Making the Most of Your College Experience as a Performing Artist

Making the Most of Your College Experience as a Performing Artist

Four years at college can go by all too quickly considering the years you spend preparing, time you use auditioning, and energy you devote to deciding on the perfect music program. So, how can you make the most of your time in those four years once you arrive? Here are a few suggestions.

Don’t do what you’re told! (Well, don’t do only what you’re told.) 

Sometimes young artists beginning their college experience wait around for their teacher or coach or choir director to find and give them opportunities. You should be actively seeking opportunities to learn, perform and grow as an artist from the time you arrive at your school. Go to every audition, even if you think it is unlikely you will be cast. Go to be heard and seen, to meet the decision makers at your institution, and to show your passion, drive, and desire to participate. If they don’t cast you this time, they will likely remember you for next time. Read every poster on every board. Maybe there is a summer program that is right for you. Maybe there is a workshop that interests you. Maybe there is a scholarship for which you can apply. You won’t know until you try. And go see that concert! Even though it has been a long day, or you have a test tomorrow, you will be glad you experienced that artist, heard that voice live, got to see their technique in action. These experiences are not always as accessible outside of school, depending on where you live, and often as a student you get free or discounted tickets to really special events. Do not waste this opportunity, and your future self will thank you! 

Go back for more

If you do go to those auditions and take those opportunities, but you are not cast in the opera or do not get the solo or scholarship, please do not walk away thinking you will never audition for that person again, or they must not like you, or you are not good enough. Never assume the reasons you did not get what you wanted. Here is a special benefit you will find being part of an educational institution – you can ask for feedback! In the professional world, requests for feedback are often considered taboo or unwelcome, but in an educational environment, you are there to learn. Everything you do can be a learning experience! So, ask for feedback. Listen carefully, respond professionally, thank them politely, and discuss it with your teacher.  And then try again. 

Try something you don’t think you are going to like.

Just like when you resist trying a new food, and then when you finally try it, you realize you love edamame, or blood oranges or ceviche, you won’t know if you like something new until you try it! So, if you have never taken a course in stage management, or grant writing, or pedagogy because you do not think it would interest you, why not give it a shot? At worst, you will learn a new skill. At best, you will find an ability that will serve you in your future career or a talent that you really enjoy. Take a chance!

Make friends and engage in activities outside of the performing arts

One of the best things you can hope for in your college experience is to meet life-long friends in your field, colleagues you will know and work alongside for years to come, and a tight-knit, supportive community in your performing arts department. But make sure you look for these communities and opportunities outside of the performing arts as well. When you just can’t stand to hear another word about his last audition or her new costume or their upcoming role, you will find great pleasure in retreating to a space where you can talk about topics unrelated to your major. Join a club, volunteer for a charity, or participate in a sports team. Then, when the real drama in the drama (and music) department gets all too real, you can escape to other environments and participate in other experiences that will expand your worldview and help you become a more well-rounded person and artist. After all, that’s what college is all about!

Lisa Sain Odom

Lisa Sain Odom is an Assistant Professor of Vocal Studies and Musical Theatre at Clemson University and is an opera and musical theatre singer and stage/film actor. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Vocal Performance from the University of South Carolina and has taught both classical and musical theatre/contemporary voice at Western Carolina University and North Greenville University. She has sung opera and musical theatre in Europe and the U.S., and her students perform on Broadway, on cruise ships, in regional theatre, at Disney World, and on American Idol. To find out more and get in touch, visit