Most high school students interested in the fine arts will attend liberal arts colleges with strong art and/or performing arts departments. Other students will prefer conservatories or art schools. Our recommendation is always to include several liberal arts colleges on your list even if you are primarily interested in a conservatory. This will provide you with flexibility should you change your mind about your educational plans before the end of your sixth form year; it also helps ensure that you will have college options, since conservatory and art school admissions are extremely difficult to predict.
Even schools offering the same degrees may have very different structures and programs. For example, many art schools offering BFAs have highly structured foundation years, while other schools offering BFAs have no such prescribed program.
In general, if you want to continue studying subjects other than those in the arts (e.g., French literature, or economics, or the sciences), then a liberal arts college is definitely the right choice. Only students ready for pre-professional training should be considering a conservatory approach.
How can you know whether a conservatory or art school is right for you? We recommend that, if you have not yet done so, you strongly consider enrolling in an intensive summer program in your area of interest. You need to experience what it is like to “do art” (or music or theater or dance) all day (and often all evening) long; this is what your life will be like at a conservatory. If you love the experience, that’s good to know; if you don’t, that’s just as important to realize. Talent is not enough; energy, confidence, courage, and endurance are just as important.
Once you have decided that, yes, you would like to include some conservatories on your list, use the Internet, guidebooks, and course teachers and other knowledgeable people to find the programs that suit you best.
Make visits to those schools that interest you before the date is set for an audition or portfolio review, so that you can see the place without having to worry about anything else. Facilities are very important for artists, as are advising and career counseling. Ask lots of questions. For example, did you know that many of the most competitive theater programs eliminate students at the end of the first or second year, keeping through until graduation only a select few? Can you live with that level of risk?
Ask your current teachers about your level of talent and what they think your prospects may be. More importantly, you need to do a frank assessment of yourself. Many an accomplished professional had to persevere despite negative feedback, little support, and poor reviews.
Finally, remember that there are many fine graduate programs in visual and the performing arts. A foundation in the liberal arts can do wonders to deepen your craft as an artist, actor, or even singer. The exceptions to this include dance and instrumental music, which are more highly dependent on intensive training at a younger age.