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Careers Clinic: How can I fund my postgrad drama course?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I left drama school more than  a decade ago and for family reasons ended up putting my acting career on hold soon after.

Circumstances have now changed, making a return to the profession possible. I have thought long and hard about the way forward and feel a postgraduate degree would give me the confidence I need. My first thought was to apply for a government postgraduate loan, but I have done some sums and that loan won’t fully cover the courses I am considering.

My day job isn’t highly paid, so I don’t have any savings. I also don’t have any rich family members who can help me out. I could keep working while I am studying, but I am not sure that would leave me much time to get the full benefit from the course.

Are there any other ways of funding you might be able to recommend?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Many postgraduates find that they can’t manage with a single source of funding, not least when you factor in travel, subsistence and other costs on top of the fees. It is not unknown for people to draw on 20 or 30 different sources large and small to make up the required total.

As well as a government loan, consider speaking to your bank to see what is possible. Be sensible about the amount of debt you take on. One lesson we theatricals learn quickly, whether we train or not, is that the income levels for most jobs in this business are not all that high, especially when starting out or coming back after a hiatus, so it is important to be clear on what repayments kick in and when.

The college that runs the course you are considering may also have suggestions as to where postgrads normally find funding or scholarships. Don’t be shy about asking. It is in their own interest to help you.

It is also worth looking at personal circumstances and connections. Explore your background and previous experience to see if small trusts and foundations might be able to assist you. Websites such as Turn2Us and Prospects have grant search engines that are worth checking out. This isn’t a magic money pot – often age or other eligibility criteria may rule you out of more grants than they qualify you for – but it is still worth the effort just in case.

Check what the terms and conditions of any grants you apply for say about combining them with other funding sources. Search student forums to see which part-time jobs people have found work best alongside study.

The other way to raise funds is often daunting but sometimes very effective: simply asking people. Personal letters and emails to potential benefactors can work, and I hear stories of anonymous generosity very frequently. They might be a successful actor with a local connection or somebody in an entirely different profession who happens to be a theatre buff. Unfortunately, when such stories become public, the donor tends to receive an avalanche of new requests. It is probably best to look elsewhere for your own ‘angel’.

Crowdfunding via various platforms has been effective for many. Treat this kind of online appeal like any other public performance: take a look at what’s out there, ask yourself what would encourage you to give if the shoe were on the other foot and which ones put you off.

Combine the best approaches in your own funding campaign. Whichever ones you choose, I wish you all the best with it.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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