When I started my undergraduate degree at Northwestern in 1994, tuition had hit a record new level: $16,000!
I couldn’t believe the highway robbery prices that this school was charging.
By the time I’d finished my graduate studies there in 2000, tuition had hit $24,000 and showed no signs of slowing down.
At the time of this writing, Northwestern tuition is $50,855 per year, with room and board totaling $15,489 (source: US News and World Report).
Of course, that only paints a part of the picture.
44% of Northwestern students receive financial aid, and the average 2016-17 aid granted was $40,208.
State schools have spiked in similar fashion over the past few decades.
For example, my University of Illinois colleagues in 1994 were paying a whopping $2760 as in-state residents in 1994 (out-of-state tuition was at $7560).
In 2017, U of I students are shelling out $15,698 per year, and out-of-state students are paying $31,320.
That’s a 568% increase for in-state residents and a 414% increase for out-of-staters!
In contrast, the Average Wage Index (as calculated by the Social Security Administration) has only increased from $23,754 in 1994 to approximately $50,000 (projected) in 2017, a 210% increase over that same time span.
Feeling queasy yet?
OK—I know that skyrocketing college costs is not exactly a new topic of discussion, but when you’re talking figures entering the six-figure territory for a certificate saying “Music Performance” on it, it pays to zoom out and think carefully about why you’re looking at a college education in the first place.
For the past century plus, a college education was the ticket to upward mobility, both vocationally and societally.
One assumption that I’d like to challenge at this point is the concept of a music degree as a vocational degree.
A vocational degree is typically associated with a clear job at the end of the training period.
For musicians in the 60s through the early 80s, this was an orchestra job or, with a terminal degree like a DMA or PhD, a university faculty position.
Great examples of vocational undergraduate degrees include:
- computer science
These degrees have clear jobs associated with them.
A liberal arts degree might have a focus like:
- Russian literature
Music degrees live in the blended world of the vocational and the abstract.
Business, mathematics, and communications degrees are similar in terms of blended focus, though perhaps with higher-paid and more in-demand jobs.
What’s the purpose of college anyway?
Without taking you too far off course, I’d like to toss one more thought grenade your way: what’s the purpose of college anyway?
- societal assimilation and norms acclamation?
- development of a network of contacts valuable to your future career?
- knowledge acquisition on a particular subject?
- vocational training?
Though all of these are a benefit of college attendance, I’d like to put forth that the truest benefit is in LEARNING HOW TO PROBLEM SOLVE AND LEARN ON YOUR OWN.
So How Do I Afford College?
Right… I haven’t exactly answered that, have I?
There’s not an easy answer to that question, sadly.
Providing an answer to this question is a major reason why I built this guide, in fact.
Here’s what I can tell you:
1. In-State is Still the Most Economical Option
From a raw numbers perspective, you’re still going to get the best bang for your buck within your state of residence. Almost every student I’ve worked with over the years (and I’ve worked with hundreds at this point) has had an in-state school or two on their colleges list.
I’d recommend having a couple in-state options on your list: a “safety” and a “reach” option. If you’re from a smaller state, there might not even be a “reach” option. For bigger states, however, I’d recommend looking at at least two.
2. Every School Has Different Financial Resources and Needs
Some schools dish out huge scholarships, and some are notoriously tight-walleted. Some school might have a glut of bass players applying in a given year, while others are desperate for able-bodied bassists.
Do your research:
- Ask your teachers and other students for recommendations
- Go though this guide and pick a dozen schools that seem interesting
- Email the professors (we have their info!).
- Don’t be afraid to ask what things look like in terms of bass numbers, financial options, etc.
3. Community Colleges Can be a Great Asset
There are a ton of great teachers working in community college programs throughout the country. Connecting with a great teacher at a community college can be a great intermediate step in your journey. Andrew Anderson of the Lyric Opera and many other professionals started their educational journey in a community college program.
4. There are “hidden gems” all over the country
There are a handful of programs that you’ve probably heard a lot about. Rice, Curtis, USC, Juilliard, and several others spring immediately to mind.
For every Rice and Juilliard, however, there are amazing programs with world-class teachers. They’re all over the place… and a lot of them could use a few more highly-motivated bass students. They may even have scholarship dollars for those motivated students!
That’s why this guide exists. Go through it and find a “hidden gem” that looks like a good fit for you. Add it to your list along with those in-state schools.
One final thought
The percentage of time you spend in college will ultimately be a small percentage of the time you’re on this planet. Is your learning done there? Are you just an accumulation of the topics in vogue at your particular institution during those particular years you were attending?
Learning is a lifelong discipline, and my hope for you is that, no matter where you attend college, you learn to love that spark of enthusiasm for learning. To me, that’s what college is really all about.
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