It’s getting close to final decision time (May 1st is just around the corner!) and you may be stressed because you are having a difficult time choosing which college to put your deposit down on. Many times, the final decision comes down to finances and what you and your family can feasibly afford. Your dream school might just be out of reach because realistically, you can’t afford it. That can be very tough to stomach.
I have had lots of conversations over the past few weeks with families weighing the decision to send their kid to a school they can’t afford. While I am a complete and total advocate for college training programs (you’ll need to be trained to be competitive in this field!), you need to be completely honest with yourself about what type of debt you are willing to take on. Graduating with a degree in acting, music or dance gives you absolutely no guarantee for employment in the future and graduating with a mountain of debt can be suffocating.
Do not go into major debt attending a performing arts college. When you graduate, your top priority will be to find work that’s (hopefully) within your field. You’ll most likely need to supplement, for awhile at least, with another job as well. One of the biggest mistakes I see young graduates doing is filling their schedule to the brim with “day jobs” in order to survive and pay for rent, food and….yes, student loans. The first thing that gets eliminated when you do this is auditioning, networking and everything that is fundamental to building a career in the arts. You get stretched too thin. Don’t let crippling student loan debt be one of the reasons for missing a once in a lifetime audition!
Be realistic with what you and your family can afford. I’m not going to pretend it’s not hard to say goodbye to your dream school if the finances aren’t there – it’s truly, truly difficult. However, take a look at your other options that have offered better financial aid. Will you still receive quality training and come out with little to no debt? Are you saving so much money that you possibly could spend the surplus on other things? With some extra cash you could tack on desirable extras like additional dance lessons, tickets to Broadway shows or feel comfortable taking an amazing unpaid internship for the summer. If you feel the training is comparable and you can see yourself at the school – I recommend choosing the program that financially fits your needs and letting go of the need to be at a “name” school.
Meet with a financial aid officer. Maybe you only have a few options or you have your heart completely set on one – and if that’s the case, it’s time to try to negotiate. Set up a meeting with a financial aid officer at said school and show them the scholarships or aid you have from other programs. While it’s absolutely no guarantee, sometimes they might be willing to up their offer when looking at what another school gave you. They have to be very invested in you however, so don’t get discouraged if there is no flexibility on their end! It’s worth a shot, none the less.
Discussing financial aid is one of the not so fun parts of applying and attending college. It may seem relatively easy to pay down your debt now, but once you are actually living with it, I promise it’s a different story. Be level-headed, realistic and choose the school that will give you the training you desire and the financial freedom that you need.