If you are applying to trust funds that are external to the Conservatoire, Dr Claire Mera-Nelson has devised some top tips to assist you. Mistakes in your application form could rule you out of consideration or reduce the financial options open to you, so make sure you read the information below carefully.
A Few Basic Application Rules
When you submit your application, remember that its presentation is the first level of your claim for financial support. How it is presented can impact enormously on whether your application is given serious consideration. Remember that almost every charity or grant-making trust receives 100-400+ times more applications than it has money to support. Anything you can do in making a good first impression will strengthen your case.
a) If there is an application form and it says to use block capitals, please do so. Likewise if it specifies blue or black ink, asks for a photograph, asks that the references be in sealed envelopes with the signature of your referee across the seal, or that you enclose an SAE (stamped addressed envelope - i.e. one with YOUR name and address on it, ready for their reply to you), please provide whatever is asked for. Without this information, or with the information completed in any way other than that requested, your application may be binned automatically without further consideration.
b) Make your application neat. Even if all the information is correct, if it is illegible or messy your application may be binned because it gives a bad impression.
c) Please note that many trusts have very early deadlines - for example, the deadline for applications to the Countess of Munster Trust for grants towards next academic year is February. These deadlines are generally scrupulously enforced - if the deadline is Feb 14th, they will not, under any circumstances (even with good excuses), accept a form that is on their doormat when the office opens on 15th Feb. These deadlines apply to the full application form and references - if your referee is late submitting their reference, your application is likely to be rejected without further consideration. If there is no specific deadline, note in your letter of application that you will write again/call in one month's time to ask about the progress of your application, or enclose a stamped/addressed postcard for them to a send confirming receipt of your application and perhaps also whether they will consider it (and a date by which they will do so).
d) It is also important to note that a great many of these trusts have strict criteria about which instrumental/vocal groups they offer scholarships to, the age &/or nationalities of applicants that they will consider, and so on. If you do not comply with their regulations, no matter how unfair you think these are, you simply will not be funded by them.
e) If you are asked to provide a list of repertoire for an audition, do so accurately with the complete name of the composer, and full name of the work you will perform, including opus number, movement titles and timings where possible. If you need to check the details of these do so using the Grove dictionary. If you are given a time-limit for a programme do not go over this, even by one minute - make sure you time your programme carefully.
f) Trusts may also list very explicitly which information they would like from you - make sure you adhere precisely to what they request. If they say please complete their application form then do so, but do not include photos, CVs, demo CDs etc unless requested to do so. Even if a trust asks that an initial approach is made in writing please keep the information you supply to a minimum. Try to make the maximum impact with the minimum of paper and other information. Put a jpeg photo at the top of your letter, or summarise your key achievements rather than supplying a CV - if you can really sell yourself in two sides of A4, then you suggest strongly that you are really clued up about what you will achieve if given the opportunity.
g) Provide a budget outline if possible. Consider carefully whether it is really appropriate to apply to any particular trust for the whole amount of funding you are seeking. To decide what to bid for you need to consider each trust or charity's objects - will they only fund fees, or only books, or only accommodation. Most trusts will respond very positively to people they can see are making the maximum effort to raise the money they need for themselves. If you already have some money - whether from parents, a part-time/summer job, or an application to another charity - please be honest about this. Money attracts money in my experience - saying that you need it all (even if it is true) sounds lazy and unimaginative. Remember that a number of small pots of money from a range of small trusts may ultimately add up to more than one strategic application to a big trust which is unsuccessful. And remember to be realistic about costs - bidding for too much or too little may suggest that you do not understand the realities of what you are taking on. Cost your year carefully without suggesting that you'll live in a luxury apartment, or only eat baked beans for the year.
h) Explain clearly in any covering letter or personal statement exactly what you will get from your period of further study. Saying that you want more time to prepare for the music profession isn't good enough. Which particular works do you want to learn? Which teacher/s do you want to study with and why? Why is the particular course at the particular institution you have chosen the only one for you? Remember that it is the whole package of your studies that makes any particular course of learning worthwhile, so what's in it for you? The more you can tell the trustees about your aspirations the more of a personal relationship they will feel they have with you, and the more likely they are to fund you.
i) Suggest how you will keep the trustees up-to-date with your progress. If their objects suggest that they require an annual or bi-annual report, or would like to come along to concerts, etc. then make sure you mention that you'll do everything to keep them up-to-date in the ways they'd like in your application. If they don't make specific recommendations, then make some suggestions then keep your promises! If you fail to do so you may unwittingly prevent yourself from ever achieving any funding support from the same organisation again.
j) Always ask your referees if they are happy to provide a reference for you before putting their names on the list, adhering to any guidelines provided about which types of people are the best referees for any given trust. Sometimes a potential referee will know that they are not the best person to write the reference for you, either because they may feel that they wouldn't be able to write entirely positively about you, or because there is a conflict of interests in them supporting your application to a particular trust. When you do have their agreement provide their full name, relationship to you, address, telephone number and email address where possible. Make sure they really understand what is expected of them, for example give them an outline of the trust or charity's guidelines or objects, provide them with any template they are expected to use, and/or give them an envelope to put their reference in, with a stamp on it already if they are expected to post it themselves. Make sure you give them at least 14 days in which to complete the reference whenever possible, and always make sure they know what the ultimate deadline for the receipt of your reference is. Three days before the deadline send them a reminder email or phone message just to make sure that they have completed the reference for you.
k) Remember that your application is a representation not only of yourself, but also the institution for which you are applying. If it is poorly prepared or inappropriate in any way, it may impact not only upon your chances of success, but also the future chances of students from Trinity Laban.
l) Finally, having sent off your impeccable application, sit back and wait. There is no point in repeatedly pestering a trust for information about your application, or trying to strengthen your case by providing further information at a later date - if you do so you may irritate the administrator to the extent that they simply bin your original application. Much of this information is common sense, but adhering to it could make the difference between being able to undertake your next year of postgraduate study or having to put your aspirations on hold. Take advantage of the support available from family, friends, your teacher, Personal Tutor, etc. - a friendly but critical eye might notice some glaring error that could make all the difference to the success of your application.
Dr Claire Mera-Nelson