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Hi!  My daughter is a junior in HS and we are now trying to answer that crazy question of college or dance first.  She wants to get a degree outside of dance as well and is thinking PT.  PT is a commitment of 6-7 years.  That would be a huge chunk of her prime dancing years.  What to do?  (Her main love is classical ballet)  I am majorly starting to stress out as I'm a planner and just feel as thought I need answers.  Butler, Univ. of Cinn. etc. sound great, but #1, affording those school would require a miracle and #2, should she invest that time/money into a BFA when you really don't need it to dance professionally.  Comments regarding benefits of having a degree in dance, welcomed!!!  Thank you for your help!  :)

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Well, those are million dollar questions for sure.  So much of it comes down to choice.  She could choose to go to a Dance college to continue her dancing knowing BFA courses may not help her later in working towards PT.  This could be perfectly fine with her.  Or she could try to dance, take college courses along the way towards her PT career later.  It boils down to where your pocket and her desire meet.   And also the type of acceptances that begin coming her way.  When DD was auditioning for both dance and college programs, she received a substantial enough academic scholarships to Butler and IU so that the in-state versus out-of-state financial issues were negated.  The dance scholarships were minimal in comparison.  

I, personally, don't encourage a bunch of student loans to acquire a BFA or Dance degree.  Not because it may not be worthy of someone to do so.  But because you do have to factor in income at the time of employment when it's time to pay those loans back.  The payback amounts can be very tough for even a gainfully employed private sector worker much less a dancer on a tight budget.  Even the income driven repayment plans for a dancer can be hard to manage.  

In reality, this decision will be made simultaneously if she is unsure.  It is possible for her to aim for both at the same time and then making a decision when the offers/situations become real.  Scheduling college trips and college dance auditions and dance company auditions can be tricky.  But it can be done.  There are also so many different scenarios that she can look at in order to feel she has the best of both worlds.  For DD, she was not interested in a dance degree, but was also not ready to give up dancing.   So we determined that she should audition for companies and look at college dance programs as a way to continue training.  If the company offers did not come in then she would still be in a situation to audition again the following year or move on into other college courses.  In addition, she only wanted to accept paid dance positions.  She had in her mind that if she was not paid, it was time to move on to college.  So, I guess I'm saying, going into this season, we had a plan to work with until such time as the plan began to unfold.  It was one crazy year, but she did end up dancing and doing part time college courses.  

Please take some time to look through the titles in our Career forum.  There are several titles there where you can see the decision process of others along the way.  There is also one called Hindsight to College/Career choices or something similar that might help as well.  Just a side note, one of DD's dance friends danced with her in a company for a couple of years and then went to PT school.  She is now the PT for a ballet company.  

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My daughter has a similar wish; dance as long as possible, then go into PT.  She will be a junior next year; this spring she is auditioning for several ballet schools.  Hopefully, pending the results, she will finish high school online.  She's always known that a dance career can be very short, and that college can come later.  Good luck to all of you!

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PT has become a very academically competitive field and has significant costs attached.  (DD seriously considered it following a career-ending injury).  It is also rather tricky to 'plan ahead' because the required courses for the various PT programs are not standardized, i.e., what might be required as prerequisites for one may be entirely different for another.  So, it makes it hard to get the core classes in in undergrad and even more so working along with a dance career.  That's not to say it cannot be done, but it is something that will take some real focus and care.

That said, I would totally agree with Momof3darlings that incurring significant school loan debt for a BFA (which my DD does have, the degree, not the debt!) is not a prudent plan.  There is very little help in the current climate for undergraduate loan repayment and it can easily become a very limiting burden for young dancers---and just young folks, in general.  When DD was looking into PT programs, she found that the loan debt involved would be very similar to medical school loan debt---without the concomitant salary expectations.  So, she chose a different profession to pursue as graduate degree.

 Her BFA degree did permit her to immediately enroll in her graduate degree program.  For medical school or PT school, she would have needed to complete a post-baccalaureate program to pick up the sciences and lab courses that she had not taken in undergrad.  Depending on the undergraduate school, course availability, and scheduling options, plus a few summers, it may well be possible to do those requisite science and lab course (and whatever else the individual PT schools she chooses to apply to) during a BFA undergrad term.  But it will require planning and dedication.

She can always try "dance first, PT later".  It is only time.  The young often get worried about time, but it is there for the taking and to be used as one so chooses.  Now, parents have concerns about time in that it can turn into a very long time waiting for their kiddo to become self-supporting!  You both must determine what everyone's tolerance for that level of parental support is.  :)

The other thing to keep in mind is that the 'cheaper' student loans are only available for one undergraduate degree.  That is, if she obtains her BFA and has taken out student loans, then decides later that she needs a different undergraduate degree or enters a non-degree-seeking program (like a post-baccalaureate to pick up the science courses), the 'cheaper' student loans won't be available to her.  Nor are there typically scholarships for those programs.  So, it is just something to keep in mind in terms of planning finances.

But, bottom line:  A BFA degree is not something I would encourage anyone to do on hefty student loans.  It is just too burdensome when those loans come due.


I would also encourage you to look through the Higher Education General Discussion forum and browse the Index for the Forum.  This discussion comes up often, sometimes in slightly different guises.  So, I know we have had various discussions regarding the pros and cons and various concerns regarding college versus training/dancing.  There will be much food for thought for you and your DD to consider.

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Shar, one small piece of advice I can offer is that for some schools, merit aid is based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores.  Some schools are transparent about how they offer this aid. So a better GPA and standardized test score could result in significant merit aid, making many of those schools much more affordable relative to in-state options. And good advice has already been shared regarding PT program preparation. In my research of a few DPT programs, it seems they require 10-12 semesters of work, including lab sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics) as well as other classes like psychology, anatomy, sociology, etc. But, none of the programs I've looked into have the same requirements. And finally, taking out significant loans for a BFA is not something my family would be comfortable doing, given the potential (or not) to be able to relatively easily pay off those loans down the road. My daughter is choosing a BFA program in part because she is not ready to head out on the audition circuit and in part because she is very excited about going to college.

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Wow, girls-you provided a ton of great information and food for though for sure!!!  I can't thank you enough for taking your time to communicate your thoughts on this subject.  We will certainly take all into consideration.  Many of those thoughts we had as well, but it good to hear it from those that have walked the path before us. Another option my daughter is considering, is going to a local (within an hour) state school that has a wonderful reputation and also has a partnership with a local ballet company.  If you dance with the company (must be accepted) for 2 or more years, you will be issued a certificate in dance.  We need to look into what that might do for her in terms of her ballet career.  She could then pursue the under grad degree of her choice.  

If your daughter did end up choosing to major in dance, may I ask where she attended (or plans to attend)?

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My DD graduated with a BFA in Dance from the Lines program at Dominican University in 2012.  She graduated this past spring with a JD from Berkeley Law School.

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I never heard of that program although we were concentrating on the east coast.  Thank you and best wishes on your daughter's continued success!

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Some schools may offer a double major for dance and pt. We recently toured Florida State dance department and this question was asked by a mom. The director said they have done this for students. It gets tricky for senior year but they say they've  managed it. 

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Thanks!  I have heard it can be done, but definitely challenging. I'll be sure to ask as we go along.  😊

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  • 11 months later...

How rare is it for a dancer to be able to start a professional ballet career after college? If my daughter could have anything she wanted, she would prefer to get an undergraduate degree (and she's pretty firm on its not being a BFA) and then dance a few years professionally before going on to something else. But she is getting the distinct impression that this is the wrong order to do things in if she wants to dance professionally at all. 

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This is all so helpful and I have a 16 DD, so I can't offer concrete advice but this I will say, I do agree with the advice not to take loans to get a BFA. I will say also that there are certain companies that do appear to hire BFAs but my read of company bios is that it is not typical.  

Also, and this is based on observing a non-ranked, non-competitive large ballet BFA program near my home--there is a lot of distraction at college that competes with the kind of life a dancer needs to live--drinking, partying, fast food. In  the BFA program we know,  there are not enough classes per day to reach the strength levels needed for pro dancing (~3 hours/5 days per week). Most pro dancers rehearse 6 hours per day 6 days a week and then perform on top of that. In addition, there are big gaps.  (1 month at Christmas, 3 months in the summer).  

The positives are great facilities and great performance opportunities. 

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I would agree with Learningdance's assessment that it would be difficult for a dancer to keep his/her technique training sharp and physical stamina/shape high with less than a minimum of 4-5 hours training/6 days a week.  I'm sure it *can* be done, but it would be difficult for the majority. 

Some bodies may not need that amount of constant reinforcement, but my DD has found she does, and I would consider her body more average than phenomenal.  Therefore, it's my belief that if a dancer wanted to remain "company ready" while IN college, that dancer would need a great deal of additional personal discipline and incredible focus over a four year commitment in a stressful, complex and demanding environment.  Again, can it be done?  Yes.  But it will be difficult.  In my opinion, the difference is similar to taking a professional exam (or the SATs) immediately after the prep course, or waiting for a period of time and trying to take it later, say 6 months or so.  Yes, you can continue practicing, and developing your skills, and perhaps do even better, but that method requires more personal commitment and focus.

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It’s hard for me to imagine both training for a professional ballet career and pursing a non-dance college education at the same time.  It seems that one or both would get short shrift, even if one were disciplined enough to pull it off.    The logistics alone would be mind-boggling.

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Eligus, thanks. If there is a human being in the world with that level of personal discipline and focus, it would be my daughter, but the question is whether there is such a human being.

She will have the advantage of starting college with a pile of college credits already obtained in high school, and she's looking at schools that offer credit for dance thus giving her some additional relief from the college workload. Like some of the other people mentioned in this thread, she'd be considering a double major. She was also a very late starter at ballet, although she's now dancing at the level of many of her peers, but to me this means that she could probably use more years of training than the average person before she is ready to attempt a professional career.  This means that the idea of a brief professional career followed by a return to college is less realistic for her than for some people. We don't have any illusions that she is likely to be chosen to dance for a major company, but she would love if it were possible to dance in a small, regional company for a while. 

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