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Applying for a Music School Scholarship? Here’s Some Advice

If you are a parent, student, music teacher or anyone else in search of scholarship money for a music school, the time to get serious about your quest is now. That’s because the competition is stiff, the application process is complex, and you need to have audition pieces ready long in advance.

The good news is that money exists for people who are prepared and know how to navigate their way through the vast array of deadlines, financial statements, phone calls, email inquiries and other factors that stand between you and a scholarship.

Who Gets Scholarships?

One survey of schools revealed that between 8 and 15 students apply for every available scholarship. Of course, that number represents the huge majority of people who apply for 10 to 20 scholarships at a time. So, what are the ‘real” statistics? One school administrator estimated that roughly one in seven scholarship candidates ends up getting at least half of their tuition and expenses paid.

Applying can be a chore in itself because the average set of forms take between one and three hours to fill out and that’s just step one of a multi-phase process. Next, applicants wait to hear from an evaluation committee. If you’re not rejected at this stage, you’ll be asked to send in more documentation and answer detailed written questions about your goals, musical background and financial situation. Keep in mind that many schools take “financial need” into account when deciding who gets awards of scholarship money.

After that, you might be notified that you’re on a “waiting list” and won’t have to do anything else until they contact you. Or, you’ll be invited for an in-person interview that almost certainly includes an audition. Ace that step and you’ll likely be offered real money that you can use to cover academic expenses.

Here’s an overview of the key things you need to know to get started, including how to prepare for the all-important audition phase, if you are lucky enough to advance to that point.

  • Do plenty of research:
  • Practice your interviewing skills:
  • Start applying as early as possible:
  • Map out an overall strategy:
  • Be ready to prove financial need if necessary:
  • Practice your audition pieces

Honing Audition Pieces

First things first. Begin by thinking in terms of audition pieces, plural, rather than a solitary audition piece. Yes, that means that any serious scholarship candidate should have at least two, preferably three or four, pieces of music ready to go for auditions. No matter how talented you are, it’s imperative to cater to a scholarship committee’s tastes.

For example, if you are a guitarist, it makes good sense to choose two or more pieces in different genres of auditions. If you discover that the evaluation team prefers jazz, classical or rock, you’ll be able to perform a piece that they’ll remember and enjoy. Make your selections as soon as possible, and begin rehearsing them until you can perform them flawlessly and on a moment’s notice.

Arrange for regular practice or dry-run auditions in which you use friends, teachers and family members as fill-ins for the actual audition committee you’ll eventually face. This step is crucial. It will not only sharpen your live performance skills, augment your state presence and boost your confidence, but it will also allow you to gather realistic, constructive feedback from your team.

Most successful scholarship candidates report that they did dozens of mock auditions before they receipted even one reply from an application.

So, get busy selecting pieces, rehearsing by yourself and holding multiple mock auditions as soon as possible. When the real thing comes along, you’ll thank yourself, and your team of helpers, for making it seem easy, even though it isn’t.

In-Person Interviewing Tips

There’s more to an in-person visit with a scholarship committee than a live audition. You’ll usually be asked to sit for one or more interviews as well. You can prepare for these sessions by having your friends, teachers and others come up with typical interview questions. Have them ask you the questions and evaluate your answers.

Use your own online research skills to find typical questions and be ready to record your mock interviews so you can view them later on and critique yourself. If you want to organize your Q & A practice in an effective way, here is a short summary of how to get ready, right up to the day of the live interview:

  • Ask your team to come up with questions.
  • Write questions you think will be asked, based on our knowledge and research.
  • Tell your team the general kinds of questions they should ask, but let them write their own queries.
  • Make audio and video recordings of your interviews so you can review them later on
  • Don’t pigeonhole yourself; always note to the interviewer that music is not your only strong subject. Well-rounded candidates win more scholarships.
  • Some of the most common things that scholarship committees ask about include why you chose the instrument you play, why you chose music as a central area of study, what you think your future will be as a musician and how you think music benefits society.
  • Dress comfortably but formally.
  • Show up about 15 minutes before the interview.
  • Rehearse all your main answers, one last time, the night before but not on the day of the actual interview.
  • Answer honestly but don’t forget to augment some answers with key points you wish to make. Remember, if you don’t say, they won’t hear it.

The Many Types of Scholarships

You can find many hundreds of music scholarships by doing a simple online search. Try to make a long list of the ones you think you qualify for based on the descriptions of the specific scholarships. Some, for example, are only for guitarists or those who play a certain instrument while others are open to virtually anyone in any area of music performance, composition and even music theory.

A decent amount of scholarship money goes to people who intend to become music teachers. The point is that there are many disciplines within the academic field labeled “music.” It’s also essential to note that some scholarships are connected with schools but many are not. In fact, a large proportion of money that gets awarded to prospective students comes from private foundations, states and the music industry. Don’t limit yourself to just one kind of scholarship; apply for everything that you have a realistic shot at winning.

When you take the time and make the effort to submit many applications, you immediately increase your chances of success. One survey showed that the average music student who won at least a two-year scholarship had applied for more than 20 opportunities.

Summing It All Up

Perhaps the best way to get ready for the scholarship application process is to make a written “master plan.” Begin by naming the schools you want to attend, followed by a listing of all the scholarships on your radar. Be careful to only include institutions and scholarships for which you have, at least, the basic qualifications.

Use the following “cheat sheet” to get organized:

  • 1. List schools and scholarships by name.
  • 2. Gather all application forms.
  • 3. Prepare audition pieces (see the section entitled “Honing Audition Pieces”).
  • 4. Rehearse Q & A sessions based on typical questions.
  • 5. Begin filling out applications in groups of two or three at a time.
  • 6. Prepare a master financial statement from which you can pull data for any scholarship app.
  • 7. Mail forms individually, using the post office’s tracking service so you’ll know for sure when the mailings arrive.
  • 8. Wait for replies and do whatever the respondent requests for the next steps.
  • 9. Continue rehearsing musical audition pieces and Q & A sessions. Ask a few friends or teachers you know to arrange for a dry-run audition.

If you start out with a detailed plan, keep careful records of what you have mailed out, and stay on top of the entire process, you have a very good chance of getting some scholarship money to pay for music school. Keep at it. Maintain a positive attitude. And, above all, practice your audition pieces until you know them perfectly and can perform them under varying circumstances.

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