We Need to End Scholarship Renewal

by Lily Lyons

It’s that time of year again: tired-eyed students moving through the halls, hushed conversations about recommendations, and more kids missing from class than usual. I’m not talking about about midterms or finals. I’m talking about the stomach-knotting days leading up to the deadline for scholarship renewal at Berklee.

Scholarship renewal—like John Mayer love, the Berklee beach, or the abundance of II-V’s heard through practice room doors—is a practice that is pretty much unique to this school. My friends back home are always surprised when I tell them about it. They have to keep up their grades reasonably to stay on scholarship but they don’t have to go through an elaborate process every year to prove that they deserve the financial assistance they need. I’ve tried to come up with answers for why Berklee does this—that it’s about merit, or that the application helps us reflect on our achievements and solidify our connections. But are such things important enough to justify the stress inflicted on students and the time and money we pour into a process that isn’t actually necessary? I think not. Here are my top three reasons why.

1.) It systemically punishes low-income students

Scholarships—whether merit or need based—are the main way for low income students to be able to attend and graduate Berklee. We need these students at Berklee for the sake of musical quality as much as for economic diversity. They are some the most creative, vital members of this community because they are here 100% due to their musical talent, bravery, and ingenuity. But while Berklee claims that financially needy students should feel welcome and supported, the way the college actually behaves says otherwise. Giving these students scholarships sends them a message that they belong here and they are believed in. But forcing them to go through scholarship renewal tells them that their space in this community is conditional, that they must be groveling and proving their worth constantly in order to stay. Adding this stress to the pressure of taking out loans and paying for housing and daily living is inhumane and cruel. It’s also hard to learn deeply, or achieve the kind of things you’d want to put in your renewal portfolio, when you’re spending most of your energy on financially staying afloat. 

2.) It’s a huge waste of time and money

Imagine all the hours of class skipped by students who were struggling to complete their applications in time. Or how long it took professors to write the thousands of recommendations required. Or the number of paid workdays administration spent facilitating and reviewing the scholarship renewal process. These lost hours cost Berklee—literally and educationally. The amount of money that the college would save from ending scholarship renewal could, ironically, provide some seriously needed financial aid to students who would otherwise have to go deeply in debt or leave the school. More importantly, we could be doing better things with this time. Students could be going to and concentrating in the classes they paid for. Professors could be writing recommendations for real world jobs and helping their students transition into the industry. The scholarship administration could be actually working on ways to provide financial aid for students.

3.) It’s a system of guilty until proven innocent 

We could have a system of scholarship renewal where you only had to go through the application process if your GPA got really low or you were skipping class without reason. It would be wildly more efficient, because while there are students at Berklee who don’t take their education seriously, they are very much a minority. Many of us have given up a lot to be here and stay here. We pay for our education with a currency of sleepless nights. We go to class despite deteriorating mental and physical health. We do our best to stay focused even when our families struggle, our hearts get broken, or our bank accounts go empty. The money we have—whether in scholarship from Berklee, sponsorship from our home communities, or straight from our part time jobs—is something that we take seriously. In the face of our dedication and struggle, Berklee could assume that we want to succeed until it is clear we don’t. So why doesn’t it? 

These are hardly the only reasons to question the need for scholarship renewal. Coming from a perspective of relative financial privilege—I have some continuing scholarship but not a significant amount—there is much more for me learn and understand from my peers as we continue to critically interrogate this system. But I hope the ideas in this article can help catalyze the conversation. If we are to stand true to our college motto of “to be not to seem to be” then we need to work to actually be a school that values and supports having an economically diverse student body.