The Hunt For College Scholarships

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by Joan H. Bress, LICSW, CEP

There’s money out there for students headed to college dance programs. Learn how to find it!

With college costs increasing at nearly double the rate of inflation, those of you headed to college have good reason to be concerned. Although the 1997 Taxpayers Relief Act softened the tuition blow for middle-income families and has encouraged saving early for future college expenses, paying for college tuition is still a major issue for most families.

The Total Package
Financial aid is money offered to students to help pay college expenses. It’s offered by both the federal and state governments, individual colleges and private organizations. It may come in the form of grants, which do not have to be repaid; work-study, which is a salary paid in return for work you do while you’re enrolled; or loans, which you must repay after you finish college or stop taking classes. Some aid is based on how much a student needs in order to pay the cost of education and some is based on non-financial factors such as academic, athletic or artistic talent; community service and leadership; contribution to the community in some unique way or membership in a particular group or organization.

Financial aid is given in a “package” that usually consists of a combination of grants, loans and campus employment, often including both need-based and non-need-based aid. At some colleges, as many as 70 percent of students receive aid.

How Do I Apply?
To apply for financial aid, you must complete one or more of the following forms:

•   Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
•   Financial Aid CSS PROFILE
•   College Financial Aid Application
•   Private Scholarship Application

Your answers to the FAFSA determine your eligibility for federal student aid. This form is also used to apply for some aid from the state and college. The majority of financial aid comes from the federal government, so all students applying for aid should fill out the FAFSA. It includes questions about parent/student income, assets and expenses for the calendar year preceding the student’s matriculation. The FAFSA, which may be filed electronically or in paper form, calculates the amount of money the government believes your family should be able to pay for educational expenses. This expected family contribution (EFC) is reported to you and to all of the colleges you’ll be applying to.

Since the expected family contribution is calculated by using a standard form prescribed by Congress, the amount you are expected to pay does not vary from one college to another. The cost of attending different colleges, however, does vary. Your need is calculated as the difference between the cost of attending the college and the amount your family is expected to contribute. The more expensive the college, the greater your need. The COST of attendance minus EXPECTED FAMILY CONTRIBUTION equals NEED. Suppose your family has an EFC of $15,000 per year and you are considering two colleges. College A has a cost (tuition plus room, board and expenses) of $33,000 per year. College B has a cost of $15,000. Your NEED for College A would be $18,000 while your NEED for College B would be $0 (see the chart).

College A $33, 000 – $15, 000 = $18,000
Your financial “ need” would be $18,000 per year.
College B $15,000 – $15,000 = $0 you would have no financial need.

Although colleges try to meet the demonstrated need of all students, there’s often not enough money from the government or from the school’s resources, to do this. While it is true that some of the most expensive schools have the greatest amount of money available for financial aid, it’s a good idea to select colleges with a range of costs, including some that are totally within the financial reach of your family.


File the FAFSA even if you believe that you’re not eligible for need-based aid. Some non-need-based programs require you to show that you do not qualify for federal aid.

Apply early. Colleges generally do not have enough of either their own or Uncle Sam’s money to meet the needs of all students who qualify.

Keep track of deadlines. The FAFSA should be filed as soon as possible, after January 1. Each college sets its own deadline for the PROFILE, sometimes as early as December 15.

Be accurate. The time needed to correct errors may cause you to miss out on some sources of aid. Know that you may be asked to verify the information you supply on financial aid forms. Keep copies of all relevant material.

Remember that the best aid packages go to the most desirable students. Keep your grades up and choose your colleges carefully.

The PROFILE is a form used by about 900 schools, as well as some private scholarship programs, to award non-federal aid. Although similar to the FAFSA, the PROFILE asks for more detailed information about the family’s resources and expenses. Depending on the requirements of the schools you apply to, the PROFILE may include two supplemental applications and up to 150 additional questions.

Unlike the FAFSA, it’s not free. It is processed centrally for a $5 registration fee, and reports are sent to colleges of your choice at a cost of $15 per school.

Other colleges may have their own financial aid application in addition to the FAFSA. As this type of form is part of the admission application, there is no additional fee required to file it. Private sources of financial aid also have their own application process, which may include essays, interviews, portfolios and/or auditions.

Non-Need-Based Aid
In addition to need-based aid, schools offer non-need-based aid—often called merit aid—to students whom they want to attract to their school. While need-based aid is likely to be made up largely of loans which must be repaid, merit aid is more likely grant money, which does not need to be repaid. When selecting your colleges, consider some schools that will be eager to have you as a student. The most desirable students can expect the best financial aid package—one heaviest in non-repayable grants.

At some schools, any student who presents a pre-set high school average and SAT score qualifies for merit aid. Sometimes, this award includes the opportunity to take special honors-level classes or to work more closely with professors. Schools may also allocate merit-based aid for students with particular talents, in which case, an audition or portfolio presentation would be necessary (see DS February 2000).

Non-Institutional Aid
Wise students look beyond their college and the government for financial aid. Both need-based aid and merit aid are offered by philanthropic foundations, religious and community organizations, businesses, civic groups and organizations connected to your field of interest. Some of these scholarships are highly competitive and require in-depth applications. You should leave yourself plenty of time to prepare. Online scholarship search engines help students locate appropriate awards. If you’re an academically and artistically talented student, you should look into scholarships offered by the National Alliance For Excellence and the National Foundation For Advancement In The Arts.

Scholarships Of Special Interest To Dancers

•   National Alliance For Excellence, Inc
•   National Foundation For Advancement In The Arts
•   Harlequin Dance Scholarship Program

Online Financial Aid Resources

•  College Board: Information about selecting and applying to college. Includes links to the PROFILE and a free scholarship search.
•   FinAid: The most complete source of online financial aid information. Includes a free scholarship search, information on loans and grants and a calculator to help you project college costs, likely scholarship awards and loan repayment plans.
•   SallieMae: Offers college financing solutions, cost calculators and scholarship and loan information.
•   FastAid: Free scholarship search engine.
•   FAFSA: Complete the FAFSA online and immediately receive your expected family contribution figure.
•   US Department of Education: Information on tax credits, federal and state aid and private funding sources.

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A Guide to Income Taxes for Professional Dancers

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by Sara Willcutt

Tax season can be frustrating, especially for dancers who work several different jobs throughout the year. As a professional dancer, it is important to keep accurate records of your income and expenses in order to complete your tax return at the end of the year. Record keeping is essential whether you are dealing with a company, pick-up jobs or both.

Employment Forms and Deductions
After you are hired, your employer should give you a W-4 form to complete, which provides a guide in determining what percentage of taxes to withhold from your paychecks.

When you fill out the W-4, make sure you are withholding enough money. Federal taxes should account for at least ten percent of your income. Specific rules differ for each state, but you can find complete federal information by visiting

If you are an independent contractor, you are responsible for paying your own social security tax, which is about 15.3% of your net income minus the allowed deductions, state and federal taxes. If the total of your net self-employed earnings from all businesses is $400 or more, you must pay into the Social Security and Medicare systems by filing Form 1040, Schedule SE.

It is especially important for dancers who work in different states throughout the year to keep records of work locations and be aware of the tax laws for those states. You are responsible for paying taxes to the states in which you have worked regardless of your residency. For example, if you worked in a show in Los Angeles but live in New York, you are still required to pay income tax for the work you did in L.A.

Tax rules are subject to revisions from time to time, but it is your job to stay informed of any relevant changes. Check with the IRS for any updates, and ask your employer if you have questions.

End-of-the-Year Forms
The employer provides a W-2 form at the end of the year, which lists the income and deduction amounts you need to complete your tax return. Your employer has until January 31st of the year after you worked to give you a W-2.

For any jobs in which you were employed as an independent contractor, the employer provides a 1099 form rather than a W-2. However, the employer only provides a 1099 form if you were paid $600 or more in that year. Keep in mind that you are responsible for reporting and paying taxes on income received from employers in yearly amounts less than $600, even though you do not receive a 1099 form.

What to Record
Income taxes can be a little confusing, but just be sure to keep records andreceipts. Keep track of your mileage and other costs that you incur as a dancer. Get an accordion folder or file cabinet where you can keep your records organized. You can keep a small notebook and pen in the car to record your mileage if you are deducting work-related travel expenses.

Keep in mind that there are many rules about deductions. For example, if you teach at a dance studio, you cannot deduct the miles that it takes you to get from your home to work and back. But if you take your team to a competition, you can deduct those miles. For complete rules about deductions, refer to the IRS Web site.

How to File
You can complete your taxes by using commercial software such as Turbo Tax or Tax Cut, or by using the free online program at

Professional Help
Some people may think that using an accountant is expensive, but if you keep accurate records and do most of the prep work, the cost can be minimized. In addition, you can research by asking others which accountants they have found to be efficient but reasonably priced. You can often find rates for accountants on their Web sites or call them directly.

An accountant can provide help from a professional who is familiar with all of the tax rules. If you can find an accountant who has had experience working with performers, they may know about additional deductions of which you were not aware.

If you decide to work with an accountant, choose carefully and understand that even if the accountant completes your taxes, you are still responsible for the content and accuracy of the return.

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For many dance programs funding is an issue. Most need to do some fundraising. By keeping things planned and organized, you can get your goals achieved with out a lot of time or headache.

1) Set goals for individuals and the group.
2) Set up your fundraising events as team bonding time.
3) Keep records on dancer.
4) Ask parents for help, tall them why you are fundraising.
5) Be specific. Focus on what you fundraising for. Costumes? A trip to nationals?
6) Have dancers ask family and friends to help.

When choosing fundraisers keep in mind the age of your students and whether their parents will help out.

Fundraising Ideas:
• Concession sales: most professional sports teams play at arena where concessions are sold at least in part by people fundraising for groups.
• Food Sales: cookie dough, pizzas, etc.
• Sell Holiday wreaths.
• Annual Dance Show: invite other dance teams and dance studios to perform. Pre sell as many tickets as you can. This is also good exposure for your team.
• Raffle: Get local business to donate prizes. Have raffles and school sporting events.
• Car Wash: Pre-sell tickets.
• School Dance: Host an annual dance.
• Donations: Ask the Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and other local businesses.
• Sponsorship/donation letter: Write a letter about the team and what you are raising money for. People can give gifts of any size. Letters can go to families, friends and local business.

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