Fewer performing arts students apply in #039;06

by Beacon Staff • March 22, 2006

A recent draft of the Emerson College Admissions report shows that fewer students have applied to the college to study performing arts. A change made to the supplemental application for prospective Performing Arts students may be responsible for a four percent overall drop in freshmen applicants for Fall 2006, Suzanne Swope, the vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said.

Swope said 4,918 students applied to Emerson for fall 2006, about 100 fewer than the 5,137 who applied in 2005. She added that the numbers had primarily dropped in the performing arts department but said she would not have definite figures until the final report is published next fall. Swope also said that the application fees have not increased and the only other change was that the college has made the switch from paper to online applications.

Performing Arts Department Chair Maureen Shea said she believes the drop in applicants could be a result of a change made this year to the supplemental application form. For the first time, the department made certain to have it specifically written that all candidates are expected to meet high academic standards in addition to having performing talents.

"We were frustrated in the past, because students were auditioning without knowing the college's academic expectations," Shea said, adding that by writing this piece on the application form, the department may have eliminated those who were not a good fit for the institution.

Tim Stokel, a sophomore theatre education major who had originally entered Emerson as one of the 24 freshmen in the musical theatre program, said that he believes it is important for potential applicants to understand Emerson's academic standards.

"Students are looking for conservatories nowadays," Stokel said. "Emerson wants to make us smart performers. Some kids see that as too much work."

Stokel added that he believes popular shows like American Idol have made it more appealing for young people to apply to schools like The Boston Conservatory, where the curriculum is entirely performance-based.

Swope said that this mentality is the principal reason admissions made a conscious effort to enlighten prospective students about what the college is seeking.

"We are looking for an academic match as well as a performing arts student," Swope said. "We need to ask ourselves, did we let enough students know who we are?"

Shea said that while this action may shave off the number of noncompetitive applicants, she believes that her department traditionally has a talented pool to choose from. For example, there are 72 actor-training slots open to each freshman class.

The actor-training category, which encompasses BFA acting, BFA musical theatre, BA acting and BA theatre studies with an emphasis in acting, received 1,456 applications in 2005 and more than 1,300 for 2006.

She said that the ratio of those who apply versus those who get in is still "highly competitive," even though applications are down.

Freshman writing, literature and publishing major Diana DiCesare said she wondered if the level of competition discouraged potential applicants.

"A lot of kids are intimidated, because their high schools don't have strong theatre programs, so they don't have enough experience to build a portfolio with," she said.

Sophomore broadcast journalism major Bryan Fennessey said he wasn't certain he believed that this disclaimer deterred students from applying.

"They are still getting more than 1,300 applications," he said, adding that he thinks the number of applicants naturally fluctuates each year. "I don't think [the disclaimer] prevented too many people, maybe 25-30 tops."