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The Art of Balance: Career vs. Academia

Despite the fact that most college admissions boards look for extracurricular activities on student applications, many young adults are forced to choose a more traditional academic path that will provide stability later on in life. Unfortunately, students feel as though they have to pick academia or the arts exclusively. Most college counselors dissuade students from pursuing a life in an interpretive art, such as theater, acting, music, or dance, on top of a full time academic course load. However, students shouldn't feel pressured to give up a hope or a dream in order to pursue a college degree in a traditional academic subject; in fact, you can excel in both arenas, especially with the help of tutors like Kelley! Read our interview with Kelley, where she recounts her path to finding the perfect balance.

When did you realize that you wanted to take a different path than most kids?

I don’t think it ever hit me that my path was unusual. Some kids wanted to be doctors, some firemen, others professional athletes, and I wanted to sing. I just loved singing so much that I never wanted to stop.

What would you tell kids that are interested in pursuing a career within the arts?

I would say follow your bliss. It seems these days more and more people are following their hearts instead of their wallets, and it’s so refreshing. That also might be because I’m living in Los Angeles, but I hope it’s a trend! Doing what makes you happy every day is a greater gift than any.

Did it get easier to balance work and extracurriculars as you got older, or more difficult?

I definitely had to give things up as I got older. In elementary and middle school, I was able to participate in soccer, basketball, swim team and choir. Once I hit high school, I started singing and acting in school plays, so I had to give up pretty much everything else. I remained on recreational soccer and swim teams, but my two main focuses were theater and school work.

Did your education ever suffer because you were so busy with extracurriculars? How did you stay on track?

It wasn’t until college that my grades suffered a bit because of extracurriculars. When I competed on Seasons 1 and 2 of “The Sing-Off”, I had to miss about a month of school each time. My teachers were fairly accommodating and I did well to catch up, but it was tough. In high school, I felt lucky that I was often able to plan ahead when I had a show opening. There would be some late nights, but I made it through.

How did you set your academic goals and stick by them? Or, how did you motivate yourself to establish such high standards and stick to them?

My parents always told us to try our best, and as long as we did they would be proud of whatever outcome. We were never bribed to get A’s, just encouraged to work to the best of our abilities. I suppose having two extremely high-achieving older brothers pushed me more than anything else. My brother was Valedictorian of his high school, so I wanted to be too.

Was anyone else (teacher, parents, mentor, friend) an integral part of your success in school? Career?

There were three teachers that had a profound effect on my choice of career: Lynn Stevens (conductor of the Sacramento Children’s Chorus), Jay Johnson (my piano teacher) and Ed Trafton (director of my high school plays and teacher at Jesuit High School). Lynn taught me to sing and sightread, which has been invaluable to me over the years. Without her, I would never have been able to succeed in a cappella groups. Jay introduced me to nearly all of my musical influences and inspired me to write music. Ed made me fall in love with theater. To this day I have not worked with a theater director as talented and genuine as he is.

You wrote in your Free Response that you had to develop efficient study habits, what were some examples?

The most simple and the most difficult study habit? Finishing homework first. All kids want to do after a day of class is watch TV or go on the countless social media sites that exist today. Finish homework first, and then there is often time to relax afterwards. Procrastination is the worst enemy. For writing, I find outlines are the lifeblood of a good essay. With a proper outline, it’s harder to get lost. I love flashcards. If you treat flashcards like a game, they can actually be fun!

What would you tell students who have high career goals and want to put their education on hold in order to follow their passions?

I always wanted to perform. Nothing gave me more joy. I found, however, that my education and the experiences that came from staying in school kept me grounded and more well rounded. I finished college feeling completely confident in my decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, because I had explored many different options. I believe everyone should follow their passion, but gathering as much knowledge and as many experiences as possible along the way can be truly enriching. Plus, a fallback plan is never a bad idea!

How did you spend your summers as a kid in elementary school?

I swam. Sacramento is hot! My brothers and I would get up for swim practice every morning at 7am and then either come home or hang out with our friends at the club. Some of my best friends in the world came from that swim deck. We spent most of our time outdoors, making up games and using our imaginations. I really feel like I got to be a kid, and I think that’s important.

For your tutoring, how do you make studying fun for kids especially during the summer when they’d rather be outside?

I like turning flashcards into a game - we can even turn it into a game show with all the theatrics: categories, points for difficulty, etc. For Spanish, I find drawing helps to remember words, and the artistic element makes it more fun.

How long do you think it takes to create good study habits?

That’s hard to say. Sometimes there is a moment of, “Oh, I’m not procrastinating and this feels really good!” Sometimes it takes much longer.

If you had to give students one piece of advice for how to spend their summer, what would it be?

Throughout elementary school, I’d say be a kid. Don’t worry too much. Use your imagination. Play outside. In middle school, I’d say explore a few summer camps. I went to basketball camp at Stanford and it not only improved my skills, but it was a great experience meeting new people and feeling a sense of independence. In high school, keep going to camps! Camps held at colleges can help give you a sense of what kind of schools fit you and what majors you might like to study. I’d also recommend volunteering. I spent a week at Camp ReCreation the summer after my Junior year of high school, and not only did it look good on my college applications - it also changed my life. I just got back this week from my 6th year there.

What was your favorite memory from working on the set Pitch Perfect and other movie sets?

I’d say I have a million favorite memories, but the best thing I got out of Pitch Perfect was a batch of best friends.

Do you find that other people in the movie industry put less of an emphasis on school and education?

I have found that many successful actors and actresses worked instead of going to college, but people think it’s really cool when actors keep up with their studies. Natalie Portman went to Harvard!

What’s the biggest challenge that comes with working on movie sets and within the film industry?

There can be really long days, and unlike theater, we’ll shoot the same scene for hours. It takes patience. That’s why unwavering passion is a necessity!

What are your plans for the future, where can we see you next?

I’ve just finished recording and filming two covers of songs that I love, and I’ll probably release them within the next few months. You can also see me on Comedy Central this fall as a guest star on the new show Adam Devine’s House Party!


Kelley offers tutoring services in Music, Math, English, History, Spanish and Voice. She was Valedictorian of her high school class, and graduated from college with honors in 2011. Despite working as a full-time actress/singer for the past 2 years, which included two seasons of "The Sing-Off" with the SoCal VoCals (the top a cappella group in the nation), she still finds time to help students acheive success through tutoring. Drawing from her own experience in school, she emphasizes efficiency while studying so that students can pursue their passions and spend time on extracurricular activities. She also believes the mantra that learning should be fun, so there is never a dull moment in her lessons! If you're in the Los Angeles area, email Kelley here to inquire about availability.

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