Growing up with a father who was a professor, I never questioned if I would go to college immediately after high school. Though I danced as a kid, I never considered making a career of it and so when I fell in love with the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted, I knew I’d attend.
While Penn didn’t have a dance program, it did have a vibrant student performing arts scene, which meant that when I realized I missed dancing, I was able to start my own student-run dance company on campus. Through Strictly Funk, I took my first steps into choreography and running a dance company. Although becoming a choreographer wasn’t my “career plan,” my choice to go to college did ultimately set me up for that path.
When deciding whether you should go to a conservatory, a university dance program, or head straight to a dance capital to give the professional world a try, there are so many things to consider. Hopefully, the following helps make your decision a little easier:
What do you want to get out of a specific program?
Are you seeking a focused opportunity to fine-tune your craft? Do you want to explore styles of movement you haven’t yet had the chance to learn? Always ask if you’ll have the opportunities you’re looking for right away or if you’ll have to wait until you’re an upperclassman to take certain classes or have performance opportunities.
Are you looking to transition your skills?
If you’re looking to transition from a dancer to a triple threat, there are many great programs where you can diversify your skills in a range of areas. If you’re interested in dance and film, some programs offer classes in different types of technology. If you want to stick strictly to dance, that’s an important thing to think about as well.
What types of careers do recent grads have?
Another thing to ask is what type of jobs recent graduates of the program have landed. Are they having careers similar to the one you would want? If you’re interested in dancing with a specific company, check if that company’s director has ties to any schools—many do. Being able to take workshops with choreographers you ultimately want to work for is a great benefit to many programs.
Do you also want to choreograph?
College is also a great place to start a career as a choreographer if that’s something that interests you. As a student, you’ll have access to free studio and theater space and lots of dancers eager to create with you without asking, “How much will I get paid?” As soon as you graduate, you have to start paying for these things and that can make developing a choreographic practice incredibly challenging.
Do you have a community of support?
If you don’t go directly to school, what opportunities will you seek and are they realistic? Are you really ready to book a job on Broadway, in a film, etc.? Do you have a way to support yourself while you’re figuring out a new city? Do you have a community to support you? One of the great things about being in school is the built-in community. Making it on your own in a new city can be very lonely.
What can you afford?
Money is also a big factor. What kind of financial aid is available? Higher education is very expensive and without grants, you need to think about what you’ll need to earn once you graduate to pay back student loans. Is the financial trade-off worth it?
For me, college was an amazing experience and ultimately put me on the path to the career I have now. But it may not be the right path for you. Consider what you want and need out of the next four years of your life and be really honest with yourself before you make the decision.
This post was originally published on Jan. 7, 2019. It has since been updated.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.