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Performing arts students: top tips to help you choose a course

If you’re applying to a performing arts course such as drama, dance or music, things are usually done rather differently to other courses. We explain more about the application and audition process…

Here are some pointers to help you wannabe actors, performers and dancers find a course that best suits your long-term ambitions.

1. Know the difference between academic and practice-based courses

Courses that sound similar in title may offer something quite drastically different in reality, so always check the course description in detail.

Practice-based courses – as you may already have guessed - focus very much on actual performance, and will be concentrating on raising your game in this regard. Academic degrees may have some practical elements, but centre around research, essays and so on.

2. Look for courses in more than one place


Most courses are listed on Ucas, so this should be one of your first ports of call when researching and narrowing down your course choices. Prestigious institutions such as the Central School of Speech and Drama and the Royal Academy of Dance are both Ucas-registered, for instance, and will follow the usual application registration and procedure.


Some institutions, such as illustrious sister to the above mentioned institutions, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), only accept direct applications and won’t be included on Ucas at all.

A good place to get a fuller picture of what’s out there is through the course finder tool on the UKP-Arts website, the online guide to performing arts.


The Conservatoires UK Admissions Service (CUKAS) is the arm of UCAS that processes applications to the seven conservatoires around the UK: these offer practice-based degrees in music and related areas such as composition. They are highly prestigious and usually very competitive.

The CUKAS application process follows a separate but similar format to UCAS – and you can still apply to UCAS courses, too. That means there is the potential to stake your claim to a grand total of 11 courses (six CUKAS and five UCAS).

From the horse’s mouth…

Apply to both Cukas and Ucas. The conservatoires are very very competitive, so it makes sense not to put all your eggs in one basket. Ucas doesn’t charge audition fees, but Cukas does and this could be a minimum of £50 a shot.  Don’t be put off by this and pick only one or two favourite colleges to avoid the expense. Give yourself the best possible choices and chances by going for as many as possible.

Rosie | Music Student - Brunel University

3. Look out for early application deadlines

Be warned. CUKAS has a much earlier deadline than the standard 15 January UCAS deadline – get your application in by 1 October. CUKAS may also ask for supporting evidence, such as recordings, a couple of weeks before this. It’ll make for a busy autumn. Applications may still be considered after 1 October, but it’s not worth taking the gamble.

If you’re applying to a course directly, the deadline will be dictated by the institution, so make sure you’re also aware of this.

4. To specialise or not to specialise…

What’s the difference between a performing arts course and a single subject course such as dance or drama? Most performing arts degrees provide a general grounding across different disciplines and then ask you to choose a certain pathway. With single subject degrees, you’re en route for a particular specialty from the beginning.

If you’re not 100% sure if performance is right for you, you could hedge your bets with a joint honours degree, including a performance subject plus another creative area (film or writing, for example) or in conjunction with an academic topic (geography or English, for example).

5. The dreaded audition

Yes, in most cases you’ll need to do one of these. Our advice on preparing for and dealing with auditions will ensure you know what to expect.

6. Give yourself the edge

Try and make it to Manchester for the ‘Compose Your Future’ event which happens every October. Aimed at applicants to all kinds of performance and media/ broadcast degrees, it’s a great opportunity to pick up some inside info and talk to those in the know.


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