Financial Aid Essentials for Music Students

Financial aid is a complicated, confusing, and often anxiety-producing topic for many students and families. No less so for music students. Here’s a succinct guide to help you get started and wade through the alphabet soup of acronyms you’ll need to understand.

FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
By filling out the free FAFSA application, you’re eligible for federal student aid programs offered by the U.S. Department of Education. Some states and colleges also use it to determine your eligibility for financial assistance.

*Note: FAFSA can now be filed starting October 1. Income and tax information from an earlier tax year are also now required.

EFC – Expected Family Contribution
The information on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC. Your EFC is based on the family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits.

Here’s how the College Board explains it:

“Colleges subtract your EFC from the total cost of attending their institution for one year. The total cost — which includes tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation costs — minus your EFC is how much financial aid they estimate you’ll need to attend the college.”

CSS Profile – College Scholarship Service Profile
This is an online form, administered by College Board. Approximately 300 colleges, universities and scholarship programs require it to determine eligibility for non-government financial aid, including grants, loans, and scholarships.

Federal Pell Grants
Usually limited to undergraduate students demonstrating financial need.

Federal Perkins Loan
Offered by schools of higher education to students demonstrating financial need. For undergraduate AND graduate students.


1. “To apply for federal financial aid, such as Pell grants or loans, families must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Some states and schools also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their own scholarships and grants.” – NerdWallet,Inc.

2. Most college/conservatory admission directors and financial aid officers will encourage ALL families to fill out the FAFSA.

3. Some schools require the FAFSA and CSS to qualify students for merit aid even though merit aid is based on achievements in music, academics, etc.

4. FAFSA and CSS are NOT the same!

5. Loans vs. Grants
Grants don’t need to be paid back except under certain circumstances (see U.S. Federal Grants below under Resources). Loans must be paid back with interest.

6. What if you don’t get what you need?
Consider calling the admissions office of the school you want to attend. Be courteous and succinct when you let them know why you are calling. Have no expectations of the outcome of your call but if you do get more aid, be sure to send a thank you note or email.

If you send an email or leave a voice mail and don’t hear back, call or email again in 2-3 days. The person you’re trying to reach is likely inundated with calls and emails from others just like you!

Note that some schools are okay with your letting them know about other offers you’ve gotten. Others are not receptive to this information and it will not sway their decision.

7. Determine with your family how much debt you’re willing and able to take on BEFORE you apply to college.

Links & Resources


FAFSA Eligibility

CSS Profile Scholarships for Music Majors


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