Let's face it; no matter how much you study, how much you obsess, or how high your grades are sometimes that's just not what it's about. I am a firm believer in passion and commitment getting you to wherever you want to go. I know if I keep trying and keep an open mind, I'll get there. Even if "there" happens to be Harvard, which in my case it is. I have never been big on "academia". The intimidating and inaccessible stigma the word holds is part of the reason I decided (at 12) that someday I would go into education and shake everything up. I don't know how many people on here will relate to my story, but hopefully someone will find it useful:
I never got great grades. I skated through High School with around a 2.5 GPA, and didn't think about college until half way through my Senior year when I applied to 3 schools whose names I can't even remember. My High School guidance counselor looked at my transcript and told me that I should look into getting a job, perhaps in retail, and with some hard work I'd be manager in no time. Yes, he was serious; and yes he saw this as my only option. He did not, however, consider that I was overly active in Theatre and intended it as my major. I been involved in every aspect of the Drama Club for 4 years, was the Treasurer, and on top of that volunteered at a local community theatre. If he had looked at this and considered non-traditional possibilities for my education, life might have been much easier.
I graduated High School with a strong 2.7GPA got a job (at Linen's N Things) and went immediately to a summer session at the local community college. I didn't know how, but I was determined to get out of Arizona. During the fall semester I started looking seriously at universities in Southern California. Cal State Fullerton popped up on a theater-friendly list of schools in Dramatics magazine and I booked a flight to check it out. While there they explained that only a small percentage of their students were out-of-state, and it would be better for me to move in-state and finish up the year at a Junior College in SoCal. Lots of loans and 500 miles later I found myself alone, not at a university, and sitting in another guidance counselor's office trying to register for the spring semester.
"Well what exactly do you want to do?" He asked me, smiling. I had my previous bad counselor experience and hadn't wanted a repeat. I knew what I had to do, get in - take core classes - get out! "Eventually, I'd like to move on to a University and major in technical theater."
"Oh, Theatre! We have an amazing theatre program here! We have one student who loved it so much he's stayed 14 years!"
My face fell, and all of my dreams of getting a degree started slipping away. Despite my protesting, he signed me up for all theatre classes and 2 core classes. Knowing this was a big mistake I went online later and switched over to the core classes that were still open, in some cases having to sit in class week after week until enough people dropped. I did keep one survey of theater class where I heard about California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). The professor was talking about their experimental style of theater, and technical feats they accomplished. After looking at their web page I found out they were a PORTFOLIO-BASED program with conservatory style classes. I was furious. I spent a year raising my GPA when a school that might have accepted me based on a portfolio existed in the world. It isn't that CalArts takes people with grotesquely low GPAs. The school is competitive, but they look more at what you can do than what numbers you produce.
I spent several months gathering my portfolio. It didn't include any overly-developed work, but as an undergrad I think they just want to see the willingness to learn.
My portfolio for a BFA in Technical Direction included:
Show Pictures (model/progress/finished)
Hand Drafting (1 set design & 1 DDR homemade pad)
Costuming Pictures (Renaissance Outfit I sewed)
Not much to it, but it got me in. My exposure to a school system built around participation and project-based worked changed my entire outlook on how I learn, and my application journey changed my outlook on what makes a good candidate for a program. I had been made to feel like a bad student through my entire educational experience, and now I'm on a mission to make sure other people don't feel the same way.