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BFA vs. BA: What it actually means

lifeonstagelifeonstage Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
edited April 2011 in Theater/Drama Majors
For a long time I was really sure that I wanted a BFA. I was ready to run off to college, train my heart and soul out, and pop into the professional world. But when actually confronting this, I wasn't able to part with some of the more "traditional" things that a BA has to offer-- I really like to learn, and I figure that being an undergrad is the last time that you get the solid chance to expand your knowledge on a more general level. So, some questions:

-are all BFA programs pretty much "we're in the studio from 9 to 4 almost everyday" (thus making the more "traditional" college experience of running from class to class improbable)?

-are there any BFA programs out there where you can double major without killing yourself or having to constantly fight to have room for your classes? (some schools say that you "can", but we all know that just because something is theoretically possible doesn't mean one should attempt it)

-do the more pre-professional perfomance-based BAs work in the same way as the strict BFAs? (i.e. it's also "well, we're in the studio from 9 to 4...")

-do people (like, possible employers or people evaluating you when appling to a graduate program) look at you differently if you have a BFA vs. a BA (or the opposite)?

-any general suggestions on schools where you are still free to persue more general areas of learning but still get a solid training in theatre (both BA and BFA)?

Thanks! :) Sorry for the length
Post edited by lifeonstage on

Replies to: BFA vs. BA: What it actually means

  • amtcamtc Registered User Posts: 2,863 Senior Member
    You sound like the perfect candidate for a BA. Find the right school and you will be able to take all the same classes as if you were in a BFA program only customize them to what you want/need. A good BA program has fewer required courses which would allow you to take a second major or just dabble in other courses you would like to explore. However there is nothing to prevent you from taking as many additional classes in the theater department as you would like. A good BA program will suit all your needs.
  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    there are plenty of people who get BAs then "pop into the professional world" right after! I agree with you that this is the one time in your life when you can explore a range of knowledge (not even with a graduate degree because that is highly focused). You can always add on additional acting training at any point and throughout your whole life.

    And, I am saying this as the mother of a daughter in a BFA program!! I fully supported her path and her decision, but it was her choice entirely!

    My advice to you is to apply to a range of school types so that you have options to choose from come April.
  • MichaelNKatMichaelNKat Registered User Posts: 4,220 Senior Member
    Within the realm of BFA programs, there is more variation than one might think. There are schools like NYU and Emerson where for the first 2 years there is heavy emphasis on liberal arts (I think at NYU a student spends 2 days a week in liberal arts classes and students do double major). There are schools where students may take only 8 classes outside the theatre department over 4 years but the differences are that one school is more akin to a BFA "conservatory" and liberal arts is offered through a general liberal arts department and another school is a full university or college that houses a BFA program and liberal arts is through different stand alone degree conferring departments in a particular area of study. There has been a ton of discussion about liberal arts, BFA vs BA over on the Musical Theater Forum, both for Acting and Musical Theater programs and you may want to take a look over there.

    As to post graduate employment or admission to graduate programs, I don't think it matters whether you get a BA or BFA. If you are talking about employment as a performer, there are those performing with both types of degrees. If you are talking about employment outside of the world of performing, the reality is that very few undergrad degrees really prepare a student for employment in their area of study. For most entry level jobs, an employer won't care if you have a BFA or a BA in acting/theater. What will count is how you present at an interview, references, your resume and whether you can market yourself as having the skill set and ability to mesh well with the employer's operation. As to grad school, if you are talking about grad school in theater, if it is a performance based masters program, having a few years where you have been out performing will be far more important than the type of degree you have. If it is an academic/teaching focused masters program, again, the degree won't matter. If you are talking about a grad degree outside of theater, having a BFA vs a BA in acting/theater won't really matter. If the grad program requires a specialized undergrad background such as pre-med or engineering, you are not going to have it with either degree. On the flip side, there are lots of students who get into law school (as well as other grad programs) with BA's and BFA's in theater.

    The most important thing is to figure out what kind of balance you want in college between concentrating on acting/theater and liberal arts. Then pour over the curricular/degree requirements at schools of interest. Drill down on their course catalogues. Make charts lining up schools side by side so your can compare the theater programs by subject matters and course contents and see the ratio of liberal arts and required core departmental and non-departmental classes. There are BFA programs that will satisfy your desire for liberal arts in the more focused and narrow world of a BFA and BA programs that will give you a lot of performance training in a broader liberal arts program.
  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    To correct what MichaelNKat said about NYU / Tisch. The students are in studio three days a week, and two days in academic classes. The students are required to take a theater studies class (which is an academic class) for seven semesters, and eight semesters of "liberal arts" with distribution requirements (but freshman year, the Writing the Essay is required for this, it focuses on Art in the World and the World in Art), and then electives to fill out the remaining required credits. For theater studies, the freshmen year also has a required set of intro courses, then there is a menu of options for the remaining semesters.

    I think the liberal arts requirements (beyond Writing the Essay) all have to be taken in the College of Arts and Sciences, but all the electives can be taken in any school except Professional and Continuing Studies. Tisch has its own electives, too, which students can choose from.
  • EmmyBetEmmyBet Registered User Posts: 2,934 Senior Member
    My D did a lot of this thinking, too, and she did have a balanced list once she was done, and lots of options to choose from in the end - with her head and with her heart.

    I would say she has the same urge to have a liberal arts education as you do, but perhaps wants a BFA more (not for employment so much but because it's always what she feels she would enjoy the most in college).

    She did not apply to any stand-alone conservatories; she wanted to be at a college/university. She doesn't necessarily want to double major, and knows that is very difficult with a BFA, but she did want to have the option of a minor. In the end, she chose among a large university BA with a zillion opportunities; an LAC BA with very strong liberal arts; and a BFA with an honors college Great Books program and the possibility of a minor if she wants.

    Ultimately she realized every time that she looked at the theatre curricula at the various schools she always preferred the BFA - the others always seemed to be too few courses, and too little real "training." But she is very excited about the liberal arts she will be doing, and feels she has found the perfect balance for her needs.

    In the archived thread there is a wonderful quiz about BA vs. BFA. It has helped many kids decide which is the right path for them. I don't remember which page it is on, but I would recommend skimming that thread anyway. If anyone knows how to link the page, please post it!
  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    Yes, the "many options" approach is the path my daughter took, too, and even among the BAs, she applied to schools that were "known" for their theater and others that were not, and was ready to go to the latter if the BFA had not come through, just because that was her favorite on its own merits and she had satisfied herself that the theater program was one she'd enjoy and learn from..
  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    the one problem in considering how much weight to put on academics, is that some students are basing their interest in it by their high school experience. College is a totally different place, as students have more latitude in choosing what they're interested in studying and in being in a classroom with like-minded students. The kids also pick what kind of social and academic environment they want to be in, by virtue of making a college choice, and so may be more open to academics and learning in a way they were not in high school.

    that's not easy for a high school student to understand or anticipate, so that's why I personally believe in a keep the options open path when applying.....
  • EmmyBetEmmyBet Registered User Posts: 2,934 Senior Member
    NJMom - you're a superlinker! I knew you'd come through!
  • snapdragonflysnapdragonfly Registered User Posts: 646 Member
    BA's can vary a lot, too. Where my daughter finally decided to go, her BA degree will be about 50/50 - a good bit more in her major than a "typical" BA already - but by the time you figure a lot of her electives that are going to be courses related to her field (extra dance, voice, or visual arts to help with costuming) she will probably have well over half of her actual course work in areas other than her liberal arts core.

    I think as far as prospective employers or grad school caring, MichaelnKat pretty much hit the nail on the head. D has already talked to the head of the department at the school where she'd like to get her masters and that was exactly what she said - they didn't care about that, what they wanted was some work experience first and also to demonstrate a certain knowledge/skill set (in this case, for costuming, having to do with basic technical knowledge of garment construction and theater - which can be acquired with either a BA or BFA.)

    I think it does really boil down to, does this particular program fit what you or your student wants their college experience to be, as Emmybet illustrates. I think it's wise to keep in mind some flexibility once you get there, as SDonCC observes, which EmmyBet's D did do when she chose a BFA that would allow her to get a minor.
  • amtcamtc Registered User Posts: 2,863 Senior Member
    snapdragonfly - that is exactly what I was saying. In a BA program you have more options to tailor your classes to you so that you're able to take as many or more theatre/acting classes as a BFA student with a little less structure and more flexibility. By the time my daughter graduates her MT/non-MT split will be about 80/20.
  • snapdragonflysnapdragonfly Registered User Posts: 646 Member
    amtc, yep.

    The trick is though, that in schools which offer both a BA and a BFA, sometimes there are some very desirable classes (including especially upper level, professional development type classes) which are either completely closed to BA's, or only available by professor approval and *if* there is room after all the BFA's have registered.

    We crossed those kind of BA options off of our list in the event she did not get accepted into the BFA program. (There was only one program like that for which we would have made an exception and it was because it was clear they were flexible and would work for her individual best interest, and by that I mean they actually would walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and they have the reputation of being that way, but it didn't matter in the end as she chose elsewhere) It might not be an issue for everyone, but it was for us. We ran across several REALLY nice BA programs that I would unhesitatingly recommend as being in no way in danger of offering less training than a solid BFA program, but all of them that we personally found, were in programs where the BA was all that was offered.

    ~these are special BA programs though. They aren't all that hard to find but by no means is every school able to boast of them. The schools we quickly dismissed as "token" theater programs, as a rule, did not offer BFA's either, but the difference between those and the serious about it BA programs were glaringly obvious, usually starting with very clear clues just from the importance given to their page on the school website. Like that one I still joke about and the theater department home page, to this very day, is still, believe it or not, "under construction." I'm thinking how low is that department on their priority when a professor either can't or doesn't collar one of the IT students and hire them to put together even a basic web page? LOL!!!!
  • austinmtmomaustinmtmom Registered User Posts: 2,356 Senior Member
    Something else to consider is if you will be going in with AP credits or dual credits that the university will accept. My D went in with both and so she has more flexibility in choosing her core classes because she already met some of the core requirements through those credits coming in. It just gives you more flexibility to explore other areas of interest.
  • EmmyBetEmmyBet Registered User Posts: 2,934 Senior Member
    We spent a couple of days with a theatre BA student at a school my D strongly considered. This young woman, a graduating senior, has had a phenomenal experience, is very happy, feels very prepared to continue her acting career. She has some jobs lined up, interesting projects. She also was able to do at least one minor (I don't think she double-majored) and did a study abroad that wasn't designed for theatre - except while she was there her NGO internship was with a cultural group where she did a ton of performing. It all sounded great.

    My D looked really hard at the BA offerings when she had her list of acceptances. There were great classes - it was a huge university - and she knows it would be just terrific, that she could make it work and have a wonderful 4 years. She'd have to weave herself a program that met her needs, but she felt it was possible and could be exciting.

    But FOR HER, whenever she looked at the programatically specific plan of study at her BFA school, combined with how many gen eds and electives she would have room for, she felt she would get JUST what she wanted, without having to make it happen for herself. She is absolutely confident the classes will be offered when she wants them, that there will be room for her (since she's required to take them - and we have heard absolutely no complaints about availability), and that she will get everything, and more, that she wants in the 4 years she'll be there.

    The quiz gives opportunities to ask yourself these kinds of questions ... as my D looked very closely (with expert help!) at the curricula of her BA and BFA schools, she could feel with her gut where she saw she could either be disappointed or satisfied.

    I would recommend to juniors making their lists that they think about applying to a wide range of programs - BAs with more/fewer requirements, BFAs in various settings, and auditioned BAs that often split the difference.

    The only thing you can't change easily come March/April is where you have applied - the deadlines pass, and that's it. On the other hand, you can always decide not to attend a school.

    Hey, snapdragonfly! Nice to hear from you! Glad to know your D is happy. Have you told us where she's going?
  • snapdragonflysnapdragonfly Registered User Posts: 646 Member
    Hey Emmybet! Over on the announcement thread - yes we did! She's attending St Edward's in Austin, TX which is starting an MT concentration JUST FOR HER hahaha next year. (not really but it feels, I swear, like God said "oh, she's going there? Then we'd better get a MT there for her! hah!) The professor heading the program has been highly recommended to me by people whose expertise and experience (including personal experience with him) I trust very much so I feel very good about it. Their straight theater program has always been well regarded - if they'd had an MT concentration two years ago we might not have looked at too many other schools because this one has always been a favorite of hers. Happily, they made a financial offer that was generous enough for us to accept without having to pray for any long odds wagers or a miracle, ha. So between that and not feeling that she would have to compromise anything that was important to her academically, it ended up being kind of clearly the place she was meant to be. Which, is a good thing for my own peace of mind as I tend to second guess myself with very close decisions!

    She is completely happy with her choice. I know just what you mean about having to worry about "making it happen" - that was why we ultimately crossed off several programs on our list. We just weren't confident that their programs offered everything she needed without having to think very carefully about where it was lacking and having to figure out how to compensate.

    Very good point about putting a variety of programs on that list. My D did get a few BFA offers but when we investigated the programs closely we were uncomfortable with some things, just red flags - and our college coach agreed we were right to have concerns - thank God we had a few very solid BA programs to fall back on that won't leave her lacking or scrambling to "get" enough singing, dance, and professional development. That was not what we wanted either and exactly why some were crossed off our list.
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