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Financial Aid | The Basics

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Grasp the basics and you'll be on your way to getting your expensive drama school education PAID for.


Financial Aid is a complicated topic. Boo.

It can seem overwhelming, especially if you have not had years of experience in the real world paying for major expenses like cars, houses, education, etc.

Fortunately, becoming aware of BASIC TERMS inside of the topic will take you a long way when just starting out. Yay!

Speaking intelligently with parents, institutions, and scholarships about financial need is a huge factor if you want to make the BEST CASE for attending the schools you want without having a crippling tower of debt when you graduate.

And trust me, you don’t want a crippling tower of debt when you graduate.

A quick cautionary tale....

Many young actors do not know the financial realities of going to a drama school that is $60,000+ per year.

You might not know what it feels like to have over $300,000 in debt upon graduating college, and let me tell you you do NOT want to be there. My friend (let’s call him John) is over 30 years old and still owes over $150,000 to his drama school. It’s been almost 10 years after graduating and he’s only halfway through paying off his schooling, and he’s never missed a payment!

How much pressure do you think that puts on him to make more money, get multiple jobs, and then not be able to even spend that money because it’s just filling the student debt coffers?

It feels HORRIBLE. He can’t make investments in his career that others can (like pay for important industry events) or even live like he deserves (eating unhealthy/cheap, extremely limited socializing and entertainment).

It’s one thing to be 20 and poor. It’s another to be 30 and 40 and still swimming in school debt. It DAMPENS LIFE HARD.

Ok, so let’s not go down that path...

We're going to get you on the right side of financial aid, and to do that we’re going to cover THE BASICS first.

This is the is beginning of you earning TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for your education! Yay!

There will be other posts helping you with financial aid, but for now let’s focus on what you need to know to get started…

The Goal

Lower the amount of money that comes out of your (and your parents’) pocket AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

That is the goal. Never stray from it. When it comes to financial aid, all you’re trying to do is come up with ways to do that. Try everything. I’ll say it again…

The goal is to lower the amount of money that comes out of your pocket.

There are tons of other pockets that have money for you and your education. Go find all of them and rack up as much dough as you can.

Make sense? That's the goal. Now let’s talk about the MAIN TERMS...

Cost of Attendance (COA)

It seems obvious, but it’s not...The cost for you to go to a school includes MORE EXPENSES THAN JUST TUITION. Wrap your head around that now.

If the school says tuition is $50,000, that is not your COA. Your total COA includes things like tuition, housing and meals, books etc - all the expenses that it costs to go there! Know your COA. Write it down.

And good news: federal regulations require schools to provide an estimated COA for one academic year (September through May). This is to assist students in budgeting for the school year and to set a limit on the amount of financial aid students may receive. Items included in the COA are:

tuition and fees

housing and meals




personal expenses.

Students should develop their own monthly budget based on these costs.

Eventually, when you’re talking to your school about how much money the school is offering you, you can compare your budget against school’s Estimated COA, and speak intelligently to your need.


Stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”. This is money from the government, specifically for students. Everybody uses it. You fill out the form and submit it to schools. Get familiar with it asap.

Here’s the website.

Always keep in mind your goal: lower the amount of money that comes out of your pocket. FAFSA can help you do that, especially if you

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Based on the data entered on the FAFSA, the expected family contribution is the estimated amount that your family should be able to contribute to your education annually.

The EFC is determined by a formula that considers factors like your family size, family income and assets, the number of family members in college, and your dependency status.

For example, based on the data you entered on the FAFSA, your EFC might be $30,000. This is not the amount you will actually pay each year. This number helps determine the amount of aid you may be eligible for. People who have a lower EFC may be eligible for more aid.

Unmet Need

Due to budget constraints, a school may not be able to provide you with your full financial need. You will need to look for external resources to cover your unmet need.

Here are ways to cover your unmet need. Google the following and start making your list!

  • Private grants and scholarships

  • Prizes

  • Tuition waivers

  • VA educational benefits

  • Parent PLUS Loans

  • Alternative loans

  • Tuition payment plans

  • Additional earnings (ex: a job)

  • Other personal resources (ex: grandparents)

The Office of Financial Aid

This is the office at the school that deals with your GOAL. Remember your goal? To lower the amount of money that comes out of your pocket.

The Office of Financial Aid accounts for everything and they are the administrators of what you owe.

Find out who the right person to talk to is, and snuggle up close. They handle all your institutional scholarships, your federal and state grants, federal student and parent loans, and on-campus employment (Work-Study).

It is your responsibility to work with the Office of Financial Aid to determine exactly what you owe.


Those are the basics, and that gives you enough to get on your way. You are 100% responsible for leading the charge. Enroll your parents and/or family in the search to find as much money as possible to fund your education. There are TONS of resources.

Remember your goal: lower the amount of money that comes out of your pocket and find all the other pockets that will pay for your schooling.

Do NOT go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It is the WORST once you graduate. You do NOT want to be thinking about that when you trying to learn about the industry and making new connections and trying to pay rent.

Now is the time to reduce your school debt, so take note of the basics and onward!

As you see your pockets get wider and wider, so will your smile.

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