Getty Images

Dancers: Want to Graduate College Early? Read This First.

Who among us hasn't daydreamed about finishing college a semester or two ahead of the class? But as tempting as it may be to get started on your dance career ASAP, this isn't a decision to take lightly. So DS had a dance department chair and an alumna who finished ahead of schedule lay out the case for—and against—graduating early.

Graduate Early If…

You're eager to dive into the dance world.

"Students do better graduating early if they're driven, well-organized, have immediate professional goals, and are ready in terms of skill and aptitude to begin dancing professionally," says Garfield Lemonius, associate artistic director, professor, and chair of dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. And, hey—if you've snagged an irresistible job offer and fulfilled all graduation requirements, why not?

Your financial situation would really benefit.

Sheila Zeng graduated from Ohio State University a semester ahead in large part because, being out-of-state, she and her family were paying a steeper price for tuition. "Looking at it from a financial standpoint, it just didn't make sense for me to not jump into finding a job as soon as I could," she says. If you're facing considerable postgrad debt and are on track to finish early, have an honest conversation with your parents or guardian about your financial picture.

You feel you've gotten everything you can out of college.

Zeng started at OSU as a double major in dance and psychology. By the middle of junior year, though, "I was getting burnt out, so I decided to drop my psychology major," she says. "Then I looked over the checklist and saw I could finish by end of fall semester." Zeng was further swayed by clarity in her postgrad plans. "A full year away from undergrad let me figure out exactly what I wanted to research for my MFA," she says. "If you've received all you can from your program and took all the classes you wanted to, graduate early."

Graduating one semester early was the right choice for Sheila Zeng. (courtesy Zeng)

Stay for the Full Four Years If…

There are opportunities you don't want to miss out on.

If the thought of skipping senior spring gives you serious FOMO, don't ignore it. As Zeng says, "I kept in contact with my cohort during the rest of their senior year, but they were busy having their fun college life while I was trying to learn how to 'adult.' " Losing out on a semester or two might also mean losing out on study abroad (as Zeng did), internships, or other academic experiences. "At Point Park, we put on six main-stage productions and bring in 10 to 12 guest artists a year," Lemonius says. "That's a wealth of learning you won't have if you leave early."

You haven't done your due diligence.

While you don't have to go into freshman year already planning to finish early, it pays to be proactive early on. First step? The more college or AP credits you enter with, the better. Once you're on campus, "the number-one mistake dancers make is not meeting with their advisor well ahead of declaring they'll graduate early," says Lemonius. "It's not an arbitrary decision: You don't want to realize you're missing a course or two when it comes time to apply for graduation."

You just don't feel ready.

Just because you can grab that diploma early doesn't always mean you should. "Some dancers need the full four years to refine their skills and artistry," Lemonius says. "Others need to mature in terms of interpersonal skills, citizenship as young people, and understanding of themselves." If you're young for your grade, struggled with adjusting to college, or dread entering "the real world," know that there's no real need to rush through your undergrad dance career if you don't want to.

A version of this story appeared in the February 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "College Corner: Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Latest Posts

Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Jamayla Burse

Catching Up With Christian Burse, Comp Kid Turned Complexions Rising Star

With her nearly limitless facility, well-timed dynamics and incredible control, Christian Burse's future as a dancer was guaranteed to be bright. A student at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, and at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX, Burse has consistently made waves: She won first runner-up for Teen Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2019, received a grant for summer study at Juilliard from the Texas Young Masters program in 2020, and was named a YoungArts finalist for dance in 2021.

So, it wasn't all that surprising when Burse announced that, at just 17 years old, she would be joining Complexions Contemporary Ballet as an apprentice for the company's 2021–22 season.

Dance Spirit caught up with Burse to hear all about her first season with Complexions ahead of the contemporary ballet company's run at the Joyce Theater in NYC this month.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search