A degree in the arts offers endless possibilities.

Not only will it help you take your skills to the next level, you’ll also have the opportunity to surround yourself with other artists and learn how to make a living doing what you love.

Follow these four steps as you navigate the application process:

Get feedback.
Whether you’re a concert pianist or an aspiring filmmaker, your talents and accomplishments will help determine your admission chances.

Figure out where you stand by seeking out an objective assessment of your abilities.

Start by asking a trusted teacher or mentor to describe your strengths and weaknesses. You may also consider getting an outside opinion from professionals with a local symphony, dance troupe or theater company. Visual artists can receive portfolio evaluations from college representatives at one of the many National Portfolio Day events offered across the nation.

An honest appraisal will help you select the type of school and degree path best suited to your abilities and career goals.

Scope out your options.
Conservatories, stand-alone arts schools and traditional universities all offer programs for performing and visual arts students.

Take time to learn about each option, as well the different degree pathways they provide.

Conservatories and art schools offer students the chance to immerse themselves in the arts. At these highly competitive institutions, all students are artists, and degrees offered typically include a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) for artists/performers or a Bachelor of Music (BM) for musicians. Both degrees, also routinely available at larger universities, require rigorous study and practice.

Looking for a more traditional college experience? At many universities, students can major in disciplines such as dance, music or the theatre arts to meet the requirements of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. In addition to arts courses, students take liberal arts classes and have the opportunity to double-major or minor in another area of interest, such as history or Spanish.

Showcase your talents.
A student’s portfolio or audition lies at the heart of their application.

Do yourself a favor: Carefully research what each institution requires, and leave yourself plenty of time to prepare.

Visual artists who have gone through the process of building a portfolio stress that only their best work — the pieces they believe illustrate their technical skills and vision as an artist — are included. Give yourself time to create, and choose a range of recent work.

Getting ready for a musical, theater or dance audition is equally intense. Focus on perfecting your performance. If you’re going to audition in front of a panel, enlist a friend or teacher to help you prepare for “surprise” elements.

Musicians or vocalists are often asked to sight-read a piece of music as part of their audition. Dancers sometimes attend an open class prior to their solo. Theater students should be prepared to improvise on stage.

Polish your resume.
Although your creative talent is a critical part of the admission process, grades and test scores still matter.

Make sure your academic record is as strong as possible going into your senior year, and be sure to note arts-related achievements on your resume. |

You should also be prepared to answer questions about your artistic process. Many schools require applicants to write essays or sit for interviews.

Discussing what your art means to you in an open, honest manner can help show school officials what makes you unique.