How Families Plan for Tuition Costs at SCAD

The benefits of the investment in tuition costs are real and proven—e.g., longer life expectancy, greater happiness over a lifetime, significantly higher average income—but funding tuition costs remains a sticking point with many families. For parents, how do you organize your finances to achieve the desired educational outcomes you want for your family? For students, how can you best position yourself to earn scholarship awards at an elite arts university like SCAD, RISD, or Parsons?

Scott Linzey, longtime higher ed consultant and SCAD vice president for student financial services, encourages families to plan ahead and get comfortable with some level of ambiguity. “The scholarship process at every university differs,” Linzey said. “Some institutions will require applying for admission by a certain date others may require completion of a separate scholarship application or the submission of an essay, artistic portfolio, and/or audition. If you’re a fan of spreadsheets, I highly recommend making one!”

Linzey says that organization is key. Once you’ve made a list of timelines and scholarship requirements of top-choice schools, families can breathe a lot easier. Of course, parents and grandparents should start saving for college as soon as possible. “Even a little bit every year is enough to get you in the mode of saving,” Linzey said. He recommends ESAs/Educational IRAs and 529s. “My personal preference is an ESA, because it allows the investor to control how the funds are invested with greater flexibility and discretion than the 529,” Linzey said. Both, he says, are great options.

So, saving should begin early. Beyond that fundamental first step, Linzey and other financial aid experts recommend a similar timeline:

Four Years Out

Four years before college (i.e., the beginning of the student’s freshman year of high school), parents and students should discuss academic and extracurricular goals. What courses offered by the student’s high school can best position the student for future scholarships? How do those classes intersect with the student’s talents and interests? What extracurriculars and service opportunities does the school offer high school students? Are athletic scholarships in the picture? If the student is considering an arts university, what classes might help build a portfolio with visual art, digital art, literary work, etc.? Plans change, but better to change a plan than have none at all.

“Granted, this is a lot for a 14-year old to think about,” Linzey said. “You don’t want to overwhelm the student, but you do want to begin those conversations.” Neither students nor parents would benefit from burying heads in the sand until the senior year of high school.

“At SCAD, our Academic Honors Scholarship places heavy emphasis on cumulative weighted GPA and standardized test scores. Because a weighted GPA is important, challenging oneself with AP, Honors, and similar classes is important,” Linzey said.

Three Years Out

The beginning of the sophomore year of high school, when most students are 15 years old and able to find part-time work, is a good time to encourage the student to start saving their own money. Even for students who feel confident they can earn a full scholarship, they will require money for books, food, transportation. “My strong preference is for a student to have some skin in the game,” Linzey said. “Students are more appreciative of their opportunities when they do some of the lifting. Maybe this means saving up in the summer for books or working part-time during the school year to earn spending money for clothes, food, and fun. Students spend more wisely when they’ve done some of the earning!”

Linzey says that even when students only contribute $1,000 to their tuition, they feel more ownership and more invested in their education. “Families should start talking through options in high school so that a student knows what’s coming,” he said. “Most students who hold down even part-time employment in college feel a great sense of pride in that—during school and for years after.”

Two Years Out

Approximately 24 months before the student’s first day of college (i.e., the beginning of the student’s junior year of high school), Linzey says, families should begin their research on potential universities and available scholarships. Parents and students should also look outside universities for funding potential. Linzey recommends families get familiar with any number of web-based aggregator sites that serve as scholarship clearinghouses for private (third-party) awards, including,, and “Find a few you like or search through them all! Again, the name of the game is organization. Do your research and keep orderly notes and lists,” Linzey says.

For the students who want to apply to SCAD or other arts universities (where creative portfolios  may be submittable as part of the application and scholarship process), two years before college is a good time to start creating and curating your best work. However, he says, portfolios aren’t required. “We love students who have taken studio and AP art classes! Yes! But SCAD is a preeminent university for invention and entrepreneurialism, too. Some of our most successful alumni never took an art class in high school. Show me a passionate problem-solver and SCAD will account for the technique,” Linzey said.

One Year Out

Linzey recommends apply for their top-choice universities at the beginning of their senior year of high school. “At SCAD, we make it straightforward and simple! All students accepted for admission are automatically considered for Academic Honors scholarships, and recipients are notified immediately of admission acceptance. Applicants can also submit an artistic portfolio, audition, resume, writing sample, and/or riding exhibition in order to be considered for Achievement Honors Scholarships,” Linzey said.

Linzey encourages families to learn and allay their anxieties by taking the process seriously. “The unknown is what makes us worry. Just as students should be doing their homework, parents should do theirs, too. And parents and students should communicate openly and often about what’s coming down the road. Open communication and good research make for happy families and a smooth scholarship application process!”

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