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Dara Oda in Ben Stevenson's Alice in Wonderland with Texas Ballet Theater. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

These three current professionals opened up about opting for a degree first, how it impacted their careers and their favorite college memories.

Dara Oda, Texas Ballet Theater Dancer

Photo by Max Caro, Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

Belhaven University, BFA in dance (ballet emphasis), 2014

Growing up, Dara Oda knew she wanted to dance professionally, but she didn't feel ready to audition at the end of high school. "It was really easy to think of college as a fallback," she says. But her perception soon changed. "When I went to Belhaven and saw the level of training I would be getting, that encouraged me to pursue my dream but also be proactive and get my degree at the same time."

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Ballet Training
Deborah Wingert teaching class. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Manhattan Youth Ballet

Deep down, Dara Oda knew she wasn't ready. Despite 15 years of solid training at the School of DanceWest Ballet near her hometown outside of Chicago, by the end of high school she realized she still didn't have the technique or maturity for a realistic shot in a company audition. "It was terrifying," Oda recalls. "I was unsure of where I stood in terms of my dancing abilities, but I didn't really know where, or how, to improve." She did find a path to her career—she's now a member of Texas Ballet Theater—but she wishes she'd figured out that she was behind a lot sooner. "I'd had good training, but was oblivious to the fact that I needed to be doing so much more than I was."

Many students fear being in a situation like Oda's: arriving at a company audition only to discover that they haven't progressed technically and artistically as far as their peers. And with an endless supply of ballet prodigies online and in competitions, it's hard not to worry that you're not advancing fast enough. How can you make sure you're on track to meet your professional goals?

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