Secrets of the Summer Program Admissions Process

Students in class at Pacific Northwest Ballet School's summer program. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

When 17-year-old Rock School student Sarah Lapointe was auditioning for summer intensives, she faced a dilemma. By mid-January, she'd been accepted to a great school. But she needed to give her answer in seven days and still had four more auditions on her agenda. “I thought, What should I do?" says Lapointe. “Do I turn down this offer, or risk being wait-listed or not receiving another acceptance somewhere else?"

It's a common conundrum. For Lapointe, the answer was to contact the first school to ask for a deadline extension, which it granted. “This allowed me to focus on my remaining auditions and make a solid decision," she says.


When it comes to getting into your dream program, we know that schools look for stellar technique, artistry and dancers who will fit in well. But there's more to the equation—those things you can't control, like acceptance deadlines, class sizes and limited housing. If you've ever wondered how the admissions process works, the answers may surprise you.

At the Audition

Franco De Vita and Lauren Bonfiglio in class at ABT's summer intensive

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

To a degree, accepting students is about numbers—after all, summer programs can only accommodate so many while keeping classes small. But how much do numbers play into your chances of being accepted to an intensive? Very little, if at all, say most school directors. Getting that acceptance letter is more about whether the adjudicators see you as an ideal fit in the school. "We really don't have a quota," says Denise Bolstad, administrative director at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, director of The Rock School, agrees. "Our school is expandable to some degree," she says. "We don't want to turn down somebody that we truly feel is a good fit. If we need to get a new class or a new teacher, we will." (That said, numbers play a big role when it comes to scholarships and housing. Some schools can't offer housing to everyone. "If we say they're accepted into the program, they need to ask specifically, 'Does that include the dormitory?' " says Spassoff. Dancers without provided housing typically rent nearby apartments.)

During audition tours, schools visit upwards of 25 cities. But most don't accept a set number of dancers from each location, simply because the talent pool varies greatly from city to city or even from year to year. Adjudicators have specific ideas of what they're looking for (such as alignment, personality and potential), regardless of the overall technical level in the room, and they base decisions on those standards rather than simply choosing the top 12.

The time numbers might come into play is during the last few auditions of the tour, if programs review how many students they've accepted and realize that they're overextending the school's resources. In that case, you might be a little less likely to get in if they're on the fence about you. While there's no ideal point in the tour to audition, earlier-to-middle audition dates may slightly increase your odds.

It's also common for schools to accept more students than they expect to attend. This isn't a bad thing—it's just how schools, and even colleges, operate, because they know not all accepted students will enroll. "Somehow it always works out, between students having other options and inevitably losing others to injuries before they arrive," says Bolstad.

At PNB, each level has a set maximum number of students; once a dancer accepts, she secures her spot in that level. It benefits to respond early; if dancers wait until the March 1 acceptance deadline, that level might already be full.

The Wait List

So you've been noticed by your dream school—a win in itself!—but they've placed you on the wait list. What does it mean? "The wait list is normally for when you like a student, but you have a certain reservation," says Franco De Vita, artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. For him, this might happen when a student shows potential, but it's clear that nerves are getting in the way.

Here's how it works: Once the school has planned for a certain number of students, it likely pays in advance for those spots in the dorm or in classes. When a student drops out at the last minute, there's a space available that the school has already invested in—that's when they start calling wait-listed dancers. "If somebody bows out, we want the student to have the opportunity to prove what they feel they can do here," says Spassoff.

How do you get off of a wait list? At ABT, it's a good idea to audition again in another city or at the school itself. "I can speak only for us, but it's very good to call us and come take another class," says De Vita.

At other schools, the best practice is to be patient and check in occasionally. "They can politely say, 'We so appreciate your considering us and just want to touch base to see," says Spassoff. Being too pushy, however, might work against you. "Sometimes you get very aggressive parents, and that's the biggest turnoff," she says. "It's one thing to be hungry to be seen, but it shouldn't take the form of egotism." If you're unsure, it's fine to call and ask if attending another audition or sending in extra teacher recommendations might help.

Most schools don't like wait-listing students and only do it for a select few that they see potential in. "I think we wait-listed only 10 kids last year," says Bolstad. While acceptance isn't guaranteed, it does happen. "Last year, we accepted two or three students on the waiting list," says De Vita.

Navigating Acceptance Deadlines

Pas de deux class at ABT's summer intensive

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Acceptance deadlines are tricky for both dancers and school staff. The earlier directors know about enrollment, the easier it is for them to plan. But asking dancers to reply too early might lead some to drop out when a new opportunity comes.

If, like Lapointe, you need to hear from another school or two before committing, the best plan is to follow her example by asking for an extension. "I explained my timing conflict and provided the school with a date that I hoped to reach a decision," says Lapointe. The school may grant the extension or offer to place you on the wait list. At some programs, dancers with merit scholarships may have a bit more leverage when it comes to receiving an extension.

If you're wait-listed for your top-choice school but your second choice's deadline is approaching, Bolstad recommends accepting the second school. "We're only able to accommodate our wait-list after our deadline," she says. "I don't want students to wait to accept another school assuming we're going to have a place for them."

If you do pull out of a summer program, it's vital to let them know in writing as soon as possible. You might be burning a bridge (in addition to potentially losing your tuition deposit), but, as De Vita says, that might not be the worst thing in the world, "when the other offer is so much better." The school may not hold it against you if you handle it politely.

Most of all, trust that you've made the right choice. "Don't look back. It's not productive," says Spassoff. "You have to say, Alright, I've made this decision, and I'm going to make the most of it."

Mark Your Calendars

Organization is key when navigating summer intensive auditions. Sarah Lapointe, a pre-professional dancer at The Rock School, kept a detailed planner to help keep track of summer program audition tours and acceptance deadlines. "Know your audition dates," she says. "Know the dates when you can expect to receive your audition results. Know your deadline dates to respond. Most importantly, when you make a decision to accept an offer, keep you commitment."

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