One of the aspiring actors I advise sent me the link to an article on "The Costs and Benefits of a College Education" by Amanda Charney a student at USC. The article was dated Sept. 18, 2012. Both aspiring actors and their parents often write to me with concerns about the matter of going to college or opting to go straight into the business of trying to become a professional actor. As far as I am concerned the entire matter is one of maturity and experience.
If an actor has the maturity and background to jump right from high school into the aspiring actor's life, then that is probably the best idea for him or her. If this aspiring actor also understands that the goal is to be an actor, not a famous, wealthy star, this choice is an apt one.
Those who go to college want the "security" of a college degree and the statistical promise that it will add to their total lifetime earnings as well as give them something to fall back on. These are fallacies to the actor,however, who is not concerned with making a lot of money. Today's job outlook for college grads does not help this thinking, either. And the actor who knows that he or she will only be happy if acting, could care less about a fall back job. They only need enough money to keep body and soul together between acting gigs. They also know that if they have a fall back, they most likely will do just that and give up and fall back instead of pursuing their heat's desire. These actors also know that they can get a college education anytime, but that they will only be young once.
Some young people and their parents see college as a transition between high school and life. Teens look forward to the college years of fraternities and sororities, football games and parties and all the fun of campus life while getting and education. An education in much more that acting. There are required courses of all sorts from writing to history to math and science --even languages and literature must be studied in classes which must be passed if one is to graduate. And while a theatre major may offer excellent classes and lots of productions to be in, The professional world is only interested in the professional classes an actor has had and the big names he or she has studied with. So other young people would rather be acting and taking professional acting classes right out of high school, getting a four year head start on those who go to college and making their youth an asset for their budding career. Standing between these two approaches are mom and dad.
The aspiring actor's parents are either their greatest asset or their greatest liability. If they approve of their offspring going right into the business out of high school, even offering the help of room and board while they do it, they are a great asset--so long as they live in or near a city where an actor can get a good start. They also are helpful if they approve of an acting or theatre major at college. Some parents, like Brad Pitt's mother, work continuously to find their progeny a strong entree into the business. I am afraid that most parents however, play the politician.
The politic parents say they support their child's choice of becoming and actor "after college." Then they insist on a non-theatre or non-acting major and secretly hope the kid will come to his or her senses and go into business or get married and give up the foolish idea of acting. Of course not all professional actors who went to college have majored in acting or theatre. Many have not. It is not a requirement for success as an actor. But it is so easy for an aspiring actor to get side tracked that unless he or she has extraordinarily strong determination to act, it is a sure bet they will take a load of their parents' minds and give up on acting. Many people look back and remember their college days as the best days of their lives. I have the added perspective of having gone to college and also having been an actor. I can honestly say that the best days of my life were those I spent on the set as a professional actor.
Ms. Charney covers two more topics: Networking and Costs. She gives the impression that the networking opportunity from college is an advantage over choosing not to attend. All actors have to learn how to network properly and do it diligently if they are to succeed. The aspiring actor who does not go to college can do a great deal of successful networking in four years. So that topic is sort of even between the two situations. Costs are another matter.
One of the most recent emails I got was from a dad who was honestly concerned about the cost of colleges. Tuition of thirty thousand dollars a year for four years is daunting to anyone. And student loans are of no help to the aspiring actor. Starting to try to crack into the business while worrying about paying off tens of thousands of dollars in loans is not a good situation. An aspiring actor lives a Spartan life as it is. Debt only makes it worse. I'd say the cost of college,especially in these uncertain days of employment , make it unappealing. No one wants an uneducated or stupid actor. But an actor has time for reading. He or she can easily better their minds by reading the great books on their own.
One more topic before I close. Professional acting schools with a two year training program often seem like a great choice for the aspiring actor. Again, the exorbitant cost of such schools make them a poor investment. No school can guarantee its grads a job. Certainly no acting school can guarantee their alums a career. They make it look like a great many who study with them are successful, but the number that are compared with the number that are not is very small. Aspiring actors need to keep in mind that it is the actor that makes the school, not the school that makes the actor. Talent and drive cannot be taught. The successful actor is born with them and many other necessary qualities.
Are colleges and acting schools worth the money for aspiring actors? I'd say for the more mature and highly experienced high school grad, they usually are not. There are more reasonably priced and more effective training available. A good mentor can guide his protegees to the best opportunities. The same is true for the student who needs more maturity and experience. A good mentor can suggest the best way to achieve those goals.