The college search process is already complicated and taxing enough for anyone who chooses to undertake it. Between curating an application, weighing schools, waiting for acceptances or rejections, and making the final decision, it is a lot for any teenager to handle.
But what happens when there is another layer added to the typical procedure? What happens when a student wants to pursue something other than a strictly academic degree?
"You have to start preparing for it way earlier than you would an ordinary college process," says Drew Harvey, a senior at Amherst High School, about applying to a college’s musical theater department.
"Because of the nature of auditions, you have to be preparing for it for a couple years beforehand," says Drew Harvey, a senior at Amherst High School, about musical theater college applications.
For kids like Drew who pursue less-conventional fields, applying for college consists of all that’s mentioned above as well as unique difficulties. Drew describes his college search process as very similar to a regular one, except with the additional step of auditioning.
"Some schools do pre-screening, which is basically auditioning to be able to audition. There’s also a ton of work that goes into just finding and working the monologues and songs that you’ll do before you even get to the audition," Drew says.
Those students who plan to participate in athletics in college will be familiar with getting an early start on the college search. Although there have been efforts made to reform this controversial aspect of collegiate athletics, some students are currently committing to colleges as early as eighth grade or freshman year.
The pressure to be scouted before most classmates are even thinking about college is an added challenge for those taking their athletic career past high school.
Nichols senior Zachary Gannon describes his experience with applying to art schools: "I think the main difference between this and a regular college process was all the time spent making my portfolio. For some schools, I had to make specific works just for them." Both Zack and Runming Dai, another Nichols senior, cited work deadlines as a source of stress.
Despite the special requirements, the core of the college search process is still there.
"The most important point for this entire topic is that school should always come first. There is a reason "student" precedes "athlete" in "student athlete," says lacrosse coach Robert Strickland in discussion of college athletics. While a student might be excelling in their sport, good grades always need to be maintained.
Besides overcoming logistical hurdles like deadlines and SAT scores, students following less-common paths are sometimes met with doubt or the advice to "try something more realistic."
"I’m pretty good at math and science, so a lot of people have told me that I should do that because I’d make more money (than with a career in arts), but I think I’m going to be fine," says Runming. As an aspiring graphic designer, Runming says that she’s been told that she will have a hard time earning a living, but she hasn’t doubted herself.
"I don’t think art is an unrealistic field to pursue. Art is relevant to politics, and to the community. It’s a really good way to connect with what’s going on around you," she says.
Although there is no shortage of difficulty involved, pursuing a less-common subject area in college can also be abundantly fulfilling.
"Playing for a school is just really fun. Being able to be a leader is really helpful to me. Not only physically, but just to be a better person," says Cole Donhauser, a Nichols junior, about his commitment to Yale University for hockey.
Another advantage of committing to a hockey team is that it has gained him connections that will allow him to get an academic education he may not have otherwise received.
Cole recounts getting a call from a college for the first time as the most exciting part of his experience: "I hadn’t really thought about it … but then when it’s actually happening, reality sets in and you realize you’ve made it pretty far."
Drew says he benefited from his experience with rejection from colleges. After getting into less than half the schools he applied to, while using the same audition material at every school, he realized that it really depended on what particulars the school was seeking. Facing rejection, he feels, has helped prepare him for the real world of theater.
Two of the most essential parts of the college search process for anyone, but especially to kids in this situation, are a good mentor and an excellent support system.
"Find someone who knows what they’re talking about and knows you," advises Drew. "I was very lucky to have a guidance counselor who knew a lot on the application and financial side of things … and my parents have been incredible, which I know (is) very fortunate. You can never have too many people helping you."
To kids considering following a similar path in college, Cole recommends patience and caution. "Don’t rush it. Focus on what you can control, and let the offers come as they come … It happens differently for everyone."
For teens taking their interest to the next stage and parents supporting their kids through such an endeavor, the task can seem daunting – and not without reason. But if it is done correctly, the rewards will likely outweigh the risks.
Cari Hurley is a sophomore at Nichols School.