How to finally get that art scholarship
There are literally thousands of available scholarships, awards and grants out there, for both art students and professional artists alike, in all fields of art: writing, painting, sculpture, dance, acting, music, ballet, photography… This mere fact is a revelation for many. You too can get a slice of the pie if you’re serious and passionate about your art skills, no matter what your current skill or education level is. It’s quite challenging and will take time, and you will get mostly rejection letters. But you can win only if you try. After all, if you ever want to become a professional, you have no choice but to get your work out there and show it to as many people as possible!
Step One: What do you need the scholarship for?
Chances are, you want one to finance your tuition for college or art school so I will focus on that.
First, research the schools where you plan to apply: Some (art) colleges are offering scholarships for students with especially strong portfolios, or good grades, or for students in need.
Then research yourself: What do you want to achieve by attending art school? Why does it have to be this or that school? How serious are you about becoming an artist in your chosen field? What does your ideal career look like? Who are your art idols? Only if you can answer those questions confidently you will appear serious about becoming an artist. Put yourself into the position of grant-givers: Why would they support anyone who isn’t totally sure art is the right path for them? Would an art foundation want to support someone who isn’t 100% serious about studying art, and who might end up having a different kind of career? Most likely they wouldn’t.
Are you a high school or college student? Talk to your art teachers and school counselors. They’re often involved in student aid and often can tell you where to start.
Step Two: Where do you live?
This is probably one of the most important questions, since most scholarships, grantmaking organizations, and foundations are location specific —supporting only applicants from one particular country, state or even city.
So if your school doesn’t offer scholarships, or your portfolio simply isn’t strongh enough yet to sweep them off their feet? Then you have to find other sources. Go to Google and search in your specific language and country for words such as: “Foundation directory”, “Art foundation directory”, “art grants”, “art scholarships”, “art awards”, etc …
In the USA, you’ll find websites like:
(I must admit I haven’t found many other such websites in Europe, but then again my French and Spanish is really weak, and most European state-financed art colleges are either free to attend or have low tuition fees.)
Help! I live in a country that is really poor and doesn’t support the arts in any way!
You can turn this into your advantage. Search on the U.S. Websites named above, and also search foundation directories in all other languages you know. It will take a few hours of reading, but eventually you’ll find grant-givers and foundations that support international students too!
Step Three: Do your homework!
This takes a long time but it will be worth it. You need to read and re-read the application criteria of every organization and foundation that supports art and/or students. If you’re female, or of foreign descent or some minority group in your country, or disabled, or from a low-income home, or an orphan, etc… there are foundations for all those groups too, so you don’t necessarily have to focus on art or education organizations only.
For example: I’m female and applied at several women-supporting foundations too (unsucessfully). I also applied at about 60 more institutions and finally got a scholarship from one that supported artists and disabled people – I’m disabled too.
Don’t give up! There are grants and awards for artists of all ages, all fields and all media out there
Read the criteria very carefully: Who is eligible to apply for the money? Can single persons apply at all? Sometimes only organizations or schools can apply, or applicants have to be recommended by other people. Make sure you really meet the criteria for applying before sending anything, otherwise you’ll waste your time and theirs. If you’re unsure, send a friendly e-mail or phone call, it never hurts to ask.
For every organization where you’re eligible to apply, copy their website, mailing address, and e-mail and create a list or spreadsheet (That’s how I did it). Depending on the circumstances there might be a lot of places where you can apply, and by organizing them all in some kind of list, you can be sure that you never apply twice to the same place. That would be a bit embarassing, wouldn’t it?
Personally I sent applications to about 70 foundations and grant-giving organizations, mostly by snail mail because it’s easy to make an impression with a nice printed presentation. Be sure to find out how they prefer to receive your application, and if the foundation requires you to use e-mail or submit a website form to apply, do so.
Step Four: How do I apply?
Okay, now you’ve got your list. Many organizations will require you to send them some specific material, for example:
- Samples of your art. For sending them by snail mail, get good quality digital files of your art and have photos made of them. You know, photo-sized prints to make a „mini“ portfolio – they’re easy and inexpensive and they look good. No need to send big bulky portfolios (unless they specifically ask for this – schools often do). Music may be sent on CD.
- Your graduation papers, scores, grades.
- Recommendation letters from your art teacher(s), artists you studied with in workshops, mentors, etc. These can help a lot if written by someone in the field, it doesn’t even have to be someone influential and important (but not your grand-aunt!). Remember, the more serious you’re about art, the more willing those people will be to put in a good word for you.
- Are you disabled? Send a copy of your disability ID or some other confirmation.
- Are you an orphan, or poor? Send a copy of the confirmation.
- Have you been accepted at the school of your choice already? Send a copy of your acceptance letter.
- Do you already have publications, an art CV (a list of past exhibitions, studies, internships, publications, etc.), or a diploma from past studies? Include this! It shows how serious you are about your art.
- A cover letter, explaining who you are, what art you do and why, what exactly you would use the scholarship for. Most organizations will require this anyway. They want to know whom they’re supporting.
Very important: For every single place where you apply, find out exactly who you are sending your submission to. Address your cover letter and envelope to that person. You don’t want it to look like an impersonal mass-mailing, even if it is. Also, only send them the things they actually want. Most scholarship applications land in the trash because they don’t fulfill the application criteria.
A professional impression is important; correct spelling and grammar are paramount. Mistakes are easy to find with word processors and the help of friends and teachers, so there’s no excuse even if you’re dyslexic. A scholarship judge doesn’t know if you’re dyslexic – to them, and to most other people, spelling and grammar errors say “I don’t care!”. Don’t let your application say that. Get others to proof-read it and make sure that all your material is organized, easy to read, and well presented. (No need for fancy fonts, Hello Kitty stationery or candies enclosed!)
If you’re going to send a lot of things you’ll have to invest a bit in copying costs. Altogether I sent about 70 applications by snail mail and spent about 300€ on copying/printing, packaging and shipping costs. It was a bit daunting and I made some mistakes, and there always was this doubt “was that really worth it?”. In the end, I received an 18,000€ scholarship for my studies at Angel Academy of Art from a very small, practically unknown foundation in Hamburg. All my other applications were sent back with friendly rejection letters.
Step Five: Mail your stuff!
Remember to apply to as many scholarships as possible. Don’t get discouraged. Even though there will always be other applicants who are better, or may have more experience than you do, keep trying. Even they can’t apply for every art scholarship out there!
Of course there will be rejection, and you might not get the scholarship or grant that you were hoping for, but who knows? Don’t give up! You can always try again later, no matter where you are in life – remember, there are grants and awards for artists of all ages, all fields and all media out there.
The bottom line is… you just gotta try.
P.S. Because writing applications is a tricky thing that could take up much more space than this whole article, I would like to point out this blog:
It has many articles on how to (and how NOT to) apply for scholarships.
Now go kick some ass! 😀
Kristina Gehrmann is an art student and freelance illustrator. Born in 1989 with a pencil in hand, she took up classical academic drawing and painting classes at Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, in 2008. Having finished the program in 2011, she now continues studying illustration at the Akademie Leonardo in Hamburg with the goal of becoming a fulltime freelance illustrator.
You can see her portfolio at www.mondhase.de or follow her on: