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Dancers - To college or not to college?

To College or Not to College… That is the Question

So if you were to ask me, “Karla, do think I should go to college”? I would say YES… ABSOLUTELY, YOU MUST. Needless to say I am pro-college. Having spent my fair share of time in college and 2 degrees later, I do think the college experience is unique and something everyone should have. But that is not the REAL question. Oh no… it is much more complicated than that.

While I will tell any student of mine that I do think they should go to college, what I cannot answer for them is when to go, what to do once they get there, how long to stay or what school is the best for them. All those answers are like pieces to a giant puzzle that you some how have to make fit into a picture of your future.

When to go…

So I went to college straight out of high school for 4 years straight and got my BFA in Choreography and Performance. My strategy was simply get in there, get my degree and get out as quickly as possible. A dancers “life span” is short, so I did not want to spend any additional time in college than I had to at that point in my life. This worked for me, but it is not the only way. I know folks who started, stopped and then restarted again. I know people who waited and then went later in life. I also know some who started and never finished. None of these paths are any better than the other; they are just different. Now you may be thinking, what about the person that did not finish? Let’s be real… College is not for everyone. While I do believe everyone should go to college and have the experience, I am realistic that some folks just might not gel with that experience.

What to do…

Should I dance in college or not? Well, this all depends on the desired goal. If you want to be a dancer, then yes go out and seek colleges that have strong dance programs. There are so many programs with varying focuses (ballet, modern, musical theater, industry work, etc.) in different parts of the country and internationally. If you want to dance in college, there is a program out there for you. You just have to find it.

If you don’t want to be a dancer, I still say that you should continue your dance training in college and pursue other academic interests. If this is your path, find a college that has a strong dance program and get a minor, or better yet double major. I was a Dance Major and a Biology Major when I entered. I had thoughts of completing both in 4 years, which nearly killed me. Given that I knew I did not want to be in school for a fifth year, I dropped the Biology.

Regardless if you are going to become a dancer or not, dance should always be in your life at college and beyond.

How long to stay…

Ideally, you should stay until you are done, but there are many reasons why you might leave early. I know someone who left college early went out and started a wildly successful dance studio, grew it to the point of technical domination and bought a new building to move the studio into the future. That does not sound bad for someone who left early. (This person did go back and finish their degree.)

I know someone who went to my alma mater for about a year and left because they had an amazing opportunity to go dance around the world. Will that person go back to school and finish? Who knows… I hope so.

The bottom line is, if you go to college and you decide to stop, get an amazing opportunity to dance somewhere, college will still be there when you are older. You are never to old to go to start school or go back.

Where to go…

Picking a college is like buying shoes… you need to try them out. There are so many factors to consider. First and foremost, decide what you want to do at college or at the very least, what you are interested in doing. Then look for the strongest programs. Then consider in-state or out-of state; the price tag is different. Big campus or small; in or near city or more rural; etc. These are all preferences, but have a big impact on the experience.

Personally, I knew I wanted to stay in-state for my undergraduate (California) and I wanted to dance. So I focused on the best dance programs based on the literature in California. I also, knew that I wanted to live at college and I wanted my parents to be far enough away that they could not just “pop in” on me. From that I scheduled visits to get a feel for a campus. I ended up going to the college that was actual third on my list, but after the visit, I immediately knew it was for me. (Just as an aside… if you are going to dance in college, make sure the department you are looking at requires an audition for entry into the program. This gives you a sense that they are selective, rather than just allow anyone to be a “dance major”.)

Final word of advice…START NOW! I don’t care if you are 17 or 12, start preparing to go to college now. Get good grades NOW; Start preparing your self NOW. You will need the grades and the test scores to get into college and if you do not go right away, you will eventually need them. And even if college is not your path, you will know that you could have gone if you wanted to.

So, stop reading this blog and go do your homework…

Karla L. Koon

BFA Choreography and Performance, UCSB, 1994MA Organizational Management, University of Phoenix, 2005

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