Orange Coast Mentors a Student at OCSA and Gets Inside Scoop On What It’s Like to Go There

Every month, Orange Coast magazine recognizes and celebrates the people and institutions that contribute to our community. In February, we featured OCSA, the Orange County School of the Arts, which has grown from modest roots to be nationally recognized for excellence in academics and arts education (you will find a link to the story here: “How OCSA became one of the most selective schools in the nation“).

This spring, Orange Coast was happy to host and mentor an OCSA student, Julia Flaherty. A junior in the integrated arts program, Julia is considering pursuing a career in the publishing or media business, and we were happy to share the various facets of our business. An excerpt from our interview with Julia is here:

Q: Can you tell us about yourself? Where are you from? How many years have you attended OCSA? What are you studying?

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A: I’m from Buena Park originally. I grew up there and have lived there all my life. We actually live in the same house that my mom grew up in. I’ve been attending OCSA since my freshman year (2015. I’m a junior now. My conservatory is the Integrated Arts conservatory, which is a severely underrated program, in my opinion. In Integrated Arts, or “IA,” we get to explore virtually every aspect of visual and performing arts, so I’ve taken classes in everything from graphic design to screenwriting, watercolor painting to Shakespeare, photo-realistic art to TV audition preparation. The list goes on! I love my conservatory because it gives me the opportunity to expand my skill set as an artist and also to apply skills I already have across disciplines. It’s also given me such a deep appreciation for the ways each and every art form is collaborative, but also unique.

Q: Can you share a bit about why you’re visiting Orange Coast?

A: I am a member of the Professional Mentorship Program, which is what has brought me to Orange Coast magazine! This program is in its second year at OCSA and has been a huge success. Students apply at the end of their sophomore year of high school, and in their applications they talk about career paths and fields they’re interested in. OCSA goes through applications and matches up about four dozen students with working professionals, whom the students then get to meet and talk to, spend a day or two on-site job-shadowing, and gain insight into what that field is really like. It’s a wonderful way for students to learn if this job is really what they want to do, gain connections in the industry, and also just get some sound advice. My mentor is publisher Chris Schulz, and being his mentee has been an incredible experience.

Q: Why did you want to go to OCSA?

A: I knew I wanted to attend OCSA from when I was very young. An older sibling of a boy I went to elementary school with attended OCSA, and that’s how I first found out about it. As a kid, I loved performing. Eventually I got into community theater, so I was initially attracted to the Musical Theater program OCSA offered. However, as I learned more and more about it, I was very attracted to the idea behind Integrated Arts. Mostly though, I wanted to attend OCSA because I felt dissatisfied with what my public middle school was offering, in terms of academia and a social environment. I was deeply interested in the idea of a community of artists. For a long time, it was something I was unsure was possible. I had dreamt about it for so long that getting in didn’t feel real.

Q: How difficult was it to get in to OCSA?

A: Applying feels like a blur to me now. I almost didn’t apply, because I had been rejected once before in seventh grade, but my mom encouraged me, saying that I’d always wonder “What if” if I didn’t apply. For Integrated Arts, the audition process is fairly standard: submitting three demonstrations of three art forms. I filmed myself performing a monologue and a song, put together some of my poetry, and sent it in. There’s also a lot of paperwork on your transcript and why you want to go to OCSA; it feels like applying to a college, and it’s certainly like getting into college when you do get accepted. I remember, I was so excited, I told every single one of my teachers, even though half of them didn’t really care! A lot of the bits of advice people gave me then come back to me now that I’m thinking about college applications.

Q: What is the best thing about being a student at OCSA? And the most difficult part?

A: The hardest thing about being an OCSA student is definitely the long hours: There are some days where you really feel the effects of not getting home from school until almost 6. There’s also a certain degree of pressure, just because other students and your peers are so accomplished, you can feel pressured to take on too much. But at the same time, this creates a sort of common ground among OCSA students, and it’s more likely for students to relate to each other over a heavy workload or upcoming test than be competitive. The best thing about OCSA is the sense of community you build with everyone around you. I’m also a fan of the opportunities afforded to OCSA students, like this program. Middle schoolers get the chance to work with Broadway stars, and culinary arts conservatory students intern at restaurants to gain on-site experience. The school has a great focus on preparing us for the real world and our career field that I really appreciate.

Q: What has surprised you about OCSA?

A: I was surprised as a freshman how welcoming and unpretentious it feels to be at this school. You’d never guess how gifted these people actually are when you’re standing in the lunch line with them. I’m continually amazed by just how talented people my age and younger can be. It never gets old to see a breathtaking painting or hear a beautiful piece of music and realize the artist behind it sits behind you in history.
I’ve also been surprised by the ambition of people beyond artistic fields. I have friends who want to run for senate and become environmental protection lawyers, and they’re being prepared for that by this highly creative environment.

Q: How do you think it’s different from public school?

A: The social atmosphere is so different from what I remember of public school. There’s no real social hierarchy that I feel aware of, and it doesn’t feel like that matters. There’s no sports team to root for, so everyone goes to each other’s concerts and musicals and plays. Everyone’s nerdy to some degree—you kind of have to be to get in—and it’s really easy to bond over that. You make friends faster than you’d think.

Q: What are your plans for college?

I’m looking at a few schools on the East Coast, primarily Emerson College in Boston. I’m really attracted to the Writing, Literature and Publishing degree there, as well as the amazing Journalism program. I want to study Communication and Language and go into editing and journalism, hopefully. I’m really interested in political journalism and communications, and journalism as activism, so I’d like to study that in college as well.

Q: What kind of advice do you have for anyone thinking about applying to OCSA?

A: I get this question more than any other and it’s the hardest to answer. My advice would be: It’s not for everyone. This sort of education is really for a certain type of student, and it’s OK if you decide it’s not for you. But if it is for you, it just takes hard work. My advice would also be to ask questions and talk to the people when you go in for your interview—they want to get to know you! And also, remember high school isn’t the end of the world.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I relax whenever I can. I’m a huge bookworm, and I love short stories and urban fantasy. I tend to spend time with my friends, and I recently started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a few of them, which is so much fun. All in all, I’m kind of stereotypical: I like to watch movies and go to the mall and watch funny videos on the internet for the most part. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. It’s really great to have a good podcast when you’re drawing or writing or cleaning. I recommend ‘Wonderful!’ by Griffin and Rachel McElroy, which is an enthusiast podcast, all about things that make people happy. It’s an awesome pick-me-up and just so funny and wholesome.

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