Financial Curtain Call: Talent-based Scholarships Help Some Students Pay for College
Gigi Figueroa didn’t know if she would be able to afford college, so the freshman biology student turned to music for help.
Figueroa is one of about 30 students at Marist College who receive either a music and/or theatre scholarship, each valued at $2,000 per academic year. Marist says 83 percent of its students rely on need-based grants and scholarships to help pay for college, but the requirements to remain eligible for some of those awards can be taxing.
As a freshman vocal scholarship recipient, Figueroa is required to minor in music, a 21-credit endeavor. She also has to participate in recitals, which involve dozens of hours of out-of-class preparation and practice.
“If I didn’t get [the vocal scholarship], then I wouldn’t have come [to Marist],” said Figueroa. “But I think the music minor is the most demanding minor in the school.”
Although Figueroa says the demands of her music scholarship can be overwhelming, she admits it’s worth it because singing is her passion. But some talent-based scholarship recipients don’t think the value of the grants justifies the effort.
“It was more of a commitment than I anticipated,” said one student who, after dropping the theatre scholarship, spoke about his/her experience on condition of anonymity. “It didn’t seem worth it to me because the money and the work didn’t really pay off.”
Marist SPJ spoke with one other student who says he/she also dropped the theatre scholarship because of excessive requirements.
Not all students, however, have the flexibility of dropping their scholarships when they are dissatisfied. Even if some students are overwhelmed by the demands of their scholarships, they often feel pressured to deal with it because of how expensive the cost of Marist already is. For many of them, every little bit helps.
“There are times I thought about dropping it because as I’ve grown older, my priorities have changed,” said Elena Eberwein, a Marist senior on a theatre scholarship. “I didn’t realize how much of a commitment it would be.”
Other colleges proportional to Marist in size offer similar talent-based aid programs. Ithaca College emphasizes both a student’s need and talent when sorting through possible music and theatre scholarship recipients. Fordham University’s Excellence in Theatre Scholarship is awarded to the top two applicants from the theatre program, covering full tuition costs. Like Marist, Fordham’s regular theatre scholarship is offered to freshmen who “are theatre majors and exhibit exceptional talent.”
Theatre scholarship students at Marist have to be cast in at least one theatre-sponsored program per year. Eberwein believes this requirement is overbearing. For A Chorus Line, a musical production performed by the theatre program in February, Eberwein says there were many kids “who knew that they couldn’t sing and dance, but still had to try out for it.”
But Marist Theatre Program Director Matt Andrews says that he requires students who are less interested in performing and more interested in the behind-the-scenes element of theatre to “audition just for experience.” He wants them to get exposure to all aspects of a show, including the technical, administrative and performance components.
Eberwein studies Media Arts and is the president of WMAR and Marist SPJ. But despite her hectic schedule and the high demands of fulfilling her scholarship requirements, she is reluctant to drop the theatre grant because without it, she says she “wouldn’t be able to afford Marist.”
Michael Napolitano, the manager of music department operations at Marist, thinks the music and theatre scholarship demands are justified, but understands Eberwein’s frustrations.
“For the value of the scholarship, we have a decent expectation for the students,” he said. “But my hope would be that as the cost of education rises, there would be some look at whether or not that scholarship fund should be increased per person or reallocated.”
About 12 or 13 theatre scholarships are awarded each year, according to Andrews. The music department awards about 20 vocal and instrumental scholarships a year from an average pool of 40 applicants.
Although theatre and music scholarship recipients must meet similar conditions to maintain eligibility, some students say the audition requirements are unfair. Students must apply for music and theatre scholarships when they are still in high school. Even if a Marist student is heavily involved in the band or the school play, that student is not eligible to apply for either of the grants.
“You have a lot of kids in the department who pour their heart and soul into [these programs], but they don’t get any compensation because they didn’t know it was a thing or they didn’t have the time [to audition] in their senior year,” said James O’Brien, a freshman with an instrumental music scholarship.
The scholarship process, however, does not fall under Andrews’ jurisdiction. That’s left for Admissions and Student Financial Services, which monitor whether students are meeting the scholarship’s basic requirements.
Although Andrews says the theatre scholarship program that he oversees is supposed to be a “complementary course of study…it’s not a cumbersome scholarship.”
“Theatre takes a lot of time, but that has nothing to do with the scholarship,” he added. He also said many students would be participating in the program and fulfilling the requirements even if they didn’t have the scholarship because for many of them, it’s a passion.
O’Brien, for example, is required to go to all of the Marist basketball and football games as an instrumental scholarship recipient, but he says he enjoys it.
“For a lot of the students [with a music or theatre scholarship], a lot of these extra requirements are things they would be doing anyway.”
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