How to Get a Music Scholarship, the Right Way

by Steven Lipman

Types of Music Scholarships, Where they Are, and How to Get Them

For most everybody, money is the root of all evil. But, it turns out free money can be a really great tool for going to music school.

Most music performance and composition programs are costly. It’s one of the reasons that music school scholarships are often very competitive.

That means we creatives need to get creative about how we fund our future schooling. The best way to do that is through understanding the swampy morass that is scholarships.

If you start early, you can garner enough scholarships to perhaps pay for a large portion of your schooling. Yet, before you start blindly applying for anything and everything you possibly can, it’s crucial to understand exactly which scholarships you should be going for.

While you’re reading below, keep in mind the sheer diversity of scholarships available for music majors includes those that have to do with your chosen instrument or skill, along with those that point to other parts of your character, including academics, genre, and background.

Talent and Need – Both Important Factors

Scholarships are given to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and even international students. Merit is the primary criteria for those applying for these financial awards.

When you’re sitting on your computer reading through the descriptions and qualifications for each award, you’ll see that many take into consideration talent and financial need.

These considerations look at the student in terms of how proficient they are at their given discipline, and how much they would need the money to attend the school in question. Demonstrating both clearly and effective is crucial to winning that money and getting on with your dreams of music school.

Read more about the different types of scholarships you can get, along with how to actually get them. Many of the graduating high school students I personally consult have found scholarships are a crucial element in realizing their music school dreams.

Music Scholarships

Not for the faint of heart

As a music student looking for money to pay for college, it makes sense that music scholarships would be your best option. Afterall, there are tons of scholarships offered by colleges, conservatories, and otherwise for specific disciplines, of which you might consider yourself an expert.

Alas, you may want to “check yourself,” as they say. Music scholarships are extremely competitive and exclusive, which means the best of the best players and performers are usually the beneficiaries of these awards.

Nearly all music scholarships require an audition and interview. The audition is a live demonstration of your musical discipline, so make sure to focus on what you do best.

Expert Tip: There are instruments and disciplines that have low enrollment rates. For instance, being an expert trombone player is what many may call a dying field – if you play this instrument, you could actually have a better chance at obtaining a scholarship because the competition for them is generally low.

Better than just jumping into the swamp, it’s important to understand that there are many different types of music scholarships. See below the different categories of music scholarships available to vocalists, instrumentalists, and composers:

School-Issued Scholarships

These awards are given from specific colleges. For instance, Oberlin College and Conservatory offers the Conservatory Dean’s Scholarship. Regardless of which music school scholarship you’re after, there is always an audition. This is the chance to impress a panel of important people – instructors practicing in your discipline and deans, for example – that rate your raw talent, and how that talent can be nurtured in their specific program.

As a director of admissions at Berklee for many years, I have seen many students make several mistakes over and over again. This is because many people are going into the process blind.

Believe me when I say this – prepare the best possible work you have that relates most closely with your goals in attending the school in question. Here’s why:

  1. Alignment – If you’re training to be a jazz musician, playing that great rock n’ roll solo might not be the best way to convince a panel that you’re deserving of their financial award.
  2. Creativity and Proficiency – You want to showcase how you have the chops and also the mind of a musician that deserve the scholarship in question.
  3. Understanding Your Audience – Just like great performers, great interviewees understand who they are talking to. You’re being questioned by elites in the field, and they are looking for very specific answers to their questions. That’s easy to understand when hundreds or thousands of students are going after the same award.

One of the most valuable practice routines you can take on is participating in mock auditions. That’s why I offer mock auditions with myself and instructors who have already gone through this process hundreds of times.

Music Department Scholarships

Sometimes the best opportunities are in music departments of large universities.

Most large universities have a music department that has scholarships available for performers and composers. For instance, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Herb Alpert School of Music offers the John Audino Memorial Scholarship.

If you’re aiming for these types of scholarships, you can also take advantage of academic scholarships if you have a GPA that meets their requirements that is awarded by the university.

State Organization Scholarships

The next level of scholarships are those offered by state institutions.

Every state has a “music educators association” offering financial awards for students who want to study music in college. While these awards are typically on the smaller side, you and I both know that every penny counts.

National Music Scholarships

National music scholarships run the gambit of subject matter and goal. There are many of these awards available, but you’ll have to do some digging to find one which pertains to you.

The requirements for national music scholarships are almost as diverse as their goals. For instance, the John Lennon Scholarship offers $20,000 total for three songwriters – part of the application process is submitting your own original song for consideration.

Discipline-Specific Scholarships

Another layer of the jungle that is music scholarships are those for specific instruments and disciplines.

Instrument manufacturers and performer associations offer many different scholarships. For example, the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society offers scholarships for vocalists and instrumentalists that can reach up to $12,000 a year.

Whether you play a string instrument, want to study music production, or want to be a professional within a specific genre, there is most likely something out there for everybody.

Background-Specific Scholarships

The final level of music-school scholarships I’ll cover in this section are those that aim to aid someone from a specific background.

For instance, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Performing Arts Scholarship awards African-American and black students with money to study the performing arts – music and otherwise.

At the end of this article, see how Steve Lipman’s decades in the music education business can be of use to you. Until then, read on to the next chapter, Academic Scholarships.

Academic Scholarships

For those considering universities with a music program

We go through high school wondering whether what we learned in trigonometry class will ever help us in the long run. When it comes to academic scholarships, grades are gold.

Academic scholarships are offered by many universities based on academic merit. Your grade point average (GPA) is the most important factor.

If you’re considering a university that has a music program, academic scholarships are a creative way of achieving your music education goals. These awards look at GPA, what levels of classes you’ve completed, and the strength of your overall academic career.

These scholarships are often considered by students who may not have the “chops” to impress elite musicians in an interview, or who consider music schools in general too cost-prohibitive. There are also many students I’ve dealt with who chose the university route because they also have other interests aside from music.

If you’re thinking about going after academic scholarships, here’s three things you’ll need to keep in mind:

  1. Grade Point Average (GPA) – The strength of your GPA is the most important and clear consideration for academic scholarships.
  2. Types of Classes – Students who are taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes and have a high GPA will most likely be considered first before those who took only standard-level classes.
  3. Specificity – Some academic scholarships look at a particular educational discipline, such as math or literary studies. Know which ones you’re going for, and focus your efforts on those skills.

Industry-Related Scholarships

Just like any industry, there are tons of charitable entities related to companies and associations that serve musicians.

Some of these scholarships are instrument-specific, while others are industry-wide. Below, see descriptions of the top industry-wide scholarships.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)

ASCAP is one of those industry associations that seeks to protect the copyrights obtained by artists and labels to help them get paid for their work.

As one of the largest industry associations for music professionals, the offerings they support in terms of student aid are numerous. Here are some of these awards below:

  • Howard Bart Songwriting Scholarship at Berklee College of Music
    This scholarship fund is named after Howard Bart, composer of over 200 songs including “Fly Me to the Moon.” This award is for composers and songwriters who are attending Berklee College of Music.
  • ASCAP Foundation Betty Rose Scholarship
    Named after prolific Hollywood composer Dave Rose’s wife Betty, this scholarship is awarded to students attending the University of Southern California’s ASCAP Foundation Composer-In-Residence program. The student who wins this award must be studying film scoring at the university.
  • ASCAP Foundation Fran Morgenstern Davis Scholarship
    This scholarship offers awards for two students attending the Manhattan School of Music for jazz composition and musical theater. Students must demonstrate the ability to create original compositions, along with showing their financial need for the award.
  • Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
    Broadcast Music, Inc. is another organization that seeks to protect the intellectual property of composers in the industry. The BMI Foundation gives financial aid awards for students in various disciplines, genres, and more.
  • BMI Future Jazz Master Scholarship
    For students already enrolled in college, the BMI Future Jazz Master Scholarship awards those who show promise as jazz composers and performers. The decision for the $5,000 award is decided by a panel of judges who earned the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship.
  • peermusic Latin Scholarship
    For students specializing in Latin music, this scholarship gives one $5,000 award to someone with a winning song or instrumental composition.

Music Publishers Association (MPA)

  • Copyright Awareness Scholarship
    This scholarship is for those who are learning about licensing and copyrighting music – a great skill for composers! This is awarded every year, and doesn’t require you to apply to a specific school.

As I said above, the sheer amount of scholarships available are numerous, diverse, and sometimes overwhelming. What’s important to understand is that not every scholarship is for every student.

Along with your area of study, you’ll need to see how you may stack up against the competition. In all my years at Berklee, I’ve come to understand with almost scientific precision what mix of pure skill and interview answers give you a leg up.

That brings me to my next lesson on this journey through music school scholarships: the interview.

The Interview

In my experience, students make some of the biggest gaffs while interviewing for scholarship awards.

Many music school hopefuls find themselves at a loss when it comes to the interview. You’ve probably mostly been focusing on your chosen skill, after all – why do you need to explain yourself for these awards?

The purpose of scholarship interviews are quite numerous. For college-specific interviews, interview panelists hope to determine whether you would be a good fit for the school, and the award that will perhaps determine your enrollment.

Second, humility is everything. As most all great musicians understand that they are life-long students, you’ll definitely not want to express that you’re a sort of untouchable expert in your chosen field. Keep in mind that many panelists for music school scholarships are in fact experts in their own field.

Third, your intentions for going to music school are almost as important as your skills. Music schools – and scholarships – are overwhelmingly competitive, so panels are always looking to award the most deserving students before considering anyone else. DO NOT make getting awarded money for your musical studies seem like a trivial affair – your actual need is in fact a factor in obtaining scholarships.

Here are several questions you can use as a guide to steer you in the right direction:

  1. Why are you here? – Perhaps the most important question on this list. This points to why you are trying to get a scholarship, which in many ways is to enable you to attend music school.
  2. What’s the legacy? – Many scholarships are named after figureheads in various musical industries. You’d be pretty embarrassed if you were clueless about who John Lennon was while applying for his namesake scholarship.
  3. What are your intentions? – For anybody serious enough about music to attend school for it, “getting better” and “sharpening your skills” is what you do at home. You are going to music school to develop your skill into a viable career. Bonus points if you can express the impact you want to make in your given field.
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Now, take a breath!

Believe me, I know all this can be overwhelming. Most all of my students admit that they didn’t believe the process for obtaining music scholarships would be such a journey. But alas, you are here.

That’s why I help future college music students navigate this process. My years of experience dealing with admissions and scholarships have taught me one thing – it ain’t easy, but it is possible.

If you have questions about how to obtain music school scholarships, you’re not alone. Contact me today to help you get on the right path for getting scholarships and getting on the road to the rest of your musical career.

Founder & President at Inside Music Schools |

Head of admissions and faculty member at Berklee College of Music for 40 years, Steve Lipman and our team at Inside Music Schools speak music as their primary language. We approach each client contact with open eyes, ears, and minds. As the country’s premier music school consultant, he advised students from the United States, Canada, China, Australia, Turkey, U.K., Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Israel, and Italy.