Few takers for art scholarships

As a high school senior applying to the GW School of Business, Justin Balsamo was unsure if he could incorporate his desire for dance into college life. It wasn’t until he mentioned his dance experience in an admissions interview that he was told about a scholarship available only to students interested in the arts.

For the past 15 years, GW has offered $15,000 scholarships to incoming freshmen based on their creative abilities, called Presidential Scholars in the Arts. These scholarships are available for studies in dance, music, theater and fine arts. But recently, scholarship applications and the number of students accepting the award have decreased across these disciplines, leaving departments with extra money and few students to give it to.

Balsamo, now a sophomore at GW, said he was relieved when he found out about the scholarship. “It’s not easy to find the scholarship online, but it’s fabulous. More people need to know about it,” he said.

The year Balsamo applied, about 40 students auditioned for the four dance scholarships. The following year, however, none of the five dance scholarships offered to the class of 2012 were given out and the department was forced to open the scholarships to freshmen during the first week of class.

PSA is one of the largest scholarships offered at GW. But the applicant pool typically pales in comparison to that of other GW scholarships such as the Scottish Rite Scholarship or Engineering Scholarship.

“On average, we have about 100 applicants,” said Leslie Jacobson, program director for the department of theater and dance. Because of the drop in applicants last year, the department created brochures separate from the ones created by the Office of Admissions.

“It seems as if the word hasn’t been getting out as clearly,” Jacobson said. “Typically, the admissions office is supposed to handle these things – our job is to educate.”

Karen Ahlquist, chair of the department of music, and Thomas Brown, an associate professor in the fine arts department, also described a slight decrease in applications during the 2007-2008 year. Both said they have seen a slight increase in applicants in the incoming class.

Some students interviewed by The Hatchet said they think the lack of advertising for the scholarship reflects a school that prizes other subjects over the arts. This lack of art awareness could deter prospective PSA applicants from studying at GW, despite a substantial scholarship, current scholarship recipients said.

Admission to the PSA program requires applicants to submit an extra essay concerning their interest in their creative field and attendance at the PSA weekend, which is held each February.

During PSA weekend, applicants undergo interviews with their department’s professors and speak with current PSA students about the program. Applicants for music, theater and dance undergo an audition process as well.

“I was required to perform one song in a foreign language, two classical pieces and one contemporary song,” said senior Douglass Cartwright, a PSA in music.

Jacobson said the program is designed to facilitate exploration. “Most of us who teach here at GW embrace the idea that at 17 a student may not know what they’re good at yet or what they’re interested in,” she said. “This enables you to make discoveries of what’s inside yourself and what’s out there in the world.”

But this flexibility, though helpful to many, could be another reason for a small applicant pool.

“The PSA scholarship offers a unique opportunity to be involved in the arts in a nonconservatory setting. This isn’t appealing to everybody,” said senior theater PSA Kiernan McGowan. “It’s a very specific situation, which may not be what some people are looking for.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.