A parents guide to the costs
I’m writing this, not to try to scare people, but as a realistic guide to the minefield that is applying for, auditioning for and then funding a Musical Theatre course, particularly at the ‘big’ London schools. I also wanted to share just how much it all costs, as many of these costs are buried in small print and it’s really hard to tell a child who has achieved their dream degree offer that they can’t accept it because of the costs. Much of this information is the same for dance and drama courses, but I’ve not been through that process.
It’s a wonderful feeling when someone tells you your son or daughter is talented and has the potential to undertake professional musical theatre training. They’ve probably sung, danced and acted all their lives and you’ve probably already spent a small fortune on shoes, costumes, classes, exams and tickets to shows, not to mention petrol driving them around! However all of this will pale into insignificance when they aim for the big time.
Degree courses (eligible for student loans – but see later note about student loans)
If you want to go to the top name theatre schools, you need to apply early. Aim for the October deadline that Oxbridge applicants have when applying. If you are applying for theatre schools you will have lots of forms to complete:
UCAS – university based courses, including GSA, Bird, Italia Conti etc
CUCAS – Ucas conservatoire degree courses such as Trinty Laban, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
It costs £24 to apply through UCAS (less if you only apply for one course) and £25 to apply through CUCAS.
If you are applying to private colleges which don’t use UCAS (such as Arts Ed, Mountview and Laine) you will need to fill in their own application form. There is a fee for completing the form but it includes the audition fee.
Diploma courses (eligible for DaDa funding)
Applications for level 6 diploma courses are applied for directly to the school. Again there will be a fee to apply that includes your audition fee.
Each school, whether UCAS, CUCAS or private school charges between £30 and £50 per audition. You will need to travel to the college for the audition. A few southern and London schools offer regional first auditions, but if you get through to a recall you will have to travel and stay in London, or wherever the school is based. Watch out for seat sales and book as far in advance to get the cheapest rail fares and cultivate any friends in London with spare rooms!
Most auditions start with registration before 9am and last up to 6 hours. The format is broadly similar at each audition:
Dance: group dance class which usually has some technique and learning a routine. Only one of the courses my son applied for had a solo dance requirement, but some courses are more dance focussed and will require a dance solo.
Singing: most times the song is performed in front of other auditionees, but it may just be to a couple of tutors. You will need two contrasting songs. Some require one of the songs to be from a pre-1960 musical, while others allow pop songs. Check the criteria carefully. Some have prescribed lists, particularly for recalls. Most auditions have an accompanist and you will need original copies of the music, marked up with any cuts. One school required backing tracks downloaded to an electronic device (phone or ipod) so it’s worth making sure you can find a backing track if your song is a bit obscure!
Acting: Most auditions require two monologues to be prepared, generally one Shakespeare type and one modern. Some have prescribed lists you have to pick from. Check requirements carefully! Again you will need an original copy of the text and the tutors make ask about the context within the play. Monologues are usually performed to other auditionees. There will usually be some other form of workshop which varies from place to place, but usually involves some basic improvising.
Your child may not be asked to perform all of the pieces they have prepared. Usually only one song and monologue will be heard at the initial part of the audition.
Most places have some recall process, some cut part way through the day where unsuccessful auditionees are dismissed. Others have recalls on a different day. Personal interviews are usually part of the recall process, but students will be asked to do additional dance, singing or acting. One school also had a basic physical examination.
Take food and water with you as there generally isn’t time to go out for food.
When your child accepts a place you will often be asked for a deposit of £200 – £400. Some are refundable if you decide not to take up the place before the start of the course, but others aren’t. The deposit is usually refunded when you register for the 3rd year of the course and the colleges recommend you use the money to apply for Spotlight, or have professional headshots taken. Private Universities expect you to accept or reject places quickly, usually within 3 weeks and pay the deposit then. This often means you have to make a choice before all your offers are in. If the course is applied for through UCAS they cannot demand you make a choice before all your offers are in. Contact UCAS if you need assistance with this.
Some student loan funded courses have ‘optional top up fees’ these can be several thousand pounds a year and there is some controversy as many students feel they are not optional, but integral course tuition. Check individual course websites.
If your child has been dancing for a while you probably know how expensive the kit will be, but be prepared to have to buy tap, ballet, jazz, and even ballroom shoes, and multiple leotards and other kit, possibly branded for your institution.
If you apply through UCAS or CUCAS your course will be eligible for a student loan to cover the full cost of tuition fees (currently £9250 per year). You may also be eligible for a maintenance loan, but this is dependent on family income.
If you apply for a degree course, but not through UCAS or CUCAS then you are applying to a private university and you are only eligible for a tuition loan of £6165. This may not cover the full amount of the course fees, which are typically between £12000 and £14000 per year. There may be bursaries and scholarships to make up the difference, but these will be by an additional competitive audition and there may be a fee to apply. BA degree courses are not eligible for DaDa funding.
More information on Student Loans for state and private university courses here https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/new-fulltime-students. Check the websites of individual schools for details of bursaries and scholarships they offer. Some of these may be based purely on talent, others are means tested.
This is a government grant scheme for certain level 5 and level 6 diploma courses. Level 6 diplomas generally have annual fees of between £12,000 and £16,000. If you audition successfully for an approved course you can audition again for DaDa funding. Each institution has its own allocation of DaDa funding and when its gone its gone. DaDa funding can cover both tuition fees and maintenance, but both areas are means tested on family income. If family income is above £30,000 there is no maintenance grant and you will be expected to contribute towards fees on a sliding scale up to a family income of £90,000 above which there is notsupport available. More information on DaDa funding here https://www.gov.uk/dance-drama-awards
Some institutions have their own scholarships, these are always highly competitive and there are usually only one or two per course. These may cover course fees, or top up private university student loans to cover the additional fees. Some of these are also means tested, or only offered to students who fit various criteria. Details are usually on the websites of the institutions.
If you aren’t successful in getting into a degree level course you may be offered a place on a Foundation course. These year long courses usually cost around £10,000, but no funding is available and they are not eligible for DaDa funding. In most cases they do not lead directly onto a degree course and you will have to re-audition the following year. The only assistance you may be eligible for is housing benefit, but you will need to fight for it and any income you earn will reduce it. See this thread on Notapushymum.com for more information http://notapushymum.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=22879
Most courses have a reserve list which means they think you are good enough for the course, but either they already have someone in you category (tall, athletic male tenor; short brunette legit soprano etc) or they are waiting on other people’s responses. This is a really frustrating place to be as you may have to accept or decline other places, including paying deposits before knowing if the reserve list is moving and you have got a place. Reserve lists move throughout the summer and even into the first couple of weeks of term.
Keeping them positive
It’s worth doing plenty of research on different courses and talking to teachers to find the best courses to apply for. Rejections in this audition process are common and it can become discouraging. There are lots of courses around and you just need to find the right one for your child. Many people audition for several years before getting the place they want. My son has secured a place on a student loan funded degree, after a number of disappointments and Foundation offers that were financially beyond our reach. Keep believing in them and good luck!
Websites of various Musical Theatre degree course providers (not a complete list)
- Arts Ed, London
- Bird College – Dance and Drama Theatre Performance
- Bodywork Company
- The Hammond School
- Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts
- Laine Theatre Arts
- Liverpool Theatre School
- Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
- Performers College
- Stella Mann College
- Urdang Academy
- Rose Bruford
- Guildford School of Acting (Surrey University)
- Central School of Speech and Drama
- Trinity Laban
- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Search on UCAS for other university based musical theatre courses around the country
Note – this information is correct as at April 2018. These notes are based on my experiences supporting my son’s applications in 2018 and information from other parents with children auditioning for 2018 course starts. Costs and details may change in future years.