Jeffrey Golladay wasn’t your typical college student — and not just because he was 30 years old and married by the time he enrolled as a freshmen at NYU. He also had a nearly 20-year career as a professional dancer, performing with some of the most renowned companies in the word, including, most recently, New York’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where he had spent a decade in the corps.

“My mom had signed me up for lessons because I was starting to get into trouble, and my sister was already taking classes at the studio anyway,” Golladay says. “And I guess I found something I liked in it!” Golladay trained with Ballet Dallas and had stints in Houston and San Francisco Ballets before joining ABT in 2003, where he worked with such contemporary choreographers as Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris.

But a bad shoulder injury during a performance in 2011 had Golladay reconsidering his career. “I finished the season, but I needed to get surgery that summer, and it was going to be at least nine months of recovery before I could go back on stage,” he says. “I had taken some college classes through a program at ABT, and I really liked them. So, I thought maybe I could use that time while I was doing physical therapy to really go to school and see if I could really hack it in a university setting. It was daunting, but after that first semester I never looked back.” Golladay did return to ABT for another half season, but then retired to finish his studies in international relations.

Now, Golladay has just graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Social Sciences from NYU's School of Professional Studies — an internship at the Council on Foreign Relations and training at the United Nations under his belt. And come September, he’ll be starting his master’s studies in international affairs at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Golladay talked with Metro about the most important things he learned in his journey from stage to school.

Whatever you’re doing now is preparing you for your future career

“It’s all about thinking about the skills you’ve already acquired and rewiring them or using them in a different way,” says Golladay about transitioning from one career path to another. For example, though Golladay stopped going to school at 15 and hadn’t taken another academic class till his late 20s, he found that his classical training prepared him for college life in unexpected ways.

“A lot of dancers have what it takes to survive in academia,” he says, recalling the grueling hours spent at barre practice or working out a new choreography. “I really believe all the sacrifice and determination is there.” Plus, all the travel he did while with ABT and the San Francisco Ballet before that certainly helped pave the way — or at least spark an interest — for a career international relations. “I’m used to going to foreign countries and situations,” he says. “And it was one of the biggest perks about dancing at a place like ABT.”

Plan your budget, and stick to it

One of the good things about waiting to go to school? You’ve been earning money while your peers have been accruing debt. Still, college is expensive. “The biggest thing is to make a plan and a budget and stick to it,” says Golladay. “I’ve done some investing, and one of the things I’ve learned is that once you get into a stock or an asset, you want to start planning when to get out. It’s the same when you’re thinking of transitioning out of one career into another: I needed a plan and a budget to make sure I had enough money to pay for school.”

Ask for advice

Golladay had an important person in his life who had also left a career in dance to go to school: his wife. “We had danced together in San Francisco, but reconnected when I was at ABT and she had moved to New York City,” he says. “Hearing her experiences and where she was mentally really helped me understand what I was feeling about my own career and really gave me the confidence to transition into a new life.”

Just do it

Golladay says you will just know when it’s the right time to take a leap and leave your job to go to school. “And then you just gotta dive right in,” he says. “It was a little scary — I can't say I was completely confident about my decision to leave ballet. But I remember my last show here in New York, I was very relaxed — it felt like going home; it felt right.”

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