It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.

According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:

Drexel Dance Ensemble, via drexel.edu

Before you apply: Talk to your family about what you can realistically afford to pay for college, and what kind of financial assistance you'll need.

As you apply: "Don't just build a list of schools you want to go to," says Chicago Academy for the Arts college counselor Sarah Langford. "Add schools that will be a financial fit. It's heartbreaking when students get into their top four but can't go." Frank Mullen, dean of student financial planning and services at Dean College, recommends putting together a chart with all your schools' application deadlines, including those for admission, FAFSA and other financial aid requirements.

Dean College dance majors, via dean.edu

After you've been accepted: Look at your financial aid package and see if the grants and loans offered will be sufficient. Online loan calculators can help determine how much you can reasonably take on based on your expected future occupation, and the school's financial aid office should be able to help talk you through your options.

When you're deciding: Finances should be a factor in your final decision. Mullen says that he sometimes must advise students to attend a different school. "You want to make the right financial decision so when you get out of school, you can repay student loans and still be able to do the things you want to do in life," he says.

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