What is More Important: Talent or Grades?

Jul 10, 2022

What is More Important for Admissions: Grades or Talent?

It’s a common question we see in performing arts admissions. What if your grades aren’t great but your talent is stellar? Or, what if your talent “needs work” but you’re an A student?

This is a difficult topic to discuss because there are so many variables that go into the Admission Office’s decision. So...

What are the factors that an Admission Office considers in your application?  

Generally, but not always in this order, admissions officers consider the following:

  • High School Transcript
  • Types of courses taken:  AP or IB are generally viewed more favorably
  • Extracurricular activities: including sports, performing arts, volunteer work
  • External test scores, if required
  • Recommendations: Counselor and Teacher (Some colleges only want counselor recommendations)
  • Peer review, if required
  • Alumni connection: Although this is a controversial one, and fewer schools are doing this, there are some colleges and universities that do factor this in when considering your application, particularly if your parents graduated from that school (not grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc).  
  • Talent: Particularly if you are going to major in that field. This could be in any area: sports, music, and art, for example. However, if you are a talented quarterback and the school needs a defensive linebacker, your talent at this school is not considered as an important factor for admissions. If you are a GREAT pianist, but the university needs a flutist, your application is not as high on the music department’s list. 

Types of Schools

Now, given those list of factors, let’s say you want to go to a conservatory for contemporary ballet and you have only studied hip-hop.  What are your chances?  Generally, they would be very slim. But, if you have studied ballet most of your life and have a list of accomplishments in that field, then your chances are excellent.

For a conservatory, talent may be the deciding factor.  Of course, you need to do as well as possible in your coursework, but Admissions Officers know how much time is spent practicing and performing, so they are less likely to judge you harshly on the other factors listed above.  Needless to say, you will need outstanding Letter(s) of Recommendation from your Counselor and your dance teacher/instructor. 

The second possibility is that you want to apply to a university that has a Dance School or College within the University, and you will be majoring in Dance. Here, you will need to meet the minimum requirements that the university sets for general admissions, and then the audition becomes paramount to admission to the department. So, first, be admitted to the university, and, second, be admitted to the Dance Department. [NYU and the Tisch School is an example of this type of admission process.]

A third possibility would be for you to go to a smaller college/university with a Dance Department (still majoring in Dance to earn a BFA or BA in Dance) where all of the factors above are considered together. The majority of colleges and universities fall within this range.

And the fourth possibility would be for you to go to a college or university where you could study dance, but not major in it.  Talent, therefore, might be considered, but more than likely, it would be looked at as an “extracurricular” activity.  You could certainly promote your talent by writing an essay about your experiences in the field of dance, or perhaps attach a video to the “Additional Comments” section that many applications have.

So, grades vs. talent?

Talent and Grades are generally both important in varying degrees, but it does depend on the type of university or college to which you are applying and your intended major.


Questions or Concerns? Always feel free to reach out to us!

Photo Credit: Ahmad Odeh

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