Financial Aid for Music Applicants – Our First Guest Post

Today we have our first guest post from Ryan O’Mealey, Associate Director for admissions at the Beinen School of Music – Northwestern University. I would like to publically thank Ryan for taking the time to share his extensive knowledge of financial aid with us. If you would like more information about Ryan or Northwestern, you can email them at musiclife@northwestern.edu or visit their website: www.music.northwestern.edu.

In my position as Associate Director of Music Admission at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, I have the pleasure of handling both applications and acting as the financial aid counselor for our incoming class of musicians each year.  I’ve seen students take out hundreds of thousands in student loan debt with no way to pay it back, and I’ve also seen those who never needed a loan because they laid the groundwork ahead of time by maximizing every resource available.

The truth is that musicians have more scholarship dollars available to them than almost any other major – you just have to know where to look, and what to look for.

Need vs. Merit

The most important step you should take is to find out what financial aid system is being used by the colleges/universities to which you are applying.  Do they award scholarships based on your audition (merit-based)?  Or is it based on your family income (need-based)?   Or do they use both systems?

Knowing this will help you to make an informed decision about finances.  For example, a need-based scholarship award has nothing to do with how well you played in your audition, or how your college essay was written.  Need-based aid fills in any gap between what your family can pay and how much it costs to attend that school – which is comforting for those who have been adversely affected by the current US economy.  Merit-based aid, however, rewards your hard work leading up to the audition.  Practicing hard and really focusing on your audition for a merit-based school will not only help you to get in, but will also increase your chances of earning a merit-based scholarship.  Most major music programs in the United States offer substantial merit-based aid, but you have to work hard to get it!

Pay attention to your financial aid awards, and if you aren’t sure if they are based on merit or need, contact that school’s financial aid office.

Go get your own money

Did you know that in the United States, over $4 million in scholarships go unclaimed each year, simply because no one applied for them??  Going to college is the most important decision you will ever make, so why are you just hoping someone else will pick up the bill?  If you are waiting for the financial aid office to find ways to pay for your education, you are in for a long wait.  There are thousands of musicians just like you who are calling that office and asking for the same thing you are – more money.  So take matters into your own hands and go get your own money!  Even a $500 scholarship from a local organization helps – that’s $500 you didn’t have to come up with before.

A quick web search can help you locate resources for musicians.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Online Education Database
http://oedb.org/scholarship/music

American Federation of Musicians
http://www.afm.org/young-musicians/scholarships

The National Association for Music Education
http://menc.org/gp/scholarship-resources-for-music-students

The ASCAP foundation
http://www.ascapfoundation.org/scholarships.html

But don’t stop there!  There are thousands of organizations that award scholarships based on different criteria.  Some are competitions, some ask you for an essay, and some are reserved for women, minority groups, first-time college goers, etc.  Search engines like www.fastweb.com and www.scholarships.com allow you to put in everything about you and your activities, and then they do the searching for you!

Loans are your friends

Last but not least, remember that student loans are not the enemy.  The United States has some of the most accessible and progressive options for college financing in the world, and federal student loans are among the lowest interest rates you will ever find.

Imagine that you walk into a bank and ask for a loan.  You’re 17 years old, you have no down payment, own no property or assets, have no reliable income, and you want not only a 6% interest rate but you want to have 20-30 years to pay it off, and you want them to give you 5 ½ years to even start paying it back.  Bank security would probably escort you outside after hearing this, right?

But this is exactly what the US government is offering you to help get your education.  Student loans are among the lowest interest rates around, and they offer multiple repayment options.  For some loans, the government even pays the interest for you until 6 months after you graduate!  You’ll never get that kind of a deal from a bank.

Make friends with the financial aid office

Since every school is different, you want to get to know the correct processes and procedures for the schools to which you are applying.  Start early – waiting until the last minute might mean you’ve missed out on all the available money.  Find out what their deadlines are and stick to them.  If you miss a deadline and don’t get any financial aid, there’s no one to blame but yourself!

Be proactive about your financial aid ahead of time means you spend less time worrying about money and more time practicing to be the best musician you can be!

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