For college students applying for university is a difficult time. Between studying for your final school exams and piecing together your future, sometimes things within prospective degree programmes can be overlooked. This isn’t always the students fault. When I was applying for universities, I didn’t know what to look for, what questions to ask. But I did know one thing, that was that I wanted to study dance. During this post I’ll share something that would have been useful to know during the application process.
1. The term structure
There are two main set-ups of university term structure. These tend to be either 3 terms, much like that seen within schools. Or two semesters, where the official end of the first term is normally at the end of January. I don’t think there’s any down-side to either term structure, but they do effect the way the modules are taught to the student. Within a 3 term structure, most of the modules will span the entire year, with exams at the end of the year. Whereas for a semester set-up most modules will only last one semester, with an exam/assessment at the end. Where I studied, Bath Spa University, we had a term set-up [please note: this may have changed after writing]. For dance many modules are continually assessed, meaning that while there is a big ‘assessment’ at the end of each term or year, that isn’t the only thing that contributes to your grade, meaning that for whichever set-up the university has dance students will be expected to have a high level of commitment to timetabled sessions. This level of commitment is unique to creative subjects, as often those not coming in enough will have marks dropped or be invited into the office to discuss, an area not monitored in other subjects as vigilantly (I also study psychology where, I’m pretty sure I only recognise half the faces when exam time comes along).
2. Clubs and Activities
While for many, University is just a place to study, for others it is much much more. It’s a place to get connected with people who think like you. The best way to do this, apart from the people on your course, is through clubs and activities. As a prospective dance student it would also be important to note whether there’s a dance society that you could get involved in, as societies like this will incorporate more people than just the dance students and also allow you to learn and develop styles that aren’t included on your course. Many dance societies will also have performances and competitions, a great opportunity to add some media to your portfolio. With this in mind, it isn’t the be all and end all if there aren’t any dance societies. You could create your own society, or find other opportunities away from the university by finding a local dance organisation and classes that are suited to you. Being part of an activity was definitely one of my first year highlights as I got to collaborate with people from all year groups, learning from them and being a part of a great performance.
3. Contact Hours
Love it or hate it, at the end of the day you’re paying for the time you spend at University. At school you’re often in 9-3 with barely any breaks, at university this changes dramatically as you’re expected to do a lot more independent study. In my third year I was typically in for two hours each day! With a dance degree you will find you’re contact hours seem quite high, and this is just due to the nature of the degree. You need to have class to improve, and these can’t be provided electronically (yet!). Finding out what a typical week is like and how many sessions are active sessions would be great information to have in order to compare what course best suits you. If you’re a practical learner high contact hours with lots of practical sessions would be great. If you’re a more theoretical learner, lectures and seminars to help understand topics would work well. On top of this, if you are also looking to build up a portfolio of work while studying, finding a course that gives you time to work on other projects, like being involved in local dance artist’s work, would mean finding a course with lower contact hours.
4. Career Planning
When applying for University that’s the only step you’re thinking about, or at least it was for me. But it is important to find out how much professional development planning is involved in the course, as this is how you’ll find employment once the course is over. This may be that they include work experience, or have many guest artists come in and work with the students. Or they could have a whole module dedicated to professional development planning. If you’re certain you’ll be a performer it may be less important to have this aspect incorporated into the course, as long as the rest of the course is dance training focused, giving you the tools to excel during auditions. However, if you’re unsure of what to do after University, being taught how to get into lots of different roles will give you the knowledge, should you come to realise you want to do any of those roles. As well as giving you a good base for other career paths that can be linked from your degree.
5. Class sizes
This is one that depends purely on you’re own preferences. Do you prefer a big class full of individuality or a smaller more intimate class? Both have their pros and their cons, so really it’s down to what you think will fuel your interest in dance most. If you know you have a preference, obviously knowing the typical class size is great information to base your final decision on.
6. Year group integration
Finally we come to my last piece of information that could be useful, and that’s how much contact you have with the other year groups studying dance. You may not thinking about at the time, but being able to work with older students give you lots of information and gets you prepared for that assessment when you are the older student. As well as giving you more opportunities to develop as a dancer and collaborator. The more interaction you can get the greater the pool of inspiration you’ll have to inform your own practice. Having older students working closely with you can help boost your confidence and commitment to dance. You’ll probably feel more invested in work created by a fellow student than work created by your tutors, as they’re more like you. These collaborations can fuel you and create long lasting working relationships, they may want dancers in their companies once they’ve set up, and being able to boast that you’ve had previous encounters of their way of their way of working, can only be a good thing.
I hope that these are ideas that will help inform your decision and are perhaps things you hadn’t thought of. If you’ve any further questions about studying dance at University you can contact me on any socials, or through the comments and contact section of this blog.