College Decisions

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by j.jakubaitis, Sep 29, 2019.

  1. j.jakubaitis

    j.jakubaitis Member

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    I gained a lot of interesting insight from the Am I making the right college decision thread that just came and went a little while back, but thought I'd share my own situation, and see if anyone could help provide opinions, as it's time to start making decisions instead of just thinking about them...

    I am in my Senior year of high school. I am currently doing paid work at a handful of venues, a couple of rental houses, park districts, etc. I'd consider myself fairly well-rounded, mostly doing lighting and electrics work, but also do a good amount of sound/staging/rigging/scene shop labor. I'm sitting at a 3.9 GPA, somehow surviving AP/honors and engineering classes while having little to no free time outside of school. Will also soon be completing my BSA Eagle Scout rank.

    Long story short, I am conflicted as to go into an EE or Tech Theatre/Entertainment Technology program.

    First, to get some questions out of the way, what do I want to be when I grow up? My ideal occupation would be a Technical Director, an ME, or something of the like. I do eventually want to settle down with a family, without having to be working all night and day. I would prefer to stay in the IL/midwest area. Other options that stick out to me would be working for control companies such as ETC.
    The current direction my mind is heading is a major in EE, and a minor in some sort of tech theatre/design program. But also brought to the table recently is an EET degree, rather than the EE. As for my math/science skills, I'm in the midst of taking calculus, and its definitely not my favourite thing in the world, but is certainly manageable personally. Another item brought to the table recently are programs such as UNLV's EED, which surely looks intriguing. The only issue with that option is that it's a bit of a cruise from here in IL.

    Now that a bit is known about myself, do you think my heading into the major/minor direction is the correct way to go? Or just a major, with room to take tech classes on the side? Are there any programs similar to UNLV's closer to the midwest area, or any schools around here that are heavily recommended in general? EE vs EET for my interests? Sorry for the lengthy post, but any insight or advice would be much appreciated!

    Jason
     
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  2. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Get your EE or your ME.

    After that, get the EE from a decent school but don't go into serious debt doing it. If you get a theatre degree all the AP and other advanced classes you are taking are pretty much pointless.

    Says the person that has a BFA in theatre and really wishes I would have gotten that engineering degree instead... no one even brought up to me that would be a good idea.
     
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  3. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    • EE, admirable pursuit that opens many doors -- lot of commitment required for studying, math, labs, and such forth. Don't plan on having oodles of time available to do theater on the side. Pathway available to earning a Professional Engineer license if that's interesting to you. Having a PE is not an end all, be all. Many engineering programs do not emphasize securing your PE -- but if you are going to, do it immediately after graduating because it is exponentially more difficult to do several years out of college.
    • EET, no pathway to a PE. As mentioned above, this may or may not be limiting to you. May be more appropriate than EE depending on which topics interest you long-term.
    • Theater, scratches your creative itches if a way that you will likely not experience during your first 2-3 years of engineering classes. If you are passionate about the art of theater and not so much the mechanics, this is likely a better path as you may be miserable in engineering.
    If you are on the fence, it is infinitely easier to start in an engineering program and transfer to a theater program than vise versa.

    Whichever path you take, most of the skills you need will come from internships. You should have 2-3 solid ones under your belt before you graduate. Community theater and summer stock don't count. You want to get in with manufacturers like ETC, theater consultants or contractors (many in the Chicago area), Cirque, Tait, or even non theater-oriented manufacturers that will allow you to be engaged in the software/hardware development process. If you want to get into theater/systems consulting, make sure learning AutoCAD and Revit are high priorities for you. Revit, in particular, can move your resume to the top of the stack when applying for jobs. In general, you should be looking for summer internships the previous fall/winter. By the time April/May rolls around everything worth while is filled up.

    In general, I would say that engineering will be more applicable to the following fields:
    • Show automation
    • Product development (whether hardware or software)
    • Theater/systems consulting
    Getting an engineering degree to become a TD is probably wasted $$$. You can always sidestep into a TD role later on at your leisure but you will not find most of your education applicable and right out of college if you have student loans it'll be difficult to pay for your engineering degree on a TD's salary.

    I pursued EE for 2 years to have a position that was more financially stable. I was miserable and ended up slacking on my studying because it was more interesting to do freelance designs on the side than to study for my 5th calculus class. It did not help that I had a professor playing psychological warfare on us who would test the class twice as hard all semester as the other professors would where most students would score under 35% -- and then after the final exam he would curve everyone's grades up to 85%. That took a lot of wind out of my sails even though I passed...painfully...and hated myself enough to take him again for the subsequent calc class. Transferred out, then spent 3 years getting my theater BFA while doing a couple ETC internships and a long-term AV systems consulting internship. The skills learned from the internships landed me at the engineering firm I am currently at. Took the academic scenic route to get here but am quite happy now. Wouldn't have been possible without the EE background, nor without the theater background. Had to get the mix along the way.
     
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  4. cbrandt

    cbrandt Well-Known Member

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    I had a very similar path to @MNicolai . I started school as an ME with a minor in theater. I had no passion for engineering. I treasure what I learned in those classes, and I'm glad that I took them. I'm equally glad I changed FROM engineering TO theater. I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted by starting this way. If you can finish that engineering degree, you'll be better off and have a lot more options for your future. I went to a predominately engineering college, and a lot of my classmates LOVED their MET/EET/etc majors, both as 2 and 4 year degrees. You lose out on the opportunity for PE certification, but you stay focused on why a lot of people get into engineering in the first place, i.e. the actual building of things. If your ultimate goal is to be a TD, a BFA goes a very long way towards looking good for all positions, but I'd be surprised by if you ever had a problem getting an interview with an engineering degree and theater minor.
     
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  5. TuckerD

    TuckerD Active Member

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  6. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    I think there is a reason for that... there are very very few designers out there that survive solely by designing for theatre. The ones that do also teach... and hire their grad students as their assistants and continue the cycle. There is such a small handful of designers doing most broadway stuff that its harder to get a design gig on Broadway then it is getting a leading roll. Outside of Broadway and larger LORT there is very little work unless you bring something else to the table such at technical skill. The sad part is most schools teach their undergrads to be designers when in actuality there is little to no chance they'll ever be able to support themselves on that skill alone.... added to that they teach them how "college theatre" works and they never develop into a person who can work and make money in the professional world.

    If you want to design theatre go to a school that has a proven track record getting people into one of the top 5 grad schools. Flat out ask them "how many of your students have gone to Yale in the last 5 years". If the answer is zero, go somewhere else.

    I'm pretty salty on the state of theatre education in the US at the moment. Most schools are teaching a form of theatre no one does in the real world and look their noses down people who actually use their hands to get shows up. They also look at the industry as just theatre, ignoring commercial, concert, corporate, theme park, etc work.

    My best friend from college just landed her first broadway assistant LD gig. It took her 11 years from the day she left undergrad to land it. I'm thrilled for her, but it took a lot of commitment to get to that point.
     
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  7. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I can be one of those voices. I went to school for theatre. I went to Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY. "Higher above Cayuga's waters than that other school... Cornell). While generally considered a liberal arts school, Ithaca almost always ranks in the top 10 undergrad theatre programs. I believe it was last year we had alumni involved with something like 17 Tony nominated shows. Suffice it to say, we have lots of alumni out both on and off Broadway working in the industry. As @Footer implied above, sometimes it is all about who you know and your alumni network.

    Now, I can't speak to all undergrad theatre programs, but the one at IC, while geared mainly towards traditional theatre, does try to produce well-rounded graduates. If you are in the design track, you are going to be required to not only take tech classes, but also crew shows and potentially run crews. If you take the tech track, you are going to have to take design classes, you may get to design or assist on a mainstage show, and if you think your focus is lighting, you are still going to ahve to learn how to sew costumes! No matter what tech or design track you take you are also going to take acting classes.

    I certainly think that my education was worth it. Lots of practical knowledge and hands-on experience coupled with good theory and history. I was able to find work right out of school, and I have been actively working in the industry since I graduated.

    Now, something I tell almost every person who is looking at colleges: most schools, certainly liberal arts schools, are going to make you take general education classes. If you are taking a biology course or anthropology, or sports medicine, whatever, and you discover that you love it or are really good at it, there is nothing wrong with pursuing that as a path to graduation. You can always find a way back into the theatre and entertainment industry, but there are many other fields that could be more stable or pay more, or just be growing faster, and if you study something outside of the arts, you will bring some new perspectives to the table when you come back to the arts.

    As for engineering, certainly if you are looking to get into commercial theatre, want to work at a scene shop or do automation, it is a good degree to have under your belt. That said, when I look at a company like TAIT, where I work, it is very interesting to see the difference between the people who come to us from a background in theatre versus a background in engineering. If you want to be a designer here, or if you want to write PLC code, that engineering degree is going to be super useful. If you are more interested in being an integrator and putting the big machines together and making them run, the theatre people tend to be a little better suited to that. Not to mention the differences in how we think about troubleshooting a problem, or what and when you can "cowboy" together with some gaff and a prayer versus when we have to look for "real" solutions.

    Clear as mud? Good.

    TL;DR: While your heart may be set on theaatre today, don't feel like you have to lock to that course if something else really strikes your fancy. Engineering is definitely a doorway into the industry, though if you are looking for more of the art and creative side of the business, it may not be the right door. If you want to go to a school with a good theatre program, there is nothing wrong with that. many of us have done it. Just know that you may have to put in lots of work at the beginning if your aspiration is Broadway, but that theatre degree will open doors to other parts of the industry as well.
     
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  8. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I've said it a lot of times, but I'll repeat it. Making a decent living in theater is hard. Finding a job in theater with medical benefits and a retirement plan is hard. Most of the techs out there are putting their living together one gig at a time. If you aren't willing to move to one of the major theater cities, it's even harder. So, if there is ANYTHING else that will make you happy in life, get your degree in that and use theater as a hobby. For some of us there is nothing else that will ever make us happy and we are willing to live on Top Ramen for 20 years if that's what it takes to live in the tech world. The fact that you are trying to decide suggests to me you know you should probably chose something else. Now the real jackpot is when you can find a way to make the other area work with theater... for example an EE or ME degree... Go get that degree and fill your spare time with theater tech. Get some cool internships and then go design crazy robots for Disney, moving lights for ETC/Highend, or work with Tait on their next insane automation system. There are so many cool options out there possible AND you are far more likely to get a good paying job. If theater doesn't work out, you have a whole other world of possibilities with EE that will pay the bills.

    Last thing, don't get an education you can't afford. There are a lot of young people who get themselves $100,000 in debt and discover they can't afford to work in theater as they will NEVER pay off their loans. So don't do that!
     
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