A dance teacher’s guide to navigating the college application process

You could say it takes a whole village to successfully navigate the college application process. Though it is your high school students who ultimately decide whether to pursue dance in college and fill out the applications, parents, college counselors and you—their dance teacher—play a big part.

Your perspective can influence this important decision, but it’s a big responsibility. While you can’t possibly have all the answers, you can help your students figure out when to do what and direct them to resources. We’ve helped identify your part in the decision-making and application process below and included a timeline for your students’ college prep.

Freshman and Sophomore Years

Discuss their interests “Young students often don’t know how to assess themselves, so talk one-on-one with them about what excites and interests them,” says Martha Faesi, dance faculty at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, a public, partially residential high school. These are questions your students should answer for themselves: What do you want to do with dance? What genre of dance are you most interested in? What part of the country would you prefer to live and study in?

Encourage research Attending college fairs, the National High School Dance Festival and pre-professional summer programs will broaden students’ outlook on training. Students can begin visiting campuses they’re interested in as early as sophomore year, during their summer vacation or spring break. (The annual Dance Magazine College Guide is a great resource, with a comparative chart and details about the top college and university dance programs.)

Junior Year

Help craft resumés Though every college’s resumé requirements differ, it’s beneficial to assemble a one-page version that can be easily adapted. “It should be a snapshot of them as a dancer,” says Cameron Basden, dance director at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a Michigan boarding school. “Include guest choreographers they’ve worked with, what their dance proficiencies are, what roles they’ve danced and performed.” Be sure to add any choreography experience the student might have: “Collaborations and creations are a big part of what schools are looking for these days,” says Basden.

Write recommendation letters If a student asks you to write a recommendation letter, do your own research on the program she’s applying to. “It should be clear that the writer understands what our program is like, when recommending a student,” says Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo, Temple University’s BFA program director. “We want to know if the candidate is an open-minded critical thinker who will use her classical training to explore our program in innovative ways.”

Senior Year

Create audition solos Ask students whether they want to create an audition solo, have one set on them or rehearse a piece from their past. Be sure to check for specific requirements. At Temple University, for example, students must perform a one-minute solo of their own choreography. Katz Rizzo has seen it all. “If there’s a good choreographic idea that’s developed or a unique stage presence or an interesting use of space, it doesn’t matter what the genre is,” she says. “We’ve had hip hop, variations on pointe, bharata natyam, burlesque, competition solos.”

Get in touch with any contacts If you have a connection at the school, let that person know before the audition that your student will be attending, and offer a bit of information about her. “To some degree, if we know who their teachers are, we know the values and pedagogy they’ve been exposed to,” says Katz Rizzo.

Broaden their experience “Make sure they see and experience different kinds of dance so they understand what the current dance field looks like,” Katz Rizzo says. College-bound dancers should have experience with or knowledge about somatic studies, such as Alexander Technique or Laban Movement Analysis, and an understanding of the vast career options available in the dance field, such as pedagogy, arts administration or physical therapy. “Let your students know there are so many possibilities,” Faesi says. “Their knowledge and love of dance will serve them well, in whatever they eventually decide to pursue.”

As you keep the conversation going throughout your dancers’ high school careers, remember to impart this key piece of advice: Stress is not necessary at any point, says Basden. “Students often feel this single decision will decide the rest of their lives,” she says. “I often remind students that they can change schools if they need to—and that we all continue to control our destiny even after college.” DT

Hannah Maria Hayes is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher and holds an MA in dance education, American Ballet Theatre pedagogy emphasis, from New York University.


Order a copy of the new
Dance Magazine College Guide for 2014–15 at dancemagazine.com/college

College Prep Timeline for Students

By Rachel Zar

Your students should begin preparing for college as soon as they start high school. “A student’s choices and work ethic impact how a college sees them, starting from the day they enter ninth grade,” says Karlette Fuchs, college office coordinator at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City. “But the intense part—the meat of it—begins junior year.” To make the process easier toward the end, there are some things your high schoolers can do right away, like thinking about the kind of school they want, taking practice SATs or ACTs, even visiting college campuses during breaks. Most importantly, they should keep up their grades and dance classes. Share this checklist with your students to keep them on track during junior and senior years.



Junior Year


It’s never too early to start building your list of schools. Decide whether you want a liberal arts school or a conservatory. What part of the country would you like to be in? How much can you feasibly spend on tuition? “Understand that this job is weighty, but you should give yourself time to enjoy it,” says Fuchs. “You will learn so much about yourself along the way.”

Put together a dance resumé detailing your experiences, teachers and any programs you’ve attended. Continue to add to it throughout the next couple of years.

Ask your college counselor about scholarship opportunities.

Check that your e-mail address is appropriate and clean up your Facebook page, social-media sites and blogs. “Colleges know that you’re young, but there’s a level of responsibility that you are expected to meet,” says Fuchs. “If there is something online that you think might be a problem, get rid of it.”


Take the SAT or ACT as early as possible. That way you’ll have many chances to retake it and improve your score if necessary. And don’t forget to factor in the schedule for SAT Subject Tests.

Keep your eyes open for local college fairs, and attend.

Start thinking about your summer plans, noting deadlines and audition dates. Summer dance intensives—particularly those at a college or university—are a great way to prep for auditions.


Meet with a college counselor one-on-one (or with your parents) to begin narrowing down your list. Also, decide if you want to apply early decision or early action to a school.

Repeat the SAT or ACT if you want to improve your score.

Look carefully at the application process for each school you are applying to and begin gathering documents you will need: transcripts of grades, test scores, letters of recommendation (from both academic and dance teachers), awards and income records.

Schedule college visits over spring break, and plan ahead for summer trips. “Try to see campuses during times when students will be there,” says Fuchs. “That way you can get a feel for the culture of the school.” Remember to include the financial aid office in your visit. Plus, reach out to college students from your high school or studio who return home during breaks.

Begin writing application essays. “Just because you’re a future dance major doesn’t mean that your essay isn’t a huge component,” says Fuchs.

Start to think about a solo for dance program auditions. “You shouldn’t have to start from scratch,” says Fuchs. “Choose something you’ve already learned or create and fine-tune it.”


Keep up with your technique classes and stay healthy.

Now’s a great time to get some serious work done toward choosing a college: Keep researching and visiting schools.

Continue working on your essays and your solo for auditions.


Senior Year

If you’re still unhappy with your SAT or ACT score, take it again in the fall.

Complete your application essays. Ask a teacher to look at them.

Make sure you’ve gathered all application forms, letters of recommendation, transcripts and test scores and begin submitting.

Continue to research scholarships and apply early.

Attend dance program auditions.


After Acceptances Arrive 

Celebrate your good news, and make a decision. Be sure to notify the college of your choice by May 1.

Keep up your grades and hard work to the very end. “Schools base their acceptances on the student who you promise to be, and they will contact your high school to ask if your academic performance has changed,” says Fuchs.


Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.


Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less


Get DanceTeacher in your inbox