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What should you do before you apply to graduate programs in dance or dance education?

A woman on stage in a blue jump suit leaning back and holding a stool.

It may sound obvious, but before you apply for a graduate school program in dance or dance education you need to make sure that you are ready! Yi An, an alumna of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who is now pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, offers this advice: “Ask yourself why you want this degree and why you want it now. Be clear about what type of person you want to be after gaining this degree, what knowledge and skills you are looking for in this degree, and how this degree can impact your life and future career. If you have all the answers, you will save time and money.”

Greer Shammah, a student at Hunter College, echoes this sentiment, saying, “Do your research and make sure this is something you want to do and can do. Finding the right program for you is significant, especially if you are a full-time student. The majority of your time for 2+ years will be spent devoted to getting your degree so make sure you have the support and the resources you need to succeed.”

Research the Program

A group of dancers performing on stage in white tops and pants, with a woman standing in the down stage corner in an all black outfit.

“Treat your education as an investment. Spend some time researching and getting to know the program that you want to go to. Be as thoughtful as you can when choosing the program. The right program will bring the best out of you,” says Rosari Sarasvaty of New York University.

There are many things to take into consideration as you research the program, as Katrina Brown-Aliffi, a doctoral student at Teachers College at Columbia University reminds us: “A few pieces of advice that I would give to someone who wants to apply to graduate school for dance or dance education would be to weigh the costs and benefits, be sure to fully understand the structure and scope and sequence of the program, seek out opportunities for scholarships or funding, reach out to the director of the program to learn more and ensure its a good fit, and talk to current or former students in the program.”

Ask Questions

According to Barbara McAlister, who recently earned an MFA from Texas Woman's University, asking questions ​​should be a top priority before applying to graduate school. She recommends asking current and former students about department culture, faculty teaching philosophies and how they compare to their lived experience in the classroom, and the department and university's in-practice approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, it’s important to ask questions of the faculty and staff. “Treat the process like (you are) interviewing the program, and not only being interviewed by the department. Ask challenging questions,” she recommends.

Darrell V. Hyche II, a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Specialization in Dance/Movement Therapy at Lesley University, offers this take on the importance of asking questions: “Some advice that I would give to prospective students is to ask questions that truly matter to you. Everyone always asks about costs and coursework (which is extremely important). Ask about how students in the program manage daily life with the demands of the program. Ask the facility what they are currently doing to contribute to the field and expand their knowledge base about what’s going on right now. Asking questions like these may help you decide if a program is truly for you.”

A group of dance students practicing in a gymnasium.

And don’t forget out-of-the-box questions that might be on your mind! For example, Karolina Holmstrom, a student at Rutgers University, recommends that you inquire about opportunities to take dance technique classes. This is especially important if you are interested in an MA, MEd, or PhD program. “Many programs do not have technique classes built into the graduate studies program, so if you'd like to take a class you would likely have to pay for it. My program allowed me to audit classes to keep up with my technique, while still taking all my graduate courses.”

Bradford Chin recommends that applicants inquire about departmental or institutional resources that might be available for research, travel, or other endeavors.

Plan a visit

If you are able, visit your top programs at least once before your audition. Take a tour of the school and the dance facilities, meet with faculty and current students, and observe as many classes, seminars, and rehearsals as you can. An in-person visit will provide better insight into the culture and day-to-day nature of the program. It will help you determine whether the school is a good fit for you. Moreover, it will give the faculty and staff a chance to get to know you better, outside of your application materials. Of course, an in-person visit might not always be possible, for financial or logistical reasons. A virtual meeting or tour might be arranged in that case.

Review the Requirements

A woman dancing with a pink head wrap and a black tshirt and leggings on.

It is important to review the specific degree requirements of the graduate programs in dance or dance education that you are applying to, to make sure that the coursework aligns with your interests and goals. Ally Ferry, a student at Rutgers University, also advises to closely look at the prerequisite courses needed to enter the program. Students with a BFA might be missing some prerequisites, like liberal arts credits, for a graduate degree in dance education. Even if you are not missing any official prerequisite courses, you might want to brush up on the knowledge and skills needed for graduate level coursework.

NDEO’s OPDI program can help! OPDI 105: Introduction to Dance Education Research, OPDI 111ab: Dance History: Global, Cultural and Historical Considerations, and OPDI 110: Dance Kinesiology & Applied Teaching Practice are popular courses with current and prospective graduate students.

Prepare Your Application

The application process for a graduate program in dance or dance education can feel overwhelming. It is important to give yourself plenty of time to complete it. Read the application in its entirety and follow the instructions exactly. Check to see what testing is required for admission, and make necessary testing arrangements early. You will also want to give yourself ample time to prepare your CV, videos, writing samples, artistic statement, teaching philosophy and other application materials. Be sure to have someone proofread your application before submitting! If an in-person or virtual audition is required, make necessary plans to attend and prepare any required materials.

Photo Credits (in from top to bottom): Arlynn Zachary, Skye Schmidt, Karolina Holmstrom, Thelma Loubaki