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Scholarships & Stipends 101

Scholarships

Scholarships are gifts of money that a school or organization provide to help with the cost of college.  They can be anywhere from $500 to a full ride (that's college slang for tuition plus room & board) and the money must be spent on college expenses.

A huge array of scholarships are awarded to students who show leadership, volunteerism, a commitment to academics and a passion—doesn’t really matter what you’re passionate about—just show passion. Showing a passion for band certainly qualifies, even if you don’t plan to major in music. They know that showing devotion to an organization like marching band builds the kind of character that will make you devoted and committed to other things in life like a company or career path.  If they are going to invest money in a student, they want to know that the student has the qualities that will make them employable. These scholarships are offered locally, nationally and from each college.

For music major or minor scholarships, most colleges have endowment funds which help pay for some of their students to get through college. In order to qualify, you have to have enough hours each semester to still be considered a music major or minor, but should you change your mind down the road, you don’t have to pay back the previous years.  You just stop receiving for future years.

Stipends

A stipend is an amount of money paid directly to you for playing in a musical group or being in color guard while attending college. Usually the stipend is anywhere from $50 to $1200 and is paid directly to you like a paycheck so you can spend it however you want, but you have to play for the group that you are being paid to play with such as a marching band, pep band, or the pit in the musical.  Each band on a college campus will have its own stipend. Playing for one means you get paid for that one, but you don’t have to play for all the rest.  You do NOT have to be a music major or minor in order to receive a stipend at most colleges and universities. At some universities, you DO get paid a higher stipend if you’ve made All-State in high school.

How To Get Ready To Apply

During your freshman and sophomore years, start looking for colleges.  You can surf the web for this.  Pick at least 20 colleges that you are interested in and by your junior year narrow them down to a top ten. 

During your sophomore and junior years, start looking for scholarships through search engines such as Fastweb, Unigo, College Greenlight, or Scholly.  

During your junior year, start writing "stock essays," put together a resume, and start building your scholarship assembly line (listed below) to make the application process go faster.  Ask several teachers, community members, and other leaders to write you a reference letter and provide both hard and electronic copies. (Then make sure you send them a thank you note.)

Also, in your junior year, start reading articles put out by Fastweb and other search engines that offer tips for essay writing and interviews.  You will also want a video of your best band performances like a solo for solo/ensemble.

By August before your senior year, apply to your top five colleges as soon as applications open.  More and more colleges are using a system where your application for admission also counts as your application for their institutional and departmental scholarships, but regardless of the process, you have to be accepted to apply for their scholarships. Institutional scholarships (the ones offered by the colleges) are first come, first served.  In other words, if you qualify for a particular scholarship, but you wait until February of your senior year, that money will have gone to someone else and you’ll be on a waiting list.  Most colleges have a guaranteed deadline of November 1st, right at the tail end of a grueling marching season so get as much as you can ready to go in August.

Scholarship Assembly Line

By THE BEGINNING of your senior year, you should have official copies ready or save the link to these items:

  • ACT or SAT scores (student copy-you have to pay extra)

  • Transcript

  • Resume

  •  Recommendation letters from:

    • Band director

    • Teacher from a core class—Math, English, Science (Many scholarships specify this.)

    • Teacher who has had you more than one year

    • Counselor

    • Community member who has overseen your volunteer work or band activism

  • Volunteer hour forms

  • FAFSA – Federal Application For Student Aid

  • Yours and/or your parents’ tax papers with the social security numbers blacked out

  • ZeeMee profile

  • Digital video footage of your performances in band and solo/ensemble

As you apply for scholarships, you will use the information above over and over.


For more information on general scholarships and the assembly line I spoke of, I highly recommend the book “Confessions of a Scholarship Winner” by Kristina Ellis. Kristina Ellis received $500,000 in scholarships.  She did not have anywhere near a 4.0 GPA nor did she have a super high ACT score, but she proved her character and perseverance. You can do this too!  Whether you are interested in majoring in music or not, the skills you are learning and the experiences you are living through band can get you there.