No two dancers' paths are the same. For some students, a traditional four-year college experience with dorm rooms, all-nighters in the library and a schedule packed with 15 credit hours is the perfect fit. But for those who are already working, juggling other responsibilities or dealing with financial restrictions, going to school part-time can be the best option. The timeline will be longer, but the degree you walk away with will bring you all the same benefits.
Know Before You Apply
1. Connect with an advisor. Earning a dance degree part-time isn't possible at all universities due to the way the curriculum is set up. Get in touch with an academic advisor from the dance department to talk about your options before you spend time and money on applications and auditions.
2. Financial aid can be tricky. Although you are still eligible for federal student aid if you're enrolled at least half-time, many merit- and need-based institutional scholarships require students to be enrolled full-time.
3. Consider community college. For an affordable option that offers a lot of flexibility, think about earning an associate's degree at a community college (where you can knock out the bulk of your core curriculum academic requirements) and then transferring to a four-year institution with a more specialized dance program, says Lana Carroll Heylock, associate professor of dance at the Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts at Jacksonville University.
Avoid These Pitfalls
Part-time dance students may encounter some common challenges, but there are proactive ways to mitigate them.
Burnout: When you're juggling college courses with a full-time job or caring for a family member, it's easy to become stretched too thin. Exhaustion is the number one problem that Karen Stokes, head of the dance program at the University of Houston, sees among her part-time students. Remember to prioritize rest when you do have moments of downtime.
Missing performance opportunities: Since afternoon or weekend rehearsal times can be challenging, part-time students often don't get to participate in as many performances, Stokes says. She suggests dancers choreograph their own pieces, so they have control over the rehearsal schedule, or sign up for other student-choreographed works with more flexible rehearsal times.
Slipping technique: The only way to maintain and improve your technique is by logging the hours, Stokes says. If you aren't able to enroll in many movement course credits because of scheduling conflicts, consider supplementing your training with external dance workshops or classes offered online or at a local studio.
Not connecting with your peers: Some part-time dancers may find it difficult to form strong bonds with their cohort because they aren't spending as much time on campus. "The community part of it is still there, but maybe it's not quite as all-encompassing as when you're going full-time," Stokes says. If you're longing for more connection, participating in student works and joining clubs can help facilitate deeper friendships.
Share Your Story
Dancers have different reasons for enrolling part-time. Let faculty members know what your situation is and what sort of support you'll need to be successful. "Students have to be willing to ask for help," Stokes says. This means explaining any challenges you're having, so faculty members can help you navigate the system in a way that works for you. Stokes acknowledges that this can take courage, but it will ultimately help you progress.