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Funding Your Music Studies in the U.S. (International Students)

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Coming from a small, economically disadvantaged country, I understand the shock that comes with thinking about the astronomical sum required for a single year of tuition in the U.S. Fear not! There are options. Drawing from my personal experience of studying in the U.S. as an exchange student for a year and then pursuing and working through my graduate studies for six years (including a Master's, Doctorate, and Artist Diploma), I'd like to share my bit of knowledge with you in hopes that it will help.

Arm yourself with coffee, I know this one can be tough!

1) Scholarships

Many schools may offer some type of scholarships, most commonly falling into two categories: merit-based and need-based. • Merit-based scholarships: These are awarded based on perceived excellence demonstrated in your audition/application. In essence, a stellar application, an impressive audition, and commendable transcripts could earn you a merit-based scholarship. • Need-based scholarships: These are granted to those who demonstrate that they are facing financial challenges. It's not about your capabilities but focuses solely on your financial situation. Availability for international students depends on your school's policies. 2) Assistantships

Most schools require someone (usually a graduate student) who can help run the studio - take care of the logistics, schedule, and perhaps do a bit of teaching. When you get in touch with your potential future professor(s), ask them about assistantship possibilities. • Typically, this involves working 10 to 20 hours per week, with payment and possibly a tuition waiver, covering your school expenses.

• While this work is usually allowed on an F-1 visa, there are limitations on the type and amount of work. Ensure compliance with laws and regulations by contacting your school's international student office, the American Embassy in your country, or seeking legal counsel. • In order to be selected for an assistantship, you must demonstrate qualities such as expertise in the subject matter, leadership, strong communication skills, effective time-management, adaptability, and integrity. Besides being a Graduate Assistant or a Teaching Assistant, you could also inquire about Resident Assistant openings. RAs serve as student leaders to the college residential community; they usually get free housing in exchange for helping create a safe and supportive living environments in college dorms.

3) Other employment on-campus Perhaps you have a tuition waiver already, but there is no assistantship spot. You can look up options like working at the school's concert hall (they might need ushers or stage managers) or at the music library. You might be paid hourly depending on how much you work each week. (You still MUST ensure you comply with the laws around employment and visa. To learn more visit

4) Employment off-campus

Although it comes with limitations, explore off-campus options. This could be done through the process of getting approved for CPT (Curricular Practical Training). CPT must be integral to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study - for example, it might be used for an important concert cycle that you are invited to play with a local orchestra. To find out more, visit 5) Other scholarships

Google is your best friend. You simply have to spend time searching for the right kind of scholarship: check out not only your future school's website, but also your country's ministry of culture/education (they might have support for students who wish to study abroad). Although I had assistantships and tuition waivers, financial struggles persisted. I applied for AS MANY scholarships I could find them and secured two significant ones: the American Association of University Women International Fellowship and the P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship, both dedicated to empowering women in male-dominated fields. You can also browse through the following websites to see if there is anything that can specifically help you: (I know this website doesn't look great, but it served me well) Look up scholarships for people who belong to your demographic (consider factors like your country of origin, race, field of study, first-generation college status, minority background, or international student status.)

6) Talk to people

Lastly, investigate your circle of people and check in with anyone who has gone abroad to study. Perhaps they have suggestions about where you could look for financial support. Reach out to your admissions officer/future professor and ask about opportunities for financial help at their institution. Inquire about having your application fee waived, if possible. Every bit of help counts!


I get it—those big numbers can be pretty intimidating, especially when they're standing in the way of your dreams. But hey, there are options out there, and with commitment, careful investigation, and planning - anything is possible!


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