So the exam results are in and it looks like you might have to think again. Don’t get down, says John Byrne. The UCAS Clearing system may present a Plan B that may well be your road to the A-list
Perhaps the most famous of all theatrical sayings is ‘The show must go on’, but students who fail to secure their first-choice drama school can feel like the curtain has come down before they even start. The good news is that this is a setback many actors have successfully navigated and there are several options for getting your show back on the road.
Fiona Macbeth is a psychotherapist specialising in the performing arts. She advises that whatever next steps you take, self-care is an important first response.
“You’ve worked so hard and set your hopes on getting a place that is now not open to you. Allow yourself time to be sad about this, while trying not to experience the rejection as personal,” she says. “There are lots of reasons why students are not offered places, and many have nothing to do with the individual. Instead, use the experience to make any future auditions or performances stronger. Reflect on what you did well, what you did less well, and, when you are ready, move on.”
For Alice Schofield, the next move suggested by her teachers at Pendleton Performing Arts College was the one that made that the difference when her own first choice didn’t materialise.
She was introduced to Clearing, the system run by UCAS (the University and College Admissions Service) that enables universities to fill course places still open for the new academic year, including many that are drama and theatre related.
‘Through UCAS, I got on the reserve list at Guildford and secured a place. I graduated this year and am already in a play in Frankfurt’ Actor Alice Schofield
“Through UCAS, I applied for the three-year acting course at Guildford, got on the reserve list and secured a place. I graduated this year and am currently working at the English Theatre in Frankfurt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
UCAS communications officer Camilla Meeuwissen-True points out that the Clearing system is much more than just a last resort when you miss out on the place you wanted. For many students, it is a key part of their initial search for training.
However, there are several reasons why it can also be a useful ‘Plan B’ for students whose initial applications haven’t worked out. “Perhaps you didn’t get round to applying for a course at all, did apply but didn’t receive any offers (or none you wanted to accept) or didn’t meet the conditions for offers you were hoping to take up,” says Meeuwissen-True. Whatever the reason, once you’ve submitted your application, we’ll send you a welcome email with your unique Clearing number and details of how to use our online system called Track. You can ask for advice, search for vacancies and contact universities and colleges across the country to try to find a place. Last year, UCAS applications resulted in 7,245 students being accepted on to university courses to study drama.”
“Looking back, using UCAS was a great decision for me,” says Schofield, “but one piece of advice I would add is to make sure you go to any open days you can at places you are considering. I didn’t, and as a result sometimes wasted money and a UCAS choice on auditioning for schools that I didn’t like or think I’d fit in at.”
For some actors, getting into one particular school that they have set their heart on is important enough that, rather than seeking immediate alternatives, they are prepared to wait and try again the following year, and sometimes over several years.
Feedback from actors who have chosen to play this ‘waiting game’ suggests that three or four years of applying before finally securing a place is by no means unusual.
James Bowden, co-founder and principal of the Dorset School of Acting, says if this is a route you want to go down, it is important not to waste time in between: “It is very rare to get into drama school on your first attempt, so don’t despair. Make sure that you do something during the year to develop your skills and prove to the auditioning board that you are committed to your career path. A reputable one-year diploma or foundation course is a good idea but make sure of their graduate success rate.”
“It took me two years to get on to a drama school course after my first application fell through,” says Victoria Burrows. “In the meantime, I volunteered as an usher at the Royal Exchange Theatre, saw all the plays for free and got to watch the actors prepare, which was so insightful. I also read a lot of books and went to acting classes. There were low periods, in which I felt I should be further on then I was, but eventually I got on to the acting course at ALRA North. I graduated this year with first-class honours and an agent, and am about to start my own company. I now feel grateful for my ‘gap’ years. They gave me the life experience and maturity I needed to make the most of my time in training.”