A Cut System By Any Other Name… is Still a Cut System

What is a Cut System?

If you have ever looked into a BFA program at the top schools in the nation, you have probably heard the words “cut system.” This means that a student is evaluated at certain points during their college career and the faculty determines if that student has earned a spot to continue on in their program. In the past, some schools have admitted more students than they plan on graduating and use these evaluations as explanations as to why they ask certain students to leave. Currently, the practice of forcing classes to fill a quota (despite talent level or growth) is not common – at least in writing – but that does not mean that an evaluation and decision based on that evaluation does not exist. Basically, the absence of a cut system doesn’t guarantee graduation.

So how do these evaluations turn into cuts? Many schools will use these evaluations to identify weaknesses, chart a student’s progress, address any discipline issues, and encourage a student on where they can focus their training. If a student is not showing the drive, commitment or attention to their training that this profession requires, faculty members can provide students with options. Some schools have a BA program that BFA candidates can easily drop into if they find the BFA overwhelming, and other schools will redirect students into another field where they might have more success or be more comfortable.

Is There a Cut System at My School (or My Dream School)?

The pressure from university administration to retain students is great, and it has affected how many students are “cut” from musical theatre programs in the past decade. Smaller schools without much name recognition really can’t afford to cut many students, if at all. They need the tuition money and the student numbers in order to keep the program alive. (In my opinion, this is why the industry is being inundated with new actors who are fresh out of college training programs but are not marketable – their school’s expectations did not reflect the standards of the major markets, instead keeping students in the program for the sake of school funding.) Those schools that do have high expectations are the ones that have stricter review processes and, as you can see below, the ones that are considered the “best musical theatre schools.”

This is a list of the Top Musical Theatre Schools by MusicSchoolCentral.com. (While it is not US News, I believe this list is fairly accurate.) I will be addressing what type of “cut system” these schools use and highlighting the different phrases used for the evaluation point.

10. Elon University. This program is very proud that they do not have a cut system, but their process for being accepted into the program is very strict, which might account for the lack of an evaluation system later in the curriculum plan.

9. Oklahoma City University. In order to graduate, a student must attain a certain level of performance (8B in the Musical Theatre Program). These levels are determined at the time of the Jury Examinations at the end of each semester during the junior and senior year.  If the student has not attainted their level, they are required to enroll in applied voice lessons until the level is met. These students are also required to pass a piano proficiency test before graduation.

8. Syracuse. For as much flack as this program has received about their cut system on the College Confidential forums, there does not seem to be any indication of an evaluation system in place. The most I could find on their website was that musical theatre students are required to take one upper-level acting class that seems to be by audition or invitation only. Because of the way the pre-requisites are lined up for each class, I can only assume that grades are a big determining factor in a student's continuing in the program.

7. Boston Conservatory. From the Musical Theatre Website: “Artistic Promotion. Students in the B.F.A. in Musical Theater must earn promotion to the third year of the work through a jury evaluation during the second year or face artistic dismissal. To earn promotion a student’s growth and development to that point must demonstrate to the full faculty that he or she will achieve professional readiness at the completion of the program.”

6. Ithaca College. This program is VERY clear with their expectations and requirements of juries. Freshman and sophomore B.F.A. musical theatre majors are required to participate in a singing review near the end of the spring semester prior to an acting review. In addition to singing reviews, all freshman and sophomore musical theatre majors are required to do vocal juries in the School of Music starting in the second semester. Musical theatre majors must pass their vocal jury in order to pass their private voice class and move on to the next year of musical theatre training.

5. Penn State. Students in this program have specified juries in both voice and dance at the end of each semester, where the faculty will assess the progress of BFA candidates. In addition, students must pass all dance, acting and musical theatre specific courses with a C or higher in order to continue to the next level.

4. University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. This program HAD a notorious cut system that has since been discontinued for musical theatre (a rigorous retention program is still enforced in the Drama program). Instead: 1) admittance into the program has become even stricter, 2) there are still “boards” (fancy word for juries) that students have to pass, and 3) if a student doesn’t pass, he/she is not allowed to participate in a show the following quarter. This would most likely be a topic of conversation in advising meetings along with any low grades.

3. NYU- Steinhardt/Tisch/CAP 21/New School. My only advice here: take some time to research the requirements of each school within NYU and how it relates to musical theatre. Also, these programs are very secretive about their jury systems and any cut systems they might have in place.

2. Carnegie Mellon University. At the end of each semester, students are required to attend a conference and portfolio review with their faculty. “Failure to demonstrate appropriate professional promise, grades of C and below, or falling behind in coursework can cause a person to be place on an Academic Action.” This basically can affect graduation status and might result in faculty recommendations to explore other options.

1. University of Michigan. From the website: “Upon completion of Musical Theatre Performance II, all majors must participate in a second-year evaluation, which qualifies them to enroll in specific upper-level performance courses.” This means that if a student does not pass the qualifier, they will not be able to enroll in classes required for graduation. Also, juries are required each semester in order to pass certain courses.

Other words to look out for that can indicate an evaluation point: junior qualifying exam, retention audition program, and program of study audition

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