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California Virtual Academies (CAVA @ Sutter) graduate Karissa Carleton will be attending Pace University in New York City this fall to pursue her musical theater dreams. However, that’s not the only exciting thing that happened to her this year—Karissa applied to 15 schools across the country, and got accepted into more than half of them!

“I applied to 15 schools because the musical theater industry is one of the most competitive in the world,” Karissa said. “There are many steps that have to be taken before you can even audition for college musical theater programs, and most accept very few people.”

Karissa was accepted, with scholarships, to many prestigious theater programs at colleges across the country, including Ball State University, Columbia University, Cornish College of the Arts, Dean College, Rider University, Texas Christian University, and Vanguard University.

On top of getting accepted into these schools academically, Karissa had to audition for their musical theater programs, as well. In some cases, she had to submit pre-screen video portfolios of her dancing, singing, and acting before she was offered an invitation to audition in person.

Karissa traveled across the country with her mother, Katrina, to audition for these schools throughout the month of February. “The schools are very competitive and most only accept a maximum of 25 students into their musical theater program,” Katrina said.  “We are so proud and excited that she has been accepted to these amazing schools.”

With a number of  prestigious choices, Karissa ultimately chose to attend Pace University based on location. “It’s located in the heart of New York City – the center of the musical theater industry,” she said, adding that she plans to audition for Broadway shows during the school year. “What better place to study than the city that you’re striving to be able to perform in during your career.”


While Karissa is thrilled to start her theater dreams, she is more very excited about getting the full college experience at Pace. “I have never been in a public school setting because I went straight from attending a small private school to online school,” she said. “I can’t wait to become a more independent person and learn to be who I am, instead of what society wants me to be.”

Karissa enrolled in CAVA @ Sutter in the fifth grade because she was heavily bullied in elementary school. Her family decided that an online program was the most ideal option.

With the skills she gained at CAVA, it has proven to be a rewarding experience for Karissa.

“The flexibility of an online school allowed me to participate in many extracurricular activities,” she said. “It also helped me to become a self-sufficient learner, and the hands-on teaching style provided me with the proper tools I needed to succeed in the academic field.”

Along with excelling academically and in her performances, Karissa also composes songs on her guitar and piano. She even landed a record deal at the age of 13, recording two songs that are currently on iTunes; ‘Our Summer,’ which also has a music video on YouTube, and ‘Over You.’

She is also a choreographer and assistant director for a small local theater, as well as an after-school enrichment theater program.

With her many accomplishments, there is no doubt she will do big things at Pace!

Karissa plans to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in Musical Theater. “I knew at a young age that there was going to be a lot of competition,” she said. “I worked to become a performer who stands out and never give up on what I love!”

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