How to Choose a College Dance Program When You Can't Visit Campus
With all education happening virtually for the foreseeable future, high school seniors find themselves in a difficult position. Not only have their senior-year milestone events—prom, last recitals, graduation—been canceled or postponed, but they also have to choose which college to attend next year without making any more in-person visits.
For dancers in particular, this presents a difficult situation. How can you figure out which program will best fit your technical level and goals when you can’t see it in action?
Even with in-person visits off the table, there are numerous ways senior dancers can make the most of the time between now and decision day, May 1. Here’s how to ensure you end up at the right college dance program for you.
Reach Out to Faculty
Just because you can’t meet a college’s dance faculty in person doesn’t mean you can’t get to know them. Many faculty members have been offering video conferencing with high school seniors.
“I would recommend that dancers contact the chair of the school’s dance department,” says Amy West, dance lecturer at the University of Michigan. “Ask them what the first year will look like, how many technique classes they’ll be getting a day, what techniques besides modern and ballet are offered, and what performance opportunities are available.”
When talking to professors and instructors, make sure that your goals as a prospective student are clear. Be specific about what you hope to get out of the program and how you hope to grow through your education. Before speaking with a faculty member, take time to read through their bio, to get a better feel for their areas of expertise, and the questions they might be best positioned to answer.
Talk to Students and Alums
Current students and alumni are especially valuable resources for dancers hoping to get a sense of the realities of life in a college dance program. Many schools will quickly set you up with both, says Ellen Rosa-Taylor, chair of the dance department at Idyllwild Arts Academy.
“Seniors can ask current students more personal questions, the kinds of things a director would only be able to give a generic answer to,” says Rosa-Taylor. “The student who’s currently there can give a little more insight into the details of life in the program.”
If a prospective college isn’t able to connect you directly with a student or alum, social media can be your best friend. The power of a simple DM is only heightened during this period of social distancing. That said, not every program alum on Instagram will be willing or able to have a lengthy conversation, so be respectful when reaching out. Ask for just a few minutes of their time, mentioning that you have questions about their personal experience in their school’s dance program.
Take Advantage of Video Options
Unsurprisingly, a ton of schools have increased their video output, from livestreams to YouTube clips, during this social distancing period. Take advantage of all of that footage, which can paint a good picture of a school’s facilities, and allow you to hear even more from faculty and students.
“You can basically take real college classes during live streams,” says Judith Rice, associate professor of dance at UMichigan. “Or, on the school’s YouTube channel, you might find a video about the dance program that shows you rehearsals or performances in action. Seeing the students on campus, and observing what they’re going through, is a great way to get a sense of what the experience might be like for you.”