Choose Wisely

If you’re a college-bound high school senior, you might feel like the rest of your life is enclosed in one of those highly anticipated large envelopes. But what if you got more than one?

First of all, congratulate yourself on the hard work that led up to those acceptance letters! Then, take a step back and consider your options. Got into your top choice—but your parents aren’t 100 percent supportive? Received a great financial-aid package—but it’s still not enough? DS asked Heather McCowen, PhD, a counselor at The Chicago High School for the Arts, to help you figure out which school you should ultimately choose.

(Photo by Jack F/Thinkstock)

I got accepted to my top choice—a dance conservatory—but I need help convincing my parents that dance school is OK. What should I do?

If your parents aren’t supportive of you pursuing a dance degree, try to remember that they’re probably just worried about you. “Parents can have a lot of negative preconceptions,” McCowen says. She suggests sitting down with your parents and explaining to them—step-by-step—how you’re going to make it work. Offer to try out a program for a semester or a year and then check back in with them—but specify that if you end up loving where you are, they should agree to respect your decision. And if you need a mediator, don’t hesitate to involve your high school counselor. He or she can help explain the benefit of a dance degree to skeptical parents.

I got into two schools. One isn’t my first choice, but it’s in the city of my dreams. The other is a great program—but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Help!

Location won’t necessarily hold you back, but a lack of stage time and networking will. “Find out which school gives you more performance opportunities and how many guest artists the department hosts,” McCowen says. If it’s a top school, but you’ll have few chances to perform or work with guest artists, then the name doesn’t mean very much—especially if you’re outside of major cities and totally reliant on your department for networking and training. If the program isn’t top-notch but is in a major dance hub like NYC or L.A., you can still meet people, audition and take class outside of school.

I got into a top conservatory program, but I was offered a better financial-aid package at a university. Is money a reason to give up my dream?

Sit down with your family and take a long, hard look at the reality of student loans and debt. Even if it seems like you’re faced with an impossible decision, you have options. “Conservatories are notorious for offering low financial-aid packages,” McCowen says. “You and your parents should determine how much more money you would need to make it work, and then appeal your financial-aid package.”

Every family has to decide what they can handle financially, but McCowen cautions against going into massive debt for any program. Consider applying to transfer in after a year or two, or check out whether the conservatory school offers any graduate degrees, which are often funded.

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