If you are looking at colleges for music or theater (or anything else, for that matter), the question arises – should I strive to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?
If you are looking for individualized attention from a small faculty and the opportunity to perform throughout your entire college career, a small college (or pond) might be exactly what you are looking for.
But not all small ponds are created equal.
I have a pond in my backyard. There are fish, and toads, the occasional snake (ew), and a lot of plant life. My pond has a water pump to keep the water aerated, and a filter to sift out icky stuff. And I have a husband who cleans out the pond in the late fall and prepares it for the spring in late March or April (I’m certainly not going to do it). As a result, my pond looks like this:
If I were the one in charge of pond maintenance, it most likely would look like this:
This is a stagnant pond. Oxygen does not circulate. Fish die. It breeds bacteria. Nothing grows here.
Check out the schools you are looking at. Are the students thriving? Are they going on to careers in their fields or to graduate schools of note? Are the performances of quality?
Would you be the best performer at that school as a freshman?
As self-affirming (or self-aggrandizing) as that might be, you really shouldn’t be. There should be room for you to grow and get better. You shouldn’t be taking up all the room in the pond. Plus it isn’t reality-based.
Check out the pond in which you’ll be swimming for the next four years. Is it one where you’ll flourish? One where you’ll stagnate?
Conversely, if it’s too big, will you get lost in the weeds?
Or will you find a school that will inspire you and encourage you to swim forward with a common goal?
This has implications beyond school. When I was moving from Milwaukee back to Baltimore, we were remodeling our entire second floor (ah, timing!) and I had a chat with our British plumber/bathroom designer, who was really quite the artisan. Of all our subcontractors, he was the best and most thorough in his work. He asked why I was moving and I said that I needed more of a challenge in my performing. He told me that he got that – he used to be a bass player in London, and while he was not the best bass player, there was a lot of session work to be had, so he played all the time, and he played with some fantastic colleagues. As a result, he got better. He HAD to in order to keep up and continue to get hired at even better gigs. When he met a Milwaukee girl and followed her to Wisconsin, he had fewer places to play, and colleagues who weren’t at the same high level he was used to playing with (sorry, Milwaukee, but, hey, it was London). So he stopped playing. And he missed it terribly.
It may well be that you decide you want to take up residence in a small pond. And that’s fine.
But make sure it’s one that can sustain life and growth.