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Starting to consider options for my son, and have some basic questions

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For background: My son is 15. He started dancing at a local pre-pro school when he was six and stayed there for six years. By that point, he had decided classical ballet was not his thing and switched to a more casual, smaller studio where he took jazz and tap. He switched again when he found a tap teacher he really loves at another small studio. And, in the two years he's been at this school, he's fallen back in love with dance in general, returned to ballet classes and decided he wants to dance/perform professionally.


He is still not interested in classical ballet at a career. Instead, he would like to pursue musical theatre, but he'd like to make dance his primary skill.


Although he's extremely bright and capable, academics are not of particular interest to him. We've made it clear he is expected to complete some kind of post-high school training program or credential, preferably a four-year college degree. He's decided he'd like to major in dance or, possibly as a distant second choice, musical theatre if he could make dance the focus of his program.


He has permission to dual enroll at the local community college in the fall, where he will be able to complete his remaining high school requirements within a year. (We homeschool, but we're requiring him to match or exceed what local high schools require.) At that point, he will be 16.


If it matters, just in terms of general college admission readiness, he just got back his most recent ACT scores, which put him at the high end of the middle 50% of admitted students at most of the in-state campuses he's currently considering. And he has, at minimum, another year to study and prep and re-take the exam. So, I feel confident he'll be ready, academically, to apply to a nice selection of colleges when the time comes.


However, because dance is, to put it mildly, not my area of expertise, I have no idea how close or how far away he is from being ready to audition into any college dance program. We have asked to book some time with the director of his current dance school to discuss the readiness question and to draw up some kind of plan for at least the upcoming year.


Assuming the teacher believes we could have him ready for auditions in time for the 2014 - 2015 academic year, it seems to me my son has a few options.


  1. He could simply continue to take classes at the community college, knocking out some prereqs and general education requirements and taking some dance classes on campus and at his current studio, for another year, which would allow him to stall for time and apply to four-year programs at the same time most of his local friends are doing so. The potential downside to this plan is that I'm very afraid he will lose momentum and interest and have trouble getting into gear for college.
  2. He could take a gap year, taking time off from school entirely, to focus on dance and maybe get a job. But this one only magnifies my concerns related to the first choice.
  3. He could try auditioning into the community college's associates degree program in dance, which has a decent reputation, and plan on applying to transfer into a four-year program later.
  4. He could get an associates degree or technical certificate in something other than dance while dual enrolled, which should allow him to still apply as a freshman when he's ready to start a four-year program.


I suspect #3 is the best bet, but we have concerns about whether he would find barriers to transferring into an arts program or would miss out on signficant opportunities if he is not enrolled in a single program for all four years.


Does anyone have experience with or knowledge of how this works? Are four-year dance programs generally welcoming of students who transfer in after a stint in community colleges? Would he have trouble getting cast in productions on campus if directors and choreographers don't know him as well as they know the students who've been there for two years? Would differences in teaching or dance styles put barriers in the way of him succeeding in the four-year program? Are there specific schools or programs that have a reputation one way or the other on these issues?

Edited by GnMsMom
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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, GnMsMom!


A lot of very good questions there. I don't exactly have the answers, but I would suggest looking into OCU (Oklahoma City University), which has a very strong dance and musical theatre program. If he has the talent and the training, why limit him to staying local? If he can do well academically in this next year, and continue with his training, he should be able to try for really good programs.

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Welcome GnMsMom.


As you think ahead to college options, you might want to consider whether your son’s ultimate goal is a BA or BFA degree. A BA in dance is generally awarded as part of a liberal arts program. Although an audition may be required, the dance major is often similar to any other field, such as physics or French, in that there are required classes in your concentration plus academic distribution requirements.


A BFA degree is usually awarded as part of a fine arts or conservatory program. It is often (making broad generalities here…) more technique / performance oriented and more focused on preparation for a performing career. Many of the required academic classes in a BFA program are dance related, such as anatomy, kinesiology, music and dance history, etc. There may not be the same math or foreign language requirements that a BA degree demands.


This distinction is important for you now is because it is often more difficult to transfer in to a BFA program than in to the dance department of a liberal arts college. Fewer of the classes your son takes at community college would be transferable, and some conservatory programs expect all new students to enter as freshmen. (or “first-years” as I am told we should now call them….) A phone call to specific schools that your son has shown interest in, or that your current director recommends, would give you more information on their policies toward transfer students.


Also, it may be the “Glee” factor, but pursuing musical theater in college has become very popular and thus increasing competitive. If your son decides to pursue MT he should start voice lessons soon!


I hope this helps.

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Thank you to both of you!


He has always said he would like to stay in state, if possible. His big sister (my daughter) went off to an early entrance college program 800 miles from home when she was quite young, and he didn't like the idea of taking that path. His ideal situation would have him enrolled far enough away from home so that it makes sense to live in the dorms, but close enough to make getting home for holidays and an occasional weekend or for us to easily make it there to see his performances more comfortable.


I was aware there were differences in B.A. and B.F.A. programs, but your clear explanation was very helpful, EAC. Thank you! I think he's leaning toward a traditional B.A. at this point.


He does sing, too, and had a couple of years of private voice lessons before we had to pull him in order to concentrate resources on dance training. He still sings with a fairly prestigious choir, and we would, of course, get him some coaching before sending him off to auditions.

Edited by GnMsMom
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I have a fair amount of experience with this: my daughter did early entrance to UArts (a triple emphasis program) in lieu of her senior year of high school, then transferred as a sophomore to University of Arizona (her top choice triple-emphasis program), graduated with a BFA in dance (that required a good chunk of liberal arts gen eds), and is now working in musical theatre. Meanwhile, I work in the counseling office of a community college, where I do a lot of liaison work with 4-year college programs to help our students transfer.


I'm kind of partial to the idea of having your son stall for time at a community college due to his age. Also, transfer students have access to fewer scholarship options, and your son, being a male dancer, would be a top contender for scholarship funds as a freshman. But either way you slice it, if he racks up 30 transfer credits, he's going to count as a sophomore, just like my daughter.


The access to scholarship funds makes a really strong case to stick to your guns about insisting your son seek out higher education. Being a male dancer or musical theatre major is a great way to get a low-cost college education and the opportunities for male performers is nothing to sneeze at for a guy who is willing to work hard and save his money for periods between contracts.


Has your son been away to summer intensives? Has he had experience taking care of himself, using public transportation, etc in big cities? In addition to his singing skills, he's also going to need a lot of city life skills before venturing onto a musical theatre career. A college BFA program can offer him that if you choose wisely.


I can write more as we go. The more questions you have, the more your post count will go up. :wink:

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I, too, had a dual enrolled child (a son). Interesting that you mentioned the credit hours pushing them out of freshman scholarships, because we did not find that to be true in our case. We were advised that he should not declare a major as a dual enrolled student, and not apply for his AA. We heeded that advice and he entered a private university with 42 credits and freshman standing - and was able to apply for (and thankfully rec'd) freshman scholarships.


I'm not sure if it was not declaring a major, not getting his AA, or applying to a private university which allowed him to enter as a freshman - or a combo of all 3 - but it is worth looking into the rules for the college he is aiming for, because missing out on the freshman scholarships can be a huge financial OOPS.


Best wishes to you and your son, GnMsMom!

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I think that it may depend on the university. Years ago, I was counselor at a University, where it would not have been possible in the department where I worked to enter as a Freshman with that many credits and have them count toward the degree.

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And that may be part of the difference, I'm guessing.


What I'm reading on the websites of most of the colleges my son is considering is that, as long as the credits were completed while the student was still enrolled in high school and the student is not planning to transfer them in to meet requirements for the four-year degree, a student may have quite a few credits and still apply as a freshman. If the credits were completed after high school graduation and/or the student wants to transfer them for credit toward the university degree, that's different.


I'm having trouble envisioning my son thinking it sounds like a good idea to take classes at the community college, do the work, get good grades and then not count those credits toward . . . something. He's not a kid who enjoys treading water just for the sake of staying in one place.


Thank you again for the comments and thoughts. Obviously, we have some questions to ask and some talking to do.

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I'd like to toss out some other points for you to consider.


Your son doesn't actually need musical theatre training through a college program to pursue a musical theatre career. (It's like dance in that way.) You just need more and better roles/credits on your resume: from high school, college, community theatre, regional professional theatre... on up. Check out the thread on "College Confidential" titled, "Different Paths," started by actor12 on April 18, 2013. (I don't think I'm allowed to link to it. Use Google's advanced search to find it on the domain: talk.collegeconfidential.com). My daughter can attest to the different paths her fellow cast members have followed to join her on her various contracts. The main issue is that your son will just be too young after high school to venture out in New York City on his own, lacking either experience or mentorship.


Therefore, while the top musical theatre programs have become ridiculously competitive to get into, it's not like an aspiring performer's chances for success are improved by attending them. It just seems a shame, in general, to pass up the chance to get a college education with the promise of significant scholarships as a dance major, due to the fact that men are in demand in college dance programs. I know my daughter greatly values her college education for what it offered in the way of experience, learning about herself, how to work in intense situations... and more, as "show biz" needs a lot of self-knowledge, perseverance, organization.... so many traits that are too numerous to list. Most of it can't be taught except through lots of real-life experience, trail and error, and heaps of struggle. College just happens to be a safe place to get some of that work done. And the bonus is that you come out with a piece of paper that forms a good foundation for a Plan B.

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A thoughtful post, thank you. And it certainly echoes my own understanding.


For what it's worth, my daughter has a degree in theatre, which she earned through an early entrance college program, and is now following her own path toward a career on stage. So, I do have some familiarity with the challenges of both early college and transitioning from college to performance career.


In a nutshell, yes, he's been told since pretty much forever that we expect him to get some kind of post-high school traning or education, preferably a four-year degree. My husband, who didn't think he needed college when he was starting out and who has experienced the obstacles a lack of degree has put in his career path, is especially adamant on this point. And, since we all know that a dancer's career does not tend to be a long one, we feel strongly that our son should have some kind of formal education under his belt before heading out into the world.


He's never had a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of going to college, until it dawned on all of us that he could major in dance. Since that's what got him excited about education, that's the path we're encouraging him to pursue. We're not viewing it as job training. We completely understand that, once he's ready to start trying to "make it" for real, it will be his talent and training and a good dose of luck that mean the most. But, the idea is that, no matter how all of that turns out, he'll have a degree that will smooth the transition to other paths, if it should become necessary to take one of them.

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