Funding Your Film School Education

by Cathy Sivak
Funding Your Film School Education

Scholarship opportunities for School of Theater, Television and Film.

Professional organizations as well as major industry players often support business schools and other disciplines with scholarship funds. The film industry does not typically enjoy the same endowments. "We're always looking, but there's just not a lot of money out there for film students," explains Kulikowski.

While students of all types often expect grants and scholarships to cover most higher education costs. "That's not reality," says Paula Cady, the president of the Arizona Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators. "Most students in most disciplines will have to use some type of federal or private student loan program."

One more splash of cold water: "To get a full ride to a film media school is almost impossible. It requires either an extraordinary need or an extraordinary talent," reports Dan Eisenberg, chair of the Film, Video & New Media department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

While film student funding is slim, individual institutions and programs do offer varying levels of support for film students. Review marketing material such as admissions catalogs and web sites to gauge the scholarship opportunities and financial aid support available on a school-by-school basis. Then design a plan to suit your budget.

"An education in film is not cheap. It's not like going to going to community college for general studies. You are receiving a very specialized degree, and typically, that costs more money," says Cady, who also serves as the director of student financial services at The Art Institute of Phoenix.

Developing a funding plan and filling out financial aid forms may not seem an artistic pursuit, but even established filmmakers have budgets.

Film School Cost Analysis

The costs of secondary education in the film/video arena vary as wildly as the programs available and your place of residency - a one-week, one-shot class from a private film school could run $299 or $10,000. The Los Angeles Film School offers a 1-year immersion filmmaking program with $30,400 tuition. At the Florida State University Film School, in-state tuition is $3,038, while out of state tuition is $15,544.

Meanwhile, traditional tuition costs rise annually at traditional state universities, private colleges and community colleges, according the Trends in College Pricing 2011 report released by the College Board in late 2011.

During the 2003-04 academic year, college tuition and fees increased an average of $579 at four-year public institutions ($4,694 vs. $4,115, up 14.1%), $1,114 at four-year private institutions ($19,710 vs. $18,596, up 6.0%), and $231 at two-year public institutions ($1,905 vs. $1,674, up 13.8%).

Don't despair: In the 2002-03 school year, $105 billion was distributed in student financial aid -- a record amount, $13 billion more than was distributed the previous year. Total aid per full-time equivalent student averages about $9,100, including $3,600 in grants.

Making the numbers work is where the award-winning creativity comes in. As if tuition, books and living expenses aren't enough, beginning video or film students must also budget for supply costs ranging from $200 to $2,000 per year depending on course requirements and excluding equipment investments.

Equipment can be one area to put on initial spending hold, Eisenberg says. He asserts that since most films fall in the low-budget category, any form of the media will suffice. "Students can get off to a start with a camcorder or even Dad's old Hi-8 camera-and that's free."

With school-sponsored, film-specific scholarships few and far between, and financial aid office access to the numerous individual scholarships limited, Cady urges students to explore other options. "Pack a lunch, go to the library and hit the scholarship books, because there is no limit to the number you can apply for or to the amount of funding you could get."

While some students might hesitate to apply for scholarships with small values, "Even a $25 scholarship will help with books and supplies or food for the week. Something's better than nothing… It's that much less you have to pay back in student loans," Cady says. "The individual scholarships are not as easy to apply for as general financial aid, but it's sure worthwhile when the checks start rolling in."

Film scholarship application guidelines typically require not only work samples, but also supporting materials such as an essay and application forms. For best results, students should offer a broad sampling of work and make sure to complete (and submit) applications in a neat and timely manner. "The students with the best portfolios submitted are going to probably be the recipients of those scholarships," Cady says.

Meanwhile, Cady warns students to be wary of organizations charging for financial aid application services, as most school financial aid departments provide the same services for free.

Once accepted to a school, the opportunities for funding may widen. SDSU offers returning students the ability to apply to the general scholarship office for small individual awards. The Art Institute of Phoenix offers one half-tuition and one full-tuition award per discipline annually.

At the University of Texas at Austin, about a half-dozen full-tuition scholarships are annually available to students accepted to the College of Communication, Department of Radio, Television & Film program. An average of 20 to 25 students compete annually for the awards, which are typically geared toward the production students making up more than half of the 950 undergraduates in the program, reports Department Administrator Susan Dirks. "These scholarships are based on student ability. It's not just GPA, but also creativity that is awarded," Dirks says.

Financial support in the form of teaching assistantships is often available to graduate students. At the University of Texas, second and third year masters program film students typically become involved in the teaching assistant program, which Dirks reports offers financial support and perks including insurance coverage and varying levels of tuition reimbursement.

As the film media genre continues to develop, scholarship and grant opportunities could expand with the opportunities for artistic expression, says Eisenberg. "Image making is becoming the writing of our time."

Hard Copy Help...

Ask at the local library for:

  • The Scholarship Book, a comprehensive guide to private-sector scholarships, grants, and loans
  • The Financial Aid Book/Student Financial Services, guide to private scholarships, grants, and fellowships
  • College Student's Guide to Merit and Other No-Need Funding, a directory of merit scholarships and other funding programs

Internet Sources

Financial Aid: The U.S. Department of Education will provide about 70 percent of all student aid ($67 billion) to help pay for postsecondary education this year. More than 10 million students apply for aid annually, and roughly 9 million receive a grant or loan. For more information or to apply for financial aid online, visit the U.S. Department of Education web site. - Scholarships and Festivals

Other Funding Possibilities

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