Talking College Auditions with Emily Baggarly

college Apr 17, 2023

Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia 

Featuring: Emily Baggarly 

 Let's be real. There is a lot that goes into applying for college musical theater programs.

You need support around your singing and acting, audition material that fits you perfectly. Plus audition, cuts, piano tracks, self-tapes, essays, resumes, and wild card videos.


It is a lot and it can be overwhelming and costly.

It can be helpful to hear from people who have walked through the process before you, which is why we were happy to sit down with BVC intern, Emily Baggarly.

Emily is about to graduate from Otterbein University with a BFA in musical theater and a minor in dance. Prior to college, she was a company apprentice with Inland Pacific Ballet and studied in the summer with the American Ballet Theater and the Boston Ballet.

In high school, Emily graduated valedictorian with a concentration in musical theater from the Orange County School of the Arts and also served on the California State Thespian Officer Board as vice-chair and then chair.

Today, she's sharing the five things she and her family did to make the college audition process easier! Let's break it down!

Q: First, tell us a little about the second-semester senior year experience where you had the opportunity to move to New York through Otterbein

A: At Otterbein, during our second semester of senior year, we get to do an in-person internship in a major city of our choice. The goal is just to get professional experience before we're kind of launched completely into the industry. So I chose to live in New York while I participate in my internship with Broadway Vocal Coach.

It's great to experience a new city while still having the safety net of my peers and professors because New York City can be pretty overwhelming. I'm glad I don't have to completely start my professional career right away but also get time to figure out what I like best about the city and how to be calm and how to protect my energy as an artist. I get a slow start on such a big transition, which is awesome. 

Q: Let's dive into the 5 things you and your family did to make the college audition process easier. The first thing that you said made a big difference for you and your family was having the money talk. What's the money talk and what did it consist of?

A: The money talk is something that you want to do right away with your parents as you're making your list of schools because ultimately that's going to be one of the biggest deciders of where you go, whether you get accepted into that school or not.

A few questions I would ask and research with your parents or your guardian are: 

  • The Cost Of Tuition: Because very likely you'll have schools that you kind of eliminate immediately from what you discover from that.
  • What Scholarships Are Available: I wouldn't necessarily say you have to eliminate a school immediately if it seems out of your family's financial budget because I've had friends for who it was kind of a reach school for them financially, but then they were accepted and they were able to kind of negotiate scholarships. You don't want to get accepted to your dream school and then find out right before you have to decide that you can't make it happen financially. 
  • Learn Early On About How FAFSA Works: This is a form that you'll fill out every year and it's how you discover how much federal student aid you are eligible for. This will also be a huge indicator of which schools are within your family's reach.
    • Something to consider is that many states offer online seminars all about FAFSA. It's just a good way to get a little more information, find out all the dates/deadlines, and find out what you have to do.
  • Discuss If You Expect (or are expected) To Hold Down A Part-Time Job During School: Majoring in performing arts, whether it's musical theater or theater or instrument performance, is really time intensive. For some folks that really might not be feasible. But it's important to know what your parents are expecting of you and get clear on that from the beginning.
    • Another thing you can look for is called work study, and it's basically a part-time job, but it's through the school so that what you're earning goes directly to your tuition. And that's something I would actually ask current students, if a part-time job is feasible and if work study's offered.

Q: Your second point discusses organizing your auditions, what was your mindset for that time period? 

A: I remember my mom put up this giant piece of paper as a calendar in our living room (but you can do this on an Excel sheet, Google Docs, or whatever works for you) and we just filled it in as I started getting my callbacks. It's really such a puzzle, and I think what people don't necessarily anticipate is how detailed it has to be.

When you go to these callbacks oftentimes you can pick a location at a unified audition and they're in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Which unifieds are, in my opinion, the most fun part of college auditions. It's usually held in some hotel in the city, and all of these colleges attend in different conference rooms and you just go back and forth to all your auditions for different schools in the same location.

But the thing is that I don't think people anticipate how detailed it gets. What you don't realize is that you're not scheduling one callback for each school. You're scheduling a dance callback, and a singing callback for one school, and then you're running to a different room to do a dance callback for another school, and you're running to another room to do an interview for another school. I also had to complete a music theory test.

It's also not something that is completely timed out because auditions never are on schedule, so you kind of have to figure out the logistics.

Relatively recently, many schools have begun to offer Zoom auditions, which that is probably the most cost-effective way to complete them, and I know so many people who got into a school from a Zoom audition. As far as I can tell, where you audition has nothing to do with the outcome.


 Another thing that I would add is when you're scheduling this part of the college audition process, pay attention to how many days of school you're missing. I and so many of my friends ended up getting a slip from our school that said we weren't on track to not graduate because we missed x amount of school days. You want to make sure that you are still in school, you're up to date on your assignments, and you're communicating with your teachers.

A bonus tip for Unififeds: I made a little binder where I basically printed out all of the research I had done prior, and I highlighted the key things that I liked about the program and how I thought I would be a good fit. Oftentimes you will be asked in the room why you're a good fit or what you like about the program, and if you're going from room to room, it's so easy to go blank. So having something that you can look at when you're waiting to go in the room and remind yourself of the people you're going in to see, what that program is, why you chose it, and also what makes you special that has nothing to do with theater. It's a question you'll almost definitely get a few times. 

Q: For your third point, what was it that you and your family did regarding touring schools and programs that you were interested in?

A: My family decided early on that I wouldn't tour a school unless I was already accepted. This was for many reasons, one of them being it financially made more sense to wait until I was accepted to buy the plane ticket to go see it. The second reason was that you don't want to fall in love with the school and then it makes it so much more devastating if you don't get in.

The third reason is that it's hard when you're in the middle of auditions and you are trying to actively impress people and promote why you would fit in a program, it's hard to actually genuinely get a sense of if you fit in that environment.

So touring after you're accepted and after your auditions is just so much better. A school could be your favorite in theory, but ultimately you're going to be there for four years and if you don't like the vibe socially, or if you don't click with faculty, you don't really want to pay that much money to go to a school where it's not your people. And that's hard to decipher when you're kind of in audition and impress mode. 

 Also, for most schools, once you are accepted into the program and they're waiting for for you to make your decision - when you go visit, they'll usually allow you access to classes or you might be able to watch a rehearsal of a show. You'll just get a wider range of an experience of what it be like would be like to attend that school, than if you tour earlier and you get sort of the run-of-the-mill tour. 

Q: As your fourth point, can you tell us about what you chose to post online and what you didn't choose to post along this journey?

A: I want to preface that I had a very hyperbolized experience with college auditions because usually when you're applying to colleges, it's like maybe max five people from your theater program auditioning. But I went to an arts high school, so there were 60 of us.

 During acceptance season, we would be in class until 1:00 PM, and then we had musical theater until 5:00 PM. And I remember we would be sitting in class and you'd hear somebody get the acceptance phone call and you had to deal with those feelings associated. But that being said, that's why I have kind of such a unique look at how people are affected socially by audition season.

And I think what people don't realize is that whether you get accepted by one school or every school, there's so much pressure, and if you're a parent who's posting about all of your child's acceptances, it's not only hard for the people who are going through rejections, but it's also putting so much pressure on your kid who might've gotten in anywhere, but now has to make a huge decision. I think it should be an intimate, private experience.

Even for pre-screens, I especially wouldn't advertise where you get called back, because then everyone will know where you didn't get accepted. It's already such a socially hard situation regardless of if you get a ton of acceptances or not, so I would be careful with how you are celebrating.

 Set your own boundaries for yourself around how much you choose to engage, whether you're a student or a parent. It's really hard to stay out of a comparison mindset, and the fact is, you're on your own journey. You'll make decisions based on your outcomes, and your opportunities, and looking sideways is only going to increase the stress.

Q: For your final point, what do you think about the importance of being kind and gracious to those around you as you go through this process?

A: It's especially interesting now that I'm about to graduate because so many of the relationships I built during Unifieds are still so strong now. I would say the college audition process is your first chance to start networking kind of on a big scale because the friends that you make at Unifieds will continue past college. I know when you're in high school and you're applying to college, it seems like college is the biggest thing that you're ever going to do, but it goes by so fast and then you are going to move and start your professional career and those relationships that you make then, will be so important when you reach this part of your journey. It'll feel big when you're there, but it's such a small, close-knit community.

I had an acquaintance who was not so kind in the college audition process and honestly, I didn't think anything of it, but I had people come up to me from different schools, completely randomly, and share, "Oh, I met that person, they were not kind to me", and they remember that.

Being in the mindset that you're in competition with everyone around you isn't going to help you because really - you aren't. At the end of the day, it's a numbers game and everyone's unique.

Just try to make as many friends as you can, and help the person next to you. It follows you when you haven't been kind, generous, or gracious, and it follows you when you are.

Q: Any bonus advice?

  1. Get Creative With Your Essays: They're the most tedious part of the college audition and you may feel like you need some sort of divine inspiration to write the best thing ever. But what I did was look back at what I had written previously in high school, and I happened to write a personal narrative my freshman year that was really interesting, and it had like a lot of aspects of my artistry that are specific to me. So I actually pulled that and repurposed it as my senior high school self and I submitted it. I think you can be creative with how you go about the essay process, and there's a chance that you've already written something that's very similar to what you could present.

  2. Figure Out How To Market What Makes You Special: Bring what makes you special to the front of what you're doing. I had friends who were extroverted, so it came easy for them to share that. But what makes me special is that I'm quieter and I think being able to find a team that can help you discover that and put it out in a way that is still authentic, but showcases who you are is important. If I could do the college audition process again, I would try and figure out how to authentically put myself out there and not be so worried about being extroverted. We forget that showcasing who you are in this process is about the entire package, the whole self, all of your interests, all of your background, all of your skills, and not just the performance skills, not just the attributes that we see on stage. I think if you approach it with that mindset, it makes the recovery process so much easier because then you're not worried about if you chose the wrong song, or did a 16-bar cut wrong. You just can be proud that you authentically showcased yourself, and what happened, happened. 

And if you’re ready to get expert mentorship and ongoing training as you prepare for college auditions, then you’re invited to join the waitlist for our BVC Aspire program! Book a free consult with us - we can’t wait to hear your story and help you take the next step in your career.

Click here for your copy of our FREE GUIDE to Starting the College Musical Theater Audition Process

Click here to join our Facebook group for parents and students. We host biweekly Facebook Live Office hours to answer your questions and facilitate great discussions.

If you're interested in diving deeper into this topic or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation!

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