My baby is leaving me in 14 weeks.
She and I started touring colleges in May of 2022. When I applied to colleges back in 1988, I was an English major so there were no auditions. Colleges basically just said, "Sounds good. Come on in." I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college and as a whole, I don't think we understood the importance of campus visits and such. I ended up being fairly miserable that first year until I transferred to a school closer to home. For my daughter, I wanted to make sure she had an opportunity to see lots of college campuses so that she had the best shot at figuring out what she wants out of the college experience. I wanted her to look at elements like campus size and location, diversity, activities, distance from home, and distance from the nearest "big city" (since performers often head to larger cities with active theatre scenes after college).
Last summer, we began the daunting process known as "getting into a BFA Musical Theatre program." I had nary a clue about what lay ahead. A's vocal coach was tremendously helpful. She held an info session for the parents of her students and provided countless Google files - spreadsheets, checklists, and an overview of the process from start to finish. I learned all about pre-screens. To get into a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Musical Theatre program, applicants have to submit pre-screen videos. Generally, the pre-screen requirements include two songs from different time periods, one dance/choreography video, a headshot, and a monologue. In some cases, schools requested additional information such as a "why do you want to attend this university?" video. Schools use the pre-screen videos to determine which students they'd like to invite to audition.
You may be wondering about the difference between a BA and a BFA degree. I wondered as well. The BA track allows for more exploration across different areas of learning. The BFA is more intensive and focused. Although we initially toured a college that offered a BA and not a BFA, she quickly decided that the BFA degree will give her the training she wants.
A worked on the two songs with her vocal coach. Her coach also helped her to select a monologue. I set about finding a choreographer for the dance requirement and a photographer for the headshot. Then I had the headshots printed - that's a whole process, too. Who knew the name had to be printed in a specific font?! It was a busy summer indeed. I also joined a Facebook group for parents going through the same process. Many of them were helpful; a few were absolutely off their rocker. One mom told me that since there was a slight shadow present in my daughter's headshot, she probably wouldn't get into a program. Another mom initiated a full-blown conversation about which way the staple should be facing when you staple the artistic resume to the headshot. I had to turn off notifications from the group so that I could keep my head from exploding. The group had lots of good information, too, just to be clear. It was just . . . a lot to absorb.
Before getting into a BFA program, of course, my daughter had to get into the colleges academically. Knowing that most BFA Musical Theatre programs are small (we heard statistics along the lines of 2-3% of applicants getting in), we knew she'd need to cast a fairly wide net to increase the odds of getting into a BFA program. We live in the Midwest; she applied to 12 schools in the region. Of those colleges, she got into ten (academically). We sort of abandoned the process with the last two since they are farther away. One of the remaining ten doesn't have a BFA program so that one also fell by the wayside. That left nine schools. One of the nine declined to have her audition. Their loss, amiright???
In February and March of this year, my girl auditioned for seven colleges. The eighth one considered her pre-screen videos to be her audition. We put some serious miles on my car during the audition period. At one point, we drove to Chicago twice in one week (four hours away). Two universities rejected her from the BFA programs (after her auditions) but lobbied heavily for her to go for a BA instead. One university accepted her into its BFA Acting program instead; that one came off the list as well. If you're keeping track, that means five acceptances into BFA Musical Theatre programs.
Of the five remaining contenders (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Viterbo University, Drake University, Columbia College Chicago, and Rockford University), there were two campuses we hadn't visited. So, I took a day off work and we completed those visits. She sat in on some classes, too.
If the preceding paragraphs feel like far too much information, you're not wrong. I figured I'd document our journey just in case it's helpful to someone in the future. Along the way, I created a spreadsheet to compare the five universities and their respective BFA Musical Theatre programs. I wanted my daughter to be able to compare tuition, financial aid offers, distance from home, and other factors. One extremely useful piece of advice I received from the MT Parents Facebook group was to create a "blind" curriculum so that A could compare the five schools without knowing which was which. I found course listings online and created a document for each, trying my best to produce an "apples to apples" scenario. My daughter found this exercise to be extremely helpful.
After pondering the courses offered by each school, she narrowed her choices down to two: Drake University and Viterbo University. I felt that the curriculum at Drake was a great fit for her (and we both loved the campus), but it was the second most expensive after Columbia College in Chicago. I must confess that the distance would have been a bummer. Drake University is nearly seven hours away from us. After speaking with her vocal coach, she made a decision. She is headed off to Viterbo University in 14 weeks.
I imagine we'll spend the summer getting her ready for college life, buying what she needs for her dorm, and crying a lot. Oh wait, that last part is just for me. It'll be a hard transition, but as my middle sister once said of her role as a mom, "I raised my children to fly." Her eldest currently lives in Spain; fly she did! Similarly, I want my child to fly, to soar.
I'm supportive of the decision she ultimately made. The university is 3 1/2 hours away but much closer than the first runner-up. I wanted it to be feasible for her to come home for Thanksgiving and such.
As far as the college admission and program audition process goes, I feel like I did my job as a parent. But how does my scorecard look for the past 18 years? I know I've made her life too easy in some ways. I think of all the times she left something at home that she needed for school or for a rehearsal. Instead of letting her learn a lesson, I drove the left-behind item over to the school. I've reminded her endlessly of missing assignments rather than letting her fail. One time, we planned to go swimming at a local pool only to find that it was closed. Rather than letting her feel the sting of disappointment, I found a different pool and took her there. She has one pair of feet and countless pairs of shoes. She has one body and a dozen swimsuits. She's been to Disney and Universal several times. That is not to say we haven't butted heads. Have we ever. Most of our spats arise from my night owl child not getting up on time for school. There's never a part of me that wants her to be a different person. I just, for the love of God, want her to understand how time works. If only you know how many times I've said the words, "School starts when it starts, not when you get there."
So yes, I worry that I didn't teach her enough about taking care of herself, of doing her laundry, sewing on a button, and improvising when the situation calls for it. Maybe I wasn't strict enough. Maybe I let her eat too much junk. I may have overridden her father's "no" with a whispered "yes" a few times. Maybe I didn't give her enough space, enough privacy. Maybe I was altogether too much. But. My daughter is kind, funny, and caring, so maybe she turned out a'ight. She's 18 now. An adult! Her dad and I high-fived on her birthday. "We kept her alive to adulthood!" we exclaimed.
When I miscarried repeatedly in my early 30s, my arms ached terribly after each one. I suppose it was mostly in my mind, but I remember the feeling so distinctly. Then, thanks to the gift of adoption, my arms were full. So full. In 14 weeks, they'll be empty, but I don't think they will ache this time. These arms will help her move into her dorm and then give her one more hug to last until the next time we see each other.