10 Things to Know Before Applying to College Dance Programs

Thank you USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and Whitney Hester (BFA Class of 2020) for this terrific article and advice for everyone applying to--or about to begin--a college dance program.

August is here, which means the start of a new school year. New students going into college or getting ready to apply for colleges: you may think that you are completely prepared for life in a BFA program. Coming from a performing arts high school, I assumed I was completely prepared!  However, listed below are ten things I wish I had known before applying to college dance programs.

1. How much grades matter in a dance program.

Contrary to what most students might think, grades are incredibly significant, especially in a dance program. At USC Kaufman, your grades determine whether you can participate in performances. If you don’t attend regular classes or rehearsals, your grades will be affected, which in turn reflects poorly in casting and shows.

2. Time management is vital!

When classes begin at 8 a.m. and rehearsals end at 9 p.m., there is not much time to finish homework, go to the gym, or participate in other extra-curricular activities. I know that I have a huge tendency to procrastinate, so as soon as I get an assignment, I try to finish it early. I can rely on being fatigued and tempted to put it off after our very long and exhausting days.

3. Healthy eating habits.

As dancers,  we all know the importance of good eating habits: not only to look good but to keep our bodies healthy and strong for vigorous rehearsal days. On college campuses, there are so many opportunities for food: dining halls, coffee shops, and surrounding fast food. I struggled with this at first.  It can be hard to choose healthier options when you can go for the comfort foods of home!  My advice? Come prepared with a diet plan and stick to it.

4. Basic injury/health care.

Being on your own sounds fun until you are hurt or sick and your parents are miles away.  I’ve called my mom many times to ask what medicine I should take for this and that, or what to do about certain injuries I had this past year.  With all of the hours of dancing and interacting with the rest of the students on campus, it is super easy to spread germs that can take you out of classes for days. Before you leave, learn what medicines to take and bring them with you!  Also, learn where the student medical center is located, and take advantage of the dance department’s physical therapy resources.

5. Be prepared to spend extra money on dance shoes.

Of course, I knew I would be spending money on shoes, leotards, tights, etc., but I was shocked at how may pairs I had used by the end of the year. While cleaning out my dorm, I counted 19 pairs of pointe shoes and 10+ pairs of flat ballet shoes. Thankfully, USC provided the opportunity for me to perform multiple pointe and ballet pieces as well as tons of extra pointe classes for me to take. So if you like to take pointe and additional ballet classes, be prepared!

6. Dress to impress every day!

One of the many amazing benefits of college, especially USC, is that you will meet and encounter some amazing and well-known artists.  By that token, it is important to try and look your best in case someone notable drops by (it happens all the time here). Not only will you feel better prepared, but you’ll also look professional.

7. The importance of networking.

Being based in the heart of Los Angeles, we have many opportunities to see professional shows with our favorite companies. A huge part of college is finding who you are as a person as well as an artist, and it is particularly important to show any future company directors what an asset you would be in his/her company. Going to shows gives you a place to mingle with company members and artistic directors. Knowing how to make small talk with other artists is an essential aspect of networking and getting your name out there.

8. Pressure for performances.

For those of us who get very nervous to go on stage, the pressure to perform top notch every show is sometimes overwhelming. USC’s audience isn’t only made up of friends, family, and faculty but also agents, company directors, and casting directors. So before you get on that stage, think about who you could be performing for!

9. Seeking out resources on campus!

A college campus is like one huge community. In this community, there are many resources you should seek out and take advantage of during the year. Some of my favorites (and most popular) on the USC campus are the gym, swimming pools, bookstore, health center, and student center. Get familiar with them and their location on campus–I promise you that you’ll end up needing them!

10. One big family!

My favorite part of all of our crazy hours of rehearsals is the company with which I spend them. I never thought I would be so in love with the USC professors and students. Spending every minute of every day with these people only brings the family closer together.  However, for BFA students that are used to having a bunch of non-dance friends to hang out with, constantly spending time with the members a BFA program might seem boring.  This is not a problem at USC!  From sporting events to student groups and activities, it is easy to make friends outside of the program.  USC is one big family!  Like they say, “the friendships you make in college will last a lifetime.”

By Whitney Hester

Photo: USC Kaufman sophomores Juan, Megan, Lenai and Paulo between classes at USC Kaufman | Photo by Mary Mallaney