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Want to Be a Chef, Artist, Dancer, or Musician? Specialized Colleges

By Diana Simeon

Perhaps your student is an accomplished painter or dancer or musician and wants to pursue this art. Maybe your teenager loves to cook or wants to be a nurse or pharmacist or some other occupation that requires specialized, hands-on training. Then, a specialized college may be what you’re looking for.

There are non traditional colleges, like the Rhode Island School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Mass College of Pharmacy and Julliard, where students focus primarily on specialized training for a specialized career, while taking only a smattering of liberal arts classes.

“About half our students come right out of high school,” says Rachel Birchwood, Director of Admissions at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “Most have determined already that they love to cook. They’ll says, ‘I love cooking, I’ve always loved cooking, and this is what I want to do.’”

These schools are an excellent option for students who are exceptionally talented and/or passionate about working in a particular discipline.

“We may not be a traditional four-year college, but we are a four-year college,” Birchwood explains. “We are preparing students well for a particular industry. Most parents really recognize that.”

Researching specialized colleges is much like researching regular colleges. Here are 3 ways to get started.

1. Use Collegeboard.org

This is an excellent resource to research all kinds of colleges. Students interested in culinary school can simply type culinary school into the search box, for example. Interested in art school, yep, start with art school. Musically inclined students should try conservatory. Whatever the jargon is for your student’s field, start with that.

2. Understand the extra requirements

Applying to art school or a conservatory will require your student to provide samples of his or her talent. For example, conservatories tend to require students submit multiple samples of their musical ability. Art schools will require a portfolio. Unlike traditional colleges, specialized colleges are making their admission decisions in large part based on your student’s talent.

3. Consider a traditional college with a strong specialized program (or a joint program)

If your student is interested in the fine arts, you may also consider a traditional college with a strong program in that area. For example, many colleges (University of Rochester, Oberlin, Rice to name a few) have their own or an affiliated conservatory.


Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.