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Decisions: College or company


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My daughter is 16 and a junior. She has been dancing for 10 years and is interested in perusing dance professionally. She is also a high achieving academic student who is getting a lot of pressure to attend college for academics. If she attends a college can anyone recommend one that is good for dancers? She is thinking of skipping college and just trying to work with a company. As her parents, we support any choice she makes. We feel like she can go to college later but we are definitely in the minority. Any experiences or advice about this situation would be really welcomed.



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  • dancemaven


  • swanchat


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bmsteffen, my daughter was in the same circumstances as yours academically and dance-wise. I'll let others talk about the various colleges with great dance training, and instead tell you about Columbia University's program for "nontraditional learners."


First things first, your daughter should apply to college no matter what! All it takes is one injury to sidetrack a dancer for months. College, if your daughter chooses to spend a year or so auditioning, is an extremely important backup plan for academically driven students.


My daughter applied to and was accepted to various colleges, chose one that was near a pre-professional school with advanced training, deferred for a year, started dancing professionally, deferred for another year (not all colleges allow that), and then took herself off the college's list. She danced full-time professionally for 8 years, part-time for another 2+ years while in college, then stopped dancing professionally except occasionally.


She was accepted into Columbia University through their General Studies program for"nontraditional learners." All that means is that there is a separate admissions process for candidates who've been out of school for more than one year and can prove that they have engaged passionately and at a high level in a singular activity during their time out of school. Candidates out of school for 8 years or more, as was my daughter, had to retake the SAT's or take Columbia's own exam. My daughter retook the SAT's. Candidates also must write a 2,500 word essay on what they have been doing while out of school. The program is nicknamed the "Tutus & Uzi's" program because the two largest groups are former ballet dancers (many only got as far as apprentices or trainees) and military veterans. Their classes, tests, scores, etc., are taken with the rest of the university students. Only the admissions process - more rigorous - and the social activities are separate. As a group, they have a higher GPA than the younger Columbia students.


Columbia and Barnard collaborate on the dance program. The studios are across the street at Barnard. There is a phenomenal student company started by G.S. (General Studies) students. Columbia University is the school of choice, along with Harvard, for many professional dancers at NYCB and ABT. My daughter only attended the ballet classes at Barnard once or twice. She said it was filled with many former trainees and apprentices who still held the dream of becoming professional dancers and they vied for attention in the same way as in pre-professional schools. Because my daughter had danced professionally for so many years and was still dancing part-time, that was not true for her, so she found other studios in NYC that satisfied her needs more.


She chose Columbia because of Dr. Oliver Sacks, whose work she'd admired since she was in 7th. grade. Her essay spoke of that admiration and of some of the work he'd done and how excited she was for the chance to hear him lecture in person. The summer she graduated, a friend wrote to him to ask for an autographed copy for her of one of his books. Dr. Sacks not only autographed the book, but also wrote a personal letter to her admiring her unique pathway of learning and urging her to always take such a path in her pursuit of learning. It was the loveliest tribute to the path all our dancers here on these boards have been in the midst of taking: an unconventional, but rich, life of learning.

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The question is really more complicated.


It is college for a BFA in ballet or for a non-dance degree, company or both. There are many options today.

My dd 18 opted for a trainee position and is continuing her education on a very part-time basis. I see that vagansmom posted as I was typing.:) My dd is working on her degree through Harvard. She is also very academically oriented. Harvard's program, the Harvard Extension School, offers admission differently than any other that I am aware of. To be admitted, you need to take a minimum of 3 of their courses (their courses are open to anyone) which include a gate-way course, maintain a sufficiently high GPA (I think it is a B+) and write an essay. Dd was accepted last month. While anyone can take these courses, only a very small number of students (probably less than 400) are actually enrolled as degree candidates. To complete the degree, a number of credits must be completed on campus, so she will need to fit those in at some point in time. When we met with the dean some time ago, it was explained that we should think of the classes at Harvard as the equivalent of a college honors program at other universities. Now that dd has friends in college and can compare, she does see that the workload per course is significantly greater than average.

Dd has said many times how glad she is to have some school work while she is dancing. She thoroughly enjoys all that she is doing now- the trainee program and her coursework.


I know other dancers who take classes online through their local community colleges and in person at local universities. Fordham in NYC also has a program with flexibility that works well for dancers. When I had called about dd taking a class there as a non-matriculated student, the person I spoke to (I believe it was a dean) was very excited about the possibility of dd joining their program! She explained that they have dancers of all types- NYCB, ABT. Rockettes, Broadway dancers, etc and that they make excellent students so they are happy to have them.

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This is one of those age-old questions with no simple answers and is a consideration of "the many roads to Rome".


I would recommend that you brew a pot of coffee or tea, pull up a comfy chair and scroll through BT4D's Career and Education Forums http://dancers.invisionzone.com/index.php?showforum=146. There are many threads that touch upon his topic with much discussion, insight, and wisdom shared and imparted over the years by our members. A single thread simply can't cover such a broad topic.


I would also encourage you---and your DD---to review the dedicated threads for the various programs, both college and vocational, to get a good grounding in just what is available and what is involved. That should help your DD begin to crystallize what might be the road best fitted for her personal travel.


(It is always preferred that discussions of specific programs (more tha a general comment) be posted on that program's dedicated thread . It helps others researching those programs to follow the organizational structure we have established. :thumbsup:)


As always, please feel free to revive and continue discussions on pertinent threads.


At all times, remember that nothing is written in stone and all roads have exit routes, turn-around zones, forks, detours, and alternate routes. One can always make adjustments as needed.

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Our daughter is currently attending Columbia University and from what I've observed, our daughter's experience mirrors that of vagansmoms daughter. There is a separate thread about the Columbia but I'll add that the Columbia Ballet Company is very active and a good outlet for ballet dancers. There are others with very good ballet companies: Harvard and Princeton and Columbia have created an Ivy League Consortium. Our daughter is no longer able to dance due to an injury but they asked her to be involved in its management. The ballet community there is very supportive of one another. The other thing about being a student in the College of General Studies is that they are very tolerant of students attending part-time or skipping a semester or two while they pursue work. NYC is obviously a great place to find work as a dancer. One of our dd's fellow student/dancers auditioned for Wheldon's "An American in Paris." Another dancer we know has been dancing with the Metropolitan Opera while attending Columbia full time. It takes discipline to master both courses and a job dancing but it can be done.



I understand the pressure that you face as a parent to guide your child into college instead of taking a chance on the elusive ballet career. From grandparents to high school teachers to well-meaning friends, it's tough to let your dk make the decision to postpone college. From our perspective, the life story that was lived from the pursuit of ballet and from a career was of great interest to universities. I'm convinced that the uniqueness of our daughter's life experience combined with her academic record are what made her attractive to very competitive schools.


As Melissa GA says, universities do like ballet dancers because of their ability to focus, persevere, and bring a different outlook to the student discussions.It's good to know that there are schools like Columbia and Harvard's extension program and Fordham in NYC that won't hold the time spent between high school and college against them. When our dd was looking at which schools she would apply to, she was actually told that she was NOT a fit for a few because of her unique story and time away from academic classes. One was her brother's alma mater, SMU. (Which offers a BFA in dance and is another road leading to Rome). So along with reading here about colleges with dance programs, you might call the admissions office of prospective schools and ask their opinion about a student who takes time off after high school to pursue a passion. In some cases, it was an asset, in others more than one year was not.

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Swanchat brings up the good point that some colleges and universities will NOT want an older student. I know that's true of at least some state colleges.


Re Harvard, I'm hoping MelissaGA can fill us in as to whether there is financial aid for the online courses. At the time my daughter was applying, that wasn't true of that program. Her friends, all professional dancers, who were taking those online courses had to pay full out for them. Columbia gave her a large academic scholarship plus a bunch of grants as well as financial aid loans. It was a much cheaper option and since she was at the time already living in NYC near the campus, it made great sense.

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Please do post specifics about specific programs on their dedicated threads and not on this general topic thread.

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In a general sense, part of our thought process in helping dd make her choices is that any credits she earns while she is dancing would have a high likelihood of being able to stand if she decides to transfer elsewhere at some point in the future. I doubt that will happen, but it goes back to the same philosophy we have always had which is to keep all doors open as long as possible. Other trainees she knows are taking classes at local universities, some as non-matriculated students.


I'll also add that at this point, she does not feel that she can manage more than 1 class per semester. There are times in the semester when she thinks she could do more, but then tech week for whatever show she is in comes up and her time to work on schoolwork is at a minimum. Still, if she ends up hanging up her pointe shoes, she will have a number of college credits under her belt which is more than she would have had if she had chosen only to dance.

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MelissaG brings up a very important point about making sure your credits will be accepted later from another school. An an example, Columbia did NOT accept my daughter's AP bio credits despite her earning a 5 on the test. They also did not accept any of her community college credits despite her earning top grades. They accepted other credits though. I'm sure they would have accepted credits from Harvard although probably not in biology. I believe one MUST take that course at Columbia. They have the most esteemed professor in the country teaching it; it's more of an applied biology course than standard bio.


So, if you're planning on attending an Ivie later, it would be a very good thing to ascertain whether or not that Ivie WILL accept credits from the schools you've been taking courses at.

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I would echo how important it is to make sure that credits will be accepted later. DD took an online course last year through UMass Lowell and thought of taking more, but then we checked with Columbia GS (seeing that as a possible place to complete her degree later on) and learned that Columbia does not accept any credits from online courses. Given that policy (which is stated on the GS website), it may be that even credits from Harvard Extension would not transfer if they were earned online.

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bmsteffen, If your dd takes a year(or more)between high school and college, it absolutely does not preclude college for her. Dancers do take college courses even when they are dancing professionally. There things to consider aside from the difficulty of taking classes while working and being physically exhausted.Our dd tried to take correspondence courses during her first year as a professional and finally gave up because she kept falling asleep while reading the material- not from boredom but from exhaustion. Because her professional contract paid her for the entire year, she had the financial freedom to take courses in the summer. Our dd needed the academic stimulation. She missed the classroom and the student discussions. She took summer classes at one of our local universities to keep her sane and her brain awake. Columbia accepted her 15 credits so after one semester, she is a sophomore.This is a double edged sword though- it gives her less time to figure out her major.


Vagansmom brings up a very pertinent point. Plan the courses taken outside of college enrollment carefully if getting credit for them later is important to your dd. The other thing to know about taking college courses is that some schools will not accept students who have taken college courses prior to attending their school. To me, this is the height of hypocrisy for an institution of higher learning but it's their school and they make the rules. It's not possible to just omit the fact that the courses were taken, the common app requires that this is disclosed. It helps to know this when formulating the backup plan. If a school had a rule that no one with college work would be accepted, then our dd didn't apply there. The other iteration about prior college work that needs to be considered is that many universities will accept a student and the credit but they will only accept them as a transfer student. This has implications for scholarships. Transfer students usually have fewer scholarships available to them.


As a junior in high school, your dd's whole world is open to her and while that is a good thing, it also requires strategic choices to facilitate several backup plans that align with general goals. It won't hurt to be prepared for all contingencies. Dancers who are juniors and seniors in high school have more to do than the kid who is just trying to get into college so organization is important. Your dd should work on her personal statement and should continue to challenge herself academically.Then she should have a master calendar where she writes audition dates for companies, universities (if she is going to apply as a dance major), deadlines for college applications, SAT/ACTs,dates for head shots and dance poses, any performances through her school, private coaching for audition variations and oh.. don't forget a bit of fun and sleep too. As a parent, it's tempting to do this for your dk but it will serve them better if they do it themselves with your oversight. It's good practice for the future! None of this is inexpensive so help her set a budget for auditions, applications, etc.


Questions for your daughter to ask herself now should include:


Do I want to go to college and major in dance?

Do I want to go to college and major in something else and if so, is it important that the college has a robust dance program in which I can participate?

Would it be ok if I attend college, major in something other than dance as long as the location is one with many options for ballet classes I can take on my own?

Will I miss the college experience that my friends will have by going straight to college if I take a few years off to dance?

What universities am I interested in attending now and possibly later? What are their restrictions if I've taken some college courses? Make phone calls to admissions counselors and ask about transfer credits and restricted courses from credit transfer, deferring for a year (or more) if accepted?


We have a good friend who (many years ago) applied to the Ivies as a senior in high school. She was accepted to a few and planned on attending Yale. She was well-trained in ballet and one evening was taking an open class at ABT (when that was still possible) and Kevin MacKenzie offered her a job in whatever iteration of the junior company existed then. She contacted Yale and was granted a deferment for a year. After a year, MacKenzie offered her a corps contract, she asked Yale for a second year. They declined; she danced for the second year. During the year, she realized that she needed the academic part of her life back. She decided that Harvard (where she had also been accepted) was a better fit and asked them to reconsider her application. They did. She went to Harvard and was instrumental in helping them raise funds and plan for the lovely dance facility that exists there currently. She became a Rhodes Scholar. She is now a practicing physician. ....Many roads lead to Rome!

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I jotted down the following yesterday evening, but was called away. Since then, you have received some great information from people, so hope the following isn't too redundant. This is from the perspective of keeping options open while experimenting with the company experience.


DD's first decision when looking at colleges was what she wanted to do there. She came to the decision that she did not want her main focus to be a major in dance. She loves rigorous academics, especially the hard sciences, and decided that this is what she would like to focus on when/if she were to attend college, even if that meant dance would take a back seat for the first time in her life. She was accepted into the two Ivies and one highly selective liberal arts college that she applied to while still a senior in high school. All three colleges seemed to take her dance accomplishments very seriously, with one admissions officer adding a handwritten personal note stating something to that effect. She took a class at all three institutions, for her own research, not for any kind of audition purposes since it would not necessarily factor in to the colleges' admissions decisions (although feedback was great from all three institutions, and one even - very unexpectedly - landed her a mentor who recommended her personally to many different company and program directors that same year). One of those classes (at an institution mentioned in the posts above, but I'm trying not to be specific!) definitely stood out to her from the others in terms of the quality of the dancers in the program, as well as the rigor and choice of classes that program offered, despite not offering a major in dance (and she is *very* picky about what constitutes a good class!). In the end, though, she decided to not attend that institution, but accepted and then deferred from the college that she had the greatest connection with outside of ballet. She also observed a class at one of the top BFA programs in the US and so had another kind of reference point.

DD has received permission to defer for a second year from her college of choice while she continues to be a company trainee in a two year program. This wasn't a given, and DD had to report what she had accomplished this year, outside of ballet, and how she intended to spend her second year. The college in question is familiar with the benefits a 'year off' can bring, and has its own program to encourage entering freshmen to take advantage of this. A second year, however, is granted in "exceptional cases only." So if your DD follows a similar path, make sure she goes into her year with a plan, and document everything she accomplishes during that year. DD's college falls into the category of not allowing her to enroll in any course for credit. However, she has found that one not insignificant upside of her deferral year is that, for the first time since high school, she has the time and opportunity to explore rabbit holes and interests that she would not normally have the freedom to pursue when carrying a heavy academic workload and rehearsal schedule. She has read more good literature of her own choosing than she has ever had time for, resumed a musical instrument she has not played for years, experimented with different volunteer opportunities, pursued obscure projects of her own choosing, and learned how to be a good cook.

DD has to inform the college next January as to whether she will be attending the following fall. Take note that this is before most American companies will decide about contracts for their next season.

Anyway, that was the path that DD decided to follow thus far. There are many permutations, and only you and your DD can find the best match for her/your family through lots of research and lots of family conversations.

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I forgot to mention that the above path lessened some of the 'pressure' she may have had from those around her. They accepted the concept of a gap year without too much difficulty.


[editing to add...]


...but then the pressure can switch from external to something more internal and parental. Had DD not decided this particular college was high on her life's wish list, it might be easier to walk away from in order to continue to experiment with the professional ballet world.

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As regards college credit acceptance as well as AP credits, different universities handle these type credits differently, both in terms of general matriculation and as applied to a major. Some schools will accept them for purposes of determining year status; others will accept only certain schools' as transfer credits period. Some schools will accept AP courses with specified AP test scores; others will accept a broader range of test scores; some will accept them as 'elective' credit only; others will accept them as required courses for the chosen major.


Even if a school will accept transfer or AP credit for required classes in a major, it may behoove the student to take the required course as offered by the degree school---to be sure to be on same footing and foundation as the other students in the major. There are differences in the materials covered and the actual focus at each school.


Both our daughters had significant AP credits, but were strategic in how they were applied and accepted at their different universities and majors.

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I have been reading these posts with great interest, and am so grateful for all of you who have been willing to share your knowledge in this area.


It strikes me that it would be incredibly helpful if we could compile a list of colleges and universities that are 'dancer friendly', both in appreciating what they have done, and/or are willing to do the gap year for dancers. Alternatively it would be great to know of places that might not be a good fit due to reasons like not accepting of online or community college courses, or not willing to defer for a year so a dancer might explore their options. I have seen Columbia mentioned several times, and Harvard and Barnard, anyone have any insight on any other schools? Perhaps some West Coast or smaller Liberal Arts colleges? There is a lot of great information about the schools with strong dance programs, but I think it would be useful to hear about schools that might not have dance programs, but still receptive to dancers' sometimes non-traditional educational journeys.

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