Take Note: Scholarships

Take Note: Scholarships

Take Note: Scholarships

To give us the inside info on how you get a scholarship, and what you do with a scholarship, and what a scholarship even is, we have collected some brilliant insights from Summer Bowen, Samantha Wolf and Alejandro Téllez-Vargas, as well as some information from the VCA & MCM Scholarships Office to help us out. Let us know about your experience, or if you have any questions in the comments below! 

Summer Bowen

My first semester at MCM was rewarding but financially challenging. Moving from Queensland to Melbourne for study used up my savings, Centrelink took two months to process my student allowance claim, and I was working long hours to make ends meet. I took out a short term loan with the Financial Assistance Office (another helpful initiative!) for textbooks and sundries, but I didn't have a desk or bed for most of the semester. My grades were good but I knew I wasn't doing my best work.

I applied for five scholarships through the university website. The application documents were time-consuming but not too difficult to prepare: a detailed financial circumstances report, a CV, biography, and a cover letter to the board. About a fortnight after the closing date I received a letter from the Dean confirming a scholarship! To accept, I had to sign and email an agreement on the terms and conditions, a recipient questionnaire, editorial release form, a bank details form for the funds transfer, and finally a thank-you letter to the benefactors which I wrote with intense gratitude.

This particular scholarship (the MCM Faculty Arts Victoria Creative Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students) required that I submit an annual progress report with my grades and an overview of my study expenses. The funds subsidised my travel costs to uni, textbooks/readers, scores, masterclass and eisteddfod fees, vocal coaching, a VCA intensive and XL Arts development courses, performance physiotherapy, Feldenkrais and yoga classes, and assistance with daily expenses like rent and internet bills when necessary. It gave me some space to breathe and fully commit to my study, and made an incredible difference to my life.

Samantha Wolf

I’m fortunate enough to have been awarded two scholarships through the Melbourne Conservatorium: the Cassidy Bequest Trust Scholarship, and the Alan C. Rose Memorial Trust Scholarship. The Cassidy Bequest was awarded on the basis of academic achievement and financial need, so the application included financial information as well as academic records. I tried to be as detailed and honest as possible with my financial information. I tend to underestimate variable expenses, so it helped to look through my bank statements and find out what I actually spent on things like groceries, transport and incidentals. The figure I put down was what I would spend in an average week. I also detailed my personal circumstances as they applied to my financial position. For example, if your parents are unable to support you, or if you’ve had to leave your support networks to move to Melbourne, it’s important that you include that in your application. 

The Rose application was quite different. This scholarships supports projects with demonstrable benefit to the community. The application involved a detailed event proposal and budget, in addition to academic results. Even though I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, it still took a couple of weeks to figure out the exact details and put it all in writing, so make sure you start well before the closing date! 

I started my proposal with headings drawn from the scholarship criteria: background (a paragraph about my interest in the area), project summary (1-2 paragraphs about what the project will actually be), objectives, performance and research goals, community contribution goals, professional development goals, expected outcomes, timeframe, budget, and key stakeholders. I began with a couple of dot points and gradually wove them into paragraphs. I made sure that I included outcomes that were specific and measurable – not just “I want to put on a new music concert”, but “I want to commission four new chamber and electroacoustic works from four early- to mid-career Australian composers”.  

For the budget, I included not only the projected cost, but also a detailed breakdown of how I came to that figure. I started with the most obvious things – room hire, artist fees, personnel, equipment and marketing – then worked down into the smaller details. For example, instead of having one figure for the total venue cost, I broke it down to the per-hour hire fees for the performance, rehearsals, bumping in and out, and staffing costs (at least one front of house manager and one technician, for a minimum 3-hour call per day). I ended up contacting a number of prospective venues and obtaining detailed quotes. My ideal venue’s figures were the figures I put into my application.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Rose scholarship, and most grants, are designed to fund part of a project, not the entire cost. You should apply with your ideal budget, but make sure you have a workable contingency plan if you don’t receive 100% of what you asked for, because you probably won’t. This is frustrating, but it’s also a valuable learning experience. As a working artist, you will face obstacles and setbacks in your career. Think of this as an opportunity to hone your problem-solving and lateral thinking skills!

In addition to the proposal and budget, project-based scholarships require you to show why you are the best candidate to realise the project. In my case, this included work experience, volunteering, student concerts I’ve organised, industry contacts, as well as academic achievement, skill and passion. I basically treated it like a job application, and outlined how I would utilise my attributes to make the project a success. Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up!

Alejandro A. Téllez-Vargas

As an international student (Mexico), scholarships have allowed me to pursue my academic interests outside my home country. I was fortunate enough to receive a Fulbright Scholarship for International Postgraduate Studies at the United States of America. With this scholarship, I studied a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance at the University of North Texas (UNT), one of the largest faculties of music from the U.S.A.

Every year, approximately 4,000 students from 155 countries around the world receive this scholarship to study and conduct research in the U.S.A. It covers partial (sometimes complete) tuition fees, airfare, a living stipend, and health insurance. In addition to all its benefits, the Institute of International Education (IIE) assists students who are awarded with their application processes.

In contrast with other international scholarships, prospective students need to apply for the Fulbright scholarship before getting an admission offer. After I was awarded, I provided a list with six universities to the IIE. They applied on my behalf and I simply had to travel to do my auditions. 

When I got a couple of offers, I chose UNT because I had really good chemistry with my piano teacher. Plus, UNT has one of the best music libraries from the U.S.A. and the best jazz program from the northern hemisphere (UNT has nine big bands and stages one opera per month!) While this is a highly competitive scholarship, it is also the best option for international students interested in attending an American University. If you’re interested in finding out more about this scholarship, feel free to contact me! (alextellez@gmail.com).

Edwina Buckley: Scholarship Officer – VCA and MCM Scholarships Office

Current or future music students should look at the Faculty of the VCA & MCM scholarships website (http://vca-mcm.unimelb.edu.au/scholarships), which has a full listing of awards, scholarships and prizes provided by the Faculty, including those for which an application is not required – these are all based upon results and are given at the end of each semester. While we cannot offer assistance with proofreading or writing applications, we are happy to help with specific eligibility queries or concerns. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on our website for general and common queries, and I run a Scholarship Application Information session each semester (at the start of each application round).

Once students have a look at the application they will see that it is actually very straightforward – there are no tricks to the form! Most of it is taken up with personal information (contact details, academic history, budget details if the scholarship is for financial need) and then has between 2-3 free text questions about what makes this applicant stand out (for example, what makes you a compelling candidate for this scholarship? How would you use the money?). These questions allow the committee to get a sense of your qualities and to show how much thought you have given to using this money.

Our applications are all standardised as well, so once a student has applied for one scholarship, they will be well placed to easily apply for other ones. We strongly encourage all students to have a look at what is available and to invest the small amount of time it takes to apply. Winning a scholarship not only provides a financial boost but also is an indication of recognition by the Faculty. It is also a meaningful addition to a CV to list your scholarship achievements. If in the end you are unsuccessful in receiving a scholarship, the University Financial Aid office may be able to help (http://services.unimelb.edu.au/) – they provide financial advice and assistance in the areas of housing grants, short term loans, budgeting and financial aid.

Compiled by Jess Crowe.