Music Scholarships

5 Tips on How to Land a Music Scholarship

We write a lot about heading to college with the intention of studying music on this site, but one thing we haven’t touched on yet, which can be vital to many looking to study to become professional musicians, is how to actually pay for tuition. A college education in America is incredibly expensive and only the privileged few can afford it out of pocket. The millions who don’t have that option need to take out loans or find someone else to pay for it. That’s where scholarships come in…at least, that’s hopefully where they come in.

Receiving scholarship money is an excellent way to limit the funds you’ll owe later but they can also be difficult to procure. Many people will be fighting for the same prizes at the same time and there is never enough to go around. So, as someone who desperately wants to go to a university to study music but who may not have the money, what can you do to win a coveted scholarship? Here are some suggestions and some advice that may come in handy.

1. Be the Best

Okay, this has to be the most obvious piece of advice everybody reading is already aware of but it is still worth discussing, at least in some regards.

Many people assume if they apply to enough scholarships, at least one of them is bound to pay out. It’s a nice thought but it’s not necessarily true. You can’t half-ass anything because there will surely be someone out there who is giving it their all and doing everything possible to snatch the cash. So you need to do the same.

Whatever the organization behind the grant is asking for, you need to make sure you’re going to be the best, which can take a lot of time, effort, and practice. Many scholarships ask for a written essay and as a musician-in-training, this might not be your strong suit. That simply means you’ll need to work even harder, writing and editing several times over and even handing off your essay to others to read in the hopes their input will make it even better. Don’t crap out and only give half of your effort just because you’re not looking to be a writer. There will be a potential music student who does convince them with both their essay and their performance. If you give it your all, it could be you.

Speaking of performance, since we’re talking about musical programs at colleges, there’s a pretty good chance you will also be asked to perform or audition in some way in order to be accepted, and the same might be true when it comes to scholarships — especially really valuable ones. You may be more familiar with playing your instrument of choice or singing your heart out in front of an audience than writing a formal, persuasive essay, but you still need to practice, of course. Warm up properly, try and learn what those making the final decision are interested in and what they like the most, and prepare something that allows you to excel and which will really blow their socks right off. If a video or recording is required in place of an in-person audition, make sure you follow their rules for submitting the audition so you don’t miss out on any important parts or find yourself disqualified.

As a professional musician, you’ll have plenty of important auditions in your life, and some of your earliest ones may be necessary to nail just to get into school (or to get the money to be able to afford such an education).

Everybody is looking for a few extra bucks to make attending college a little bit easier on their wallets and if you want the cash and the assistance, you’re going to need to stand out from the crowd.

2. Get Great Grades

You may be looking to play music for the rest of your life but this isn’t an excuse to flunk every other class not involving an instrument! I’m not trying to repeat sentiments you have probably heard many times from your teachers and parents but your grades do matter (especially at this stage of life) and applying for scholarships is one of those times when it matters most.

The awards you’re likely going after may be more focused on those who show the most promise as artists or who have already proven themselves to be talented, but seeing A’s across the board certainly won’t hurt your cause! Those behind the scholarships will favor applicants who are great students in addition to fantastic musicians, so the better you do in every subject, the more likely you are to receive some cash when you’re on your way to university. I mention this because many who are looking to work in the arts assume nothing else matters beyond their musical skills, which simply isn’t the case.

Now, don’t start feeling completely discouraged if you aren’t a straight A student or if you’ve never made the Dean’s List. Not all is lost! Do your best in school, and feel free to explain yourself to those deciding who wins the money whenever you get a chance. Grades aren’t everything but please don’t think they’re nothing.

3. Explain What Separates You

Pretty much every scholarship you apply for will have many other applicants vying for the same prize. Sometimes you’ll be competing with dozens of people, while in other instances, it could be thousands. Everybody is looking for a few extra bucks to make attending college a little bit easier on their wallets and if you want the cash and the assistance, you’re going to need to stand out from the crowd.

As you begin the long and arduous process of applying for scholarships (and to schools, as well), you’re going to need to identify what makes you special and what makes you worthy of the money you’re asking for. You should be a talented musician and one who did well in school but beyond these two factors, what else do you have to say, and what else separates you from an untold number of prospective students?

Do you have a story worth telling? Perhaps you’ve had a particularly tough time in school but you persevered, or maybe a difficult time at home has molded you into the adult you are today. Have you traveled the world and thus have a worldview many other prospective students don’t? Have you been attempting to become an actual working musician for years now? I can’t tell you what to say here, as it differs from person to person, and it is extremely personal, but you should do some real tough thinking and soul searching before you move forward with a certain angle or idea. The topic you choose is something you’ll likely need to speak and write about during this entire process and you need to really believe it’s worthy of recognition.

Most counselors and admissions people will tell you what they really want is a well-rounded prospect — so you’re going to need to do more than play music and do well on tests.

4. Be More Than Just a Student (And a Musician)

Two of the first things anybody reviewing your application or meeting with you will consider are how good of a musician you are and how good of a student you are. We’ve discussed those already and they’re fairly obvious (or at least they should be) to anyone thinking of vying for any scholarships but there’s more to being the one they choose than those two factors. In fact, most counselors and admissions people will tell you what they really want is a well-rounded prospect — so you’re going to need to do more than play music and do well on tests.

In your spare time— not that you have a lot of it, but if you want to make it to the head of the pack, you’ll need to carve out some time — you should be doing a number of activities, all of which you can add to your resume and talk about in your application and/or audition. You may have a part-time job, an internship, a volunteer position, or perhaps you’re involved in clubs or groups at school. Have you ever started any initiatives? Won any awards? Do you do something online, such as create videos, write, or otherwise get your name out there in some way?

Everything I listed above is perfect fodder for a scholarship application, especially when shared in tandem with the fact you’re doing well in school and practicing all the time. Anything showing you’re keeping busy and not just lounging around waiting for someone to give you some money is a sign you might be worth investing in.

5. Apply For Many Different Ones

You can do everything right and be a perfect candidate to receive a certain scholarship, but you won’t necessarily end up with the money. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s just how things work out sometimes, whether it’s a scholarship or even a job or placement in a program.

In addition to doing everything you can to make yourself the ideal person to be chosen, you should also be applying to many different options at the same time, as this will give you the greatest chance of at least winning something. Make sure you don’t skimp on effort or heart in your efforts just because you’re busy doing a number of them, but at the same time, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially if you don’t even have the basket yet! If you attempt to collect many awards, you may end up being selected for more than one and wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Having said this, don’t kill yourself trying for every option under the sun because you probably won’t win anything that way. Some scholarships have strict guidelines so look at them carefully. If you don’t fit in with one, it’s incredibly unlikely they’ll even consider you so don’t waste your time. Instead, strongly consider everything that works perfectly with what you are looking to study and search high and low for anything pertinent to what makes you different from everyone else — whatever it may be. There are plenty of scholarships eligible only to those students living in certain areas, who fit a particular demographic, and so on, and you’ll have a better chance at many of these awards if you give your all to a select, well-chosen group of scholarships.

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