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Universities across the United States and around the world offer graduate programs in dance and dance education. An internet search can help you find universities that have graduate programs in dance or dance education, and offer the degree that you seek. NDEO’s National College Dance Directory can also be a helpful tool in your search for the ideal graduate dance program. You can search for programs by location, degree conferred, and institution type. All institutions listed are current NDEO members, so you can be assured that they are committed to providing quality dance education, centered in the arts. Here are some things to consider when choosing a graduate program in dance or dance education.
With so many options for graduate study in dance or dance education, it can be difficult to know which is right for you. There are many things to consider when deciding on a graduate school, including your career goals, degree type, program focus, course of study, program culture, location, cost, and faculty.
Having a clear and specific career plan can also make your graduate school decision easier, as it will help you limit your search to relevant programs. For Nicole Greene-Cramer (pictured right), these career plans narrowed her search down to a single option. Her interest in the anatomical and physiological aspects of dancing led her research exercise science/kinesiology degrees. That’s when things took an interesting turn: “In the US, a BFA in dance does not qualify you to apply for most exercise science masters programs, so I continued the search when I came upon dance science as an option at schools overseas. I decided to attend Trinity Laban for an MFA in dance science because it is the only program in the world to offer a 2-year MFA dance science course which will be useful as I am interested in working at the university level in the US.”
Katoya Johnson’s interests also led her to a very specific course of study, and helped her choose the right program. “I am in an Arts Management program because I want to create a reimagined Arts Integration/Project Based Learning method for students to learn curriculums. Dance taught me how to read, write and comprehend my thoughts and emotions. I believe that the 21st century student learns through creativity and culturally relevant experiences as well.”
The culture of the institution is just as important to consider as the course of study and degree granted. It is important that the values of the school align with your own, as Darrell V. Hyche II, a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Specialization in Dance/Movement Therapy at Lesley University, reminds us. “In selecting my school, I looked for a program that would not only set me up for future professional work, but it was also important that I be surrounded by individuals that shared a commitment to critical pedagogy and creating awareness on societal inequalities and ways to combat them.”
Yi An reiterates the importance of program culture in the decision making process. “As an International Chinese student, I looked for diversity, an inclusive and equal school environment, and how the program helps students be universal dance citizens,” she says.
The people associated with the program, most especially the faculty, contribute to this culture. Spending time getting to know the faculty and assessing the culture they are fostering can play an important role in helping you determine if the program is right for you. For Katrina Brown-Aliff, getting to know the faculty helped her choose where to pursue her education at both the Master’s and Doctoral levels. “The faculty at both University of North Carolina Greensboro and Teachers College at Columbia University played a huge role in my decision to apply to each institution. As soon as I spoke to Dr. Mila Parrish on the phone to inquire about the UNCG MADE program, I could tell that this was a program that cared deeply about students as individuals and would foster confidence, creativity, and connection within the cohort. Similarly, in my first conversations with Dr. Barbara Bashaw and Dr. Matthew Henley about the EdD program at TC, I knew I would be pushed as a thinker, writer, and practitioner -- by both my peers and my professors -- in the ways I needed to in order to grow and deepen my understanding of dance education.”
It is not only the faculty who will shape your graduate school experience, but also the cohort of students with whom you will be studying. This community can be at times even more important than the school’s faculty and staff, as Barbara McAlister, a recent MFA graduate of Texas Woman’s University, notes: “I found a remarkable dance community of collaborators amongst my cohort members. I consider myself incredibly lucky-between the wealth of knowledge I gained from spending three years working together with professional-level cohort members and the access that having student status gave me when it came to seeking out professionals with whom I wanted to connect, I was able to make significantly more of the graduate school space than I would have had I relied on the program alone as the source of my education.”
Finally, there are many practical factors that will also play a role in your graduate school decision. Location can be a key issue. For Yi An (pictured right), an alumna of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who is now pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa: “If you are going to be a dance artist in the future, you would want to build the network as early as you can; you may consider the population and nearby opportunities while pursuing your Master's degree.”
For Angelo "Vo Vera" Sapienza, the desire to stay connected to his current network influenced his choice of graduate programs: “For me, there was really only one option for an MFA. I spent the past 10 plus years building a multifaceted professional network and platform for my career in Phoenix––and somewhat in Los Angeles, though my homebase was more often in Phoenix than not. My community of practice during that time remained the underground Hip Hop and street dance community. I trained hard, engaged closely with members forming various crews and cliques, battled, judged battles, danced in the cyphers, instructed, and performed a lot, especially often for youth development assemblies.”
Location becomes even more important if you are pursuing a career path that requires state-specific licensure or certification. This was an important consideration for Darrell V. Hyche II, who said, “Because I want to work in mental health, licensure and state requirements (specifically where I would like to eventually practice), played a huge role in my final selection.”
For dance educators who are already established in a career and looking to continue their education while they teach, finding a part-time program nearby is essential. A satellite location of a large school could be a good option. However, it is important to make sure that the program at a satellite location can meet your needs, according to LaTia Childers. She ended up being the only dance-focused student in her MEd program, and did not have access to the kinds of resources available to dance students at the school’s main campus. If there is not a reputable school with a strong dance or education program nearby, then an online or low-residency program might be a good alternative.
Cost is another factor to consider. Graduate school is an investment of time, energy, and often monetary resources. It’s important to understand the reality of your personal situation and how it might impact your graduate school experience. Nico Archambault (pictured left), a student at New York University, offers this advice: “Save up as much money as possible so you don't need to take out such a crippling loan. Be prepared to work full time during grad school in order to support yourself and your education financially.” You will also want to research what funding may be available, as well as assistantships or work-study opportunities. Archambault continues, “I ultimately decided to attend New York University because I received enough funding from the school to be able to afford to attend. This was perfect for me because I liked their program the most, and wanted to teach dance in New York City.”
Bradford Chin, MFA Student in Dance at the University of California, Irvine and NDEO Advisory Board Member/Graduate Student Representative, advises potential students to apply to terminal degree programs that are fully funded. “This includes tuition, fees, health insurance, living expenses, including a teaching assistantship at minimum,” he says.
You will also want to consider how the gradute program in dance or dance education will help you find work after graduation. For Ally Ferry (picture right), who attends Rutgers University, this was a big factor in her graduate school decision. As she says, “I decided to attend Rutgers because of its stellar reputation, but also because I spoke to students who had completed the program and who had very positive experiences. I also liked the job placement numbers that Rutgers showed and knew they would help find me a job after I graduated.” She recommends that prospective students research what jobs graduates have gone on to after they earned their graduate degrees, and see how those align with your own career goals.
You will want to make sure that the school can accommodate any needs that you might have. For LaTia Childers, this meant providing alternatives to major writing assignments. You will want to talk with faculty and staff about degree requirements, and discuss any special arrangements you might need. Childers also recommends discussing your previous educational and professional experience, and seeing how these may transfer in the program. Will previously earned credits transfer if needed? Are there major prerequisites that you are missing? Can your professional experience earn you credit? You will want to ensure that you are not paying for unnecessary courses that you don’t really need.
Photo Credits (in order from top to bottom): Arianna Dunmire, Bradford Chin, Amy Master, Sreang "C" Hok, Deanna Brennan