this might be the best option.
Do you find not having a BFA in theater hurts you as an actor?
As an adult fully immersed in the industry, I’ve come to love my diverse academic background. When I first re-entered entertainment, I felt very behind compared to my BFA-holding peers. For about a year, I was playing catch-up: reading countless plays, building a reel, and becoming familiar with the terminology of an acting student. But, the more comfortable I became with my own acting, the less I relied on canon. I think studying something other than acting can actually be a huge advantage:
- You have no presumptions of ‘how’ things should be and enter the work from a unique perspective that is all your own
- You’ve spent four years building yourself as an individual and come into the work completely fresh and excited by it
- You don’t have a predisposition or pattern of performance that holds you back when you encounter other styles of working
- You’ve built a strong relationship with studying and have the discipline to get self-tapes, career-building, and acting work done
This all sounds great, but all I want to do is perform…
Great! If you know that a structured program in performing arts is where you will thrive, then go for the BFA. I find students who typically fit well with the BFA…
- Love a small class size and want one-on-one attention from faculty/peers
- Love the structure provided and thrive in a structured environment
- Are curious about all facets of acting, the history of acting, and want to perform as soon and often as possible
How do I find the program that’s right for me?
Keeping all of this in mind, do your research, but do your research on yourself. The more you sit and reflect on what you like out of high school and what type of environment you want to study in, the easier it will be to choose a program. Plus, you can always reach out to a performing arts counselor here at GE (once you’ve reflected on your likes/dislikes) and get a tailor-made list of programs that might work for you.