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What gives Juilliard the right to examine your parents’ finances?

February 27, 2015 by norman lebrecht

48 comments.


A young man who is funding himself through college has applied to the elite New York school’s post-graduate program.

He and his parents were shocked and outraged to receive a questionnaire demanding to know the value of their home and the mortgage paid on it; their total gross income for 2014 and the amount of tax paid on it; the name of their business.

This strikes them – and us – as an unpadonable intrusion. The young man has demonstrated that he is funding his college career.

If his father’s name was Sheikh Someone, or his sponsor was a criminal oligarch, we are sure he would not have been sent these forms. Why, as a US citizen, is he subject to Juilliard inquisition?

Have other readers experienced this level of examination? Is it common across US colleges?

What gives Juilliard the right….?

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Comments (48)

  1. Doug says:

    It’s standard. Anyone (as I did) applying for assistance from a bank that is backed by the US government (tax funded) or even straight tax based grant from the US government, must disclose this information. “If his father’s name was Sheikh Someone” he wouldn’t be applying for subsidy now, would he?

  2. Walter says:

    Nothing is in the least bit odd about such types of questionnaires in the United States. I agree that elsewhere in the world, where people value and respect privacy, and where laws are in place to protect privacy and confidential data, such types of intrusive and quite personal questions would be unthinkable. People should simply get used to the fact that the United States is not a country that has any respect for a person’s privacy, for their right to confidentiality, nor for their opinion of that. Many Americans complain about these things, but as they are a very obedient culture, they more often than not, just follow orders and do as their told and that explains why they are today the nation under the most surveillance and where one can not expect, nor demand, any type of confidentiality or privacy. It simply doesn’t exist and anybody who says that it does, is delirious.

    Recently, I made a business trip to the U.S.A. and had to rent a car at the airport. I was given several forms to fill out and then a final one, which I had never seen. I asked what this one was for and was told that by signing it, I authorised the car rental company to activate a GPS tracking device hidden within the rental vehicle and handover all my comings and goings to the U.S. authorities upon completion of my rental. I asked if this was mandatory. I was told yes and that if I refused to sign it, I couldn’t rent the car. That’s freedom over there! Sadly, nowadays, the best thing about traveling to the United States is leaving and feeling a sense of freedom and not living in a total surveillance/police state when returning home. It’s become a very sad place nowadays.

    1. Greg Hlatky says:

      A government that thinks it has the power to do what it wants will usually end up doing what it wants. Of course, to suggest the government ought to be limited in its reach will get you labeled as a dangerous lunatic among the enlightened classes.

  3. Carmen says:

    My 24 year old son applied to a university in the US in 2012 and received an application form that not only asked personal financial questions about our family finances, including the “value of your family’s “foreign” home in U.S. dollars”, the highest value in dollars of all savings, checking and equity accounts in the previous year, whether any member of the family suffered from any type of “mental illness” (including depression), whether any family member had a criminal record, took, or has taken drugs deemed illegal in the United States (including marijuana), whether either parent was currently in prison, whether any current or past family member, going back four generations had ever conspired to overthrow or attack the United States (!) and finally the best question of all, whether the applicant, my son, was currently undergoing sexual reassignment surgery, or whether he had plans for this in the future. Needless to say, we tore the entire application up, threw it in the rubbish and decided then and there, that the United States was not the place for our freedom loving, free thinking, open minded son. He then applied to three universities in Canada, with minimum fuss and he is very happy there. The United States should wake up and realise that they have become a laughing stock and a strong force against freedom, privacy and democratic values.

    1. Kathleen McCarthy says:

      What US university did your son apply to? Only one? It would be interesting to know.

    2. Kathleen McCarthy says:

      I know you may not want to answer this but here goes. What US university did your son apply to?

  4. Skripach says:

    This is completely standard, as financial aid for higher education is roughly keyed to the student’s family’s means: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAFSA

    There are lots of idiosyncracies and points of unfairness in the system (especially when compared to the generally nearly free higher education available in W.Europe), but it’s general goal is still fairness. It’s hard to see how that could be achieved without asking financial questions like those that scandalized this student and his parents.

    And before this becomes an exercise in America-bashing from across the sea let’s remember that we are still relatively far behind the UK in police monitoring of daily street life via CCTV, fortunately. I’m sure we’ll get there though, just as access to higher ed in the UK is becoming more and more costly, on the American model.

  5. Petros Linardos says:

    I believe this not specific to Julliard; it is part of the application process for financial aid to any US educational institution. In some ways, it is comparable to a loan application at a bank. The real problem, in my mind, is the cost of higher education in the US. Its increase in the last three decades has been disproportionate to inflation, for questionable reasons.

  6. Hilary says:

    The angle at which the Julliard school has been photographed, it looks like a monster submarine.

  7. Opus 111 says:

    In the 3rd paragraph, it says “The young man has demonstrated that he is funding his college career.” If that means he himself has declared his financial independence from his parents, and he has his own income & tax returns, and he himself has applied for financial aid, then indeed Juilliard has no right to ask about his parents’ finances. However, if he is still a ward of his parents and he has applied for financial aid, then the school has a right to examine his parents’ finances to make sure he does indeed require financial assistance.

    1. Duane says:

      Excellent answer! That’s the way it was when I attended conservatory.

    2. Robert Holmén says:

      Unless some court action finding incompetence has occurred, no one 18 years old or older in the US is a “ward” of their parents.

      Although it is not stated that he is 18+, that would be true of almost all college students. No one 18+ needs to “declare their financial independence” from their parents… they are legally independent and responsible whether they like it or not.

      1. PaulD says:

        At 18, a person in the U.S. could still be considered a “dependent” for income tax purposes. If the student’s parents are claiming him as a dependent, then Julliard will want to look at their finances since the parents are providing for the majority of the student’s upkeep.

  8. bratschegirl says:

    My previous comment seems to have vanished into the ether, so apologies if it eventually shows up and this then becomes repetitive.

    In the US, the universal assumption is that parents are responsible for funding their children’s undergraduate higher education. Anyone applying to any bachelor’s degree program in the States will be asked these questions about family finances, unless it can be demonstrated that they were “emancipated minors” or unless there are no parents in the picture.

    It’s not clear to me from this post how old the young man is or what degree he seeks; in the US “college” means bachelor’s degree, usually sought by someone approximately age 18 and just out of high school, and “post-graduate” means master’s degree or higher, usually sought by someone age 22 or above who already has a bachelor’s. For financial aid purposes, most students applying for master’s degree or higher programs will automatically be considered as financially independent, with the exception of applicants to law and medical school, where parents remain fair game until students are closer to 30 years of age.

  9. hypocritesgalore says:

    If the student is receiving or has received any kind of financial aid from the institution then they have a right to know his financial situation, including that of his immediate family. He is obviously somehow paying for the education and if he wants assistance then it is “need based” as opposed to “merit based”…

    This is common in the USA because there they have massive loans given out by banks to fund educations that never return the investment made by the bank and/or institution.

  10. Helen Kamioner says:

    Yeshiva University High School and University send out similar forms.

  11. Billy says:

    It’s not quite that simple. My son recently started his 2nd year of college.
    If he says he is “funding himself” that’s not really proof of financial independence. He would need to provide that he filed his own tax return in this case. This is normal and happens at any American university. As a matter of fact, the financial aid application, FAFSA, (most of you already know this) is a uniform application that can be used for almost any college in the USA. Besides, how does a kid who just finished high school and hasn’t worked enough to save a hundred G’s going to “fund himself” through college?

    Another thing to think about. I was disappointed to learn this the hard way.
    If you have saved a chunk of money over the years for your kid’s college fund, the college will gladly take that from you. By saving, you will have not demonstrated sufficient “need”.
    On the other hand, if you have spent most of your money, and don’t have much money (listed under your social security #), then you are more likely to receive “need based” financial aid.
    Ironic, isn’t it?

    It’s a well known joke at a certain elite graduate school in the USA, that students spend every penny they have, even buying cars, giving money to siblings or parents, so that the well funded institution will see that they are broke and award them a scholarship. If they have money, the college will want it.

    I don’t know if foreign students can receive the same financial aid packages. I’ve never been a foreign student and neither has my child.
    I can’t imagine they would be eligible for the same fed loan packages, as it would be so easy for them to just fly back to their country of origin and never pay it back.
    But (since “Sheikh someone” is mentioned), yes, it is very easy for foreign students to hide the assets that their parents have, or flat out lie about it, because there is no way for the college to ascertain the facts.

    It’s not a great system, but all American families have to suffer through this…

    1. Susan says:

      It is unfortunate that the way that financial aid is structured in the US is such a boondoggle, and parents are forced to do things that are less than completely transparent in order to avoid bankruptcy in the process of paying for college for their children. As a single parent, this was an especially harrowing process for us to negotiate. We had a modest chunk of money saved for college that my mother had set up for us in a 529 fund, in her name. If we had disclosed the money in this fund, the school would have vacuumed it up in his freshman year and he would have left school saddled with many thousands of dollars in school debt, something that we see in the news every day. But as the money was in my mother’s name, it never showed up on the FAFSA, thank God. He was given scholarships for approximately half of the cost of his education, and we took out loans for the rest, loans that we repaid immediately upon his graduation. By using this subterfuge we were able to pay for his four years of college, and he graduated debt-free, with a little left over that he can put towards graduate school, should he choose to pursue that. Every time I read an article about this I breath a sigh of relief that even though I have an extremely modest income, I was able to provide this one great graduation gift to him.

  12. [email protected] says:

    I’m sorry Norman, but the other readers are correct. It is perfectly normal for US schools to enquire – this way they can ensure that they can supply potential students with adequate financial support.

  13. Scott Fields says:

    Some elite universities admit students regardless of their ability to pay. Then they determine a level of support required by examining the students’ financial condition. It’s a type of socialism that I find hard to fault. The reason that the parents’ finances must be examined is to prevent children of the wealthy from claiming complete independence when they really have resources to call upon.

    As for all of the hooey that Carman above refers to, that strikes me as some sort of post-Patriot-Act nonsense that is required of foreigners who are applying for student visas.

  14. Shalom Rackovsky says:

    Some of you are clearly out of touch with the financial realities of education in the United States. I was in London some years ago, and witnessed a huge demonstration by students in front of the House of Commons, against a proposal by the Government to raise tuition at universities from zero to some small amount. Tuition in the United States, at elite schools like Juilliard, is in the range of $50,000-$70,000/year. Very few people are able to write checks for that amount, for themselves (as the student) or for their children. Therefore, application for financial aid, in the form of scholarships or loans, is standard procedure. These applications come with a full set of questions about the financial situation of the student and his parents.

    This is not a plot by the evil government, or a natural consequence of western civilization. It is purely a financial fact. I don’t imagine that one can apply for loans in Europe without a wide-ranging disclosure of one’s financial condition.

    Tuition in Canada, even for the best universities, is an order of magnitude less.

    1. Mathieu says:

      Maybe I didn’t get it right, but it seems to me that this student was NOT applying for financial aid. He was merely applying to enter Julliard’s postgraduate program. Norman writes that he is funding himself.

    2. Michael Endres says:

      Very accurate statement.
      I can only report a pretty positive experience from my days at Juilliard back in the late Eighties.
      They accurately checked my finances ( coming from Europe ) and as I was
      underfunded by about a quarter at the time the school then assisted me with that amount.
      Of course the procedure was lengthy and thorough , but I am very grateful for the support I received at a time when I needed help.
      And let me add this: the whole experience there ( a 2 year Masters ) was worth every single penny.

    3. JAMA11 says:

      I do wish Norman had simply asked an American well-versed in this topic to write a brief response, rather than throwing this out to the masses and inviting everyone to bemoan what a terrible state America is in, and demonstrate that they love to pillory America’s education system but know frightfully little in terms of the details.

      If you want grants or loans, you have to provide information about your current finances. I don’t think this is a controversial idea. The fact that college tuition in America is so much higher than it is in Germany, or whatever, is utterly beside the point.

      1. Paul says:

        It is very clear from the initial entry, mentioned more than once, that the “young man who is funding himself through college…” and then again, two paragraphs down, “The young man has demonstrated that he is funding his college career.” The fact that he is funding his tuition, according to the article, is good reason to wonder why then is Juilliard demanding the financial information about his parents. Read the text! You make it sound as if it is a given fact that he is requesting financial assistance or a loan. From the text, it would appear that is not the case, so the entry makes sense.

        As far as, “inviting everyone to bemoan what a terrible state America is in…”, I know that it must be hard for Americans to read what so many people are thinking nowadays of their “lost its way” country and it no longer being a place where freedom even matters. Yes, that is all unfortunate, but instead of pretending that none of that is true, it would be good for you, and the rest of the world, if you acknowledged it for what it is and made an effort to set things straight. Otherwise, you are a cowardly accomplice to the tragedy playing out and the dismantling of democracy, freedom and privacy in your country. It is, of course easier to criticise, dictate and bully others, but the risk in so doing, is that you lose site of your own dirty backyard. think about that and share it with your compatriots and leave the world alone, please!

        1. Kathleen McCarthy says:

          There, there. All better now?

        2. Greg Hlatky says:

          Right. This explains the armada of refugees fleeing the United States.

          I’d rather have the problems of the US, which can be solved, than those of Europe, which can never be.

        3. JanHus says:

          “You make it sound as if it is a given fact that he is requesting financial assistance or a loan. From the text, it would appear that is not the case, so the entry makes sense.”

          Well, may I venture to say that you don’t know much about going to elite grad school in America?

          The context of the original posting is unclear at best. But anyone who knows the situation would understand that this young man is most likely asking for financial aid. And hence the questionnaire. Then all would make perfect sense. If he isn’t, it should be made clear.

          One last thing: why don’t you guys take a look at what a sorry state the UK education is in? Why don’t you bemoan this instead?

        4. SDReader says:

          A remarkable rant. Also perhaps quite valid.

          1. SDReader says:

            … although Jama11, with “I do wish” and “frightfully” and “utterly,” is clearly British.

  15. Daniel Farber says:

    Your comment, Shalom, is very helpful to the discussion. The blog-keeper, despite providing what is consistently the best forum anywhere for music/arts discussion, enjoys dumping on most US customs, especially the highly materialist ones connected with the music business about which he certainly has a point. Sometimes his inclinations are based on a lack of knowledge of the facts or on wishful thinking about them, and that is very much the case with his writing about the Juilliard School’s financial aid process which, like all other institutions, is designed to ensure that funds go to the truly deserving and that nobody be allowed ill-gotten gains.

  16. MWnyc says:

    Scott Fields, HypocritesGalore and Opus 111 are right.

    That sort of questionnaire is absolutely standard in the United States for university students who are applying for any sort of financial aid (direct grant or low-interest loan) from the school or the government. If you’re prepared to simply write a check for the full tuition, the school won’t ask such questions.

    The goal of the questionnaire is to see to it that students who (or whose families) can afford to pay tuition don’t take scarce funding that’s meant to go to people who could not attend the school without it.

    If the young man Norman has posted about is, in fact, an independent adult, not being supported in any way by his parents, there are forms and a mechanism for demonstrating that. The process is an enormous pain in the neck, but it does exist – and its purpose is to try to keep the Bernie Madoffs of the world from taking grant and loan money meant for middle-class and poor people.

    The process would seem fair in theory, but it has plenty of problems in practice. Every year I was in university, I had to do battle with the financial aid office. They wanted financial info from both my parents, who had split up years earlier. My father not only refused to contribute any money to my education that wasn’t legally required under the divorce settlement, he also refused to fill out the financial aid form. I had a very difficult time persuading the financial aid office to accept this (though they ultimately did).

  17. Kathleen McCarthy says:

    “Self-funding” is a fuzzy term here. It can mean 1. I’m loaded and have the cash in hand to attend Juilliard or 2. I am seeking my own funding (grants, scholarships, loans, etc) and not relying on my parents for any help. My guess is that it’s the latter and he is indeed applying for financial aid from the school. If that’s the case, they have every right to delve into family finances. If NL is familiar with this family, maybe he would tell us whether or not this young man is, in fact, asking Juilliard for money.

  18. observer says:

    This process is standard among US colleges that offer what is called need-based aid, which means that they decide how much you should pay based on how much you can afford. Need-based aid is completely unrelated to merit-based aid, which are scholarships based on your accomplishments and talent. The questions on the forms are loosely based on financial aid forms required by the government if you apply for student loans (FAFSA). These colleges need to know your family finances in order to make you a fair offer.

    I was very surprised, however, to discover that music festivals that only run for a couple of weeks in the summer such as the Aspen Music Festival similarly require students and their families to expose every detail of their financial life. While I can understand why degree-awarding, 4-year colleges ask these questions, I don’t see where these temporary summer camps get the right to scrutinize your finances.

  19. Paul M. says:

    Norman, I love your blog, but I think this post is aiming at the wrong target when it goes after Juilliard. Asking for students to disclose financial information is common and standard practice for every major college and university in the United States. That includes both public and private universities. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Juilliard asking for this student’s financial information. I would agree that paying for college in America is a terrible, terrible experience, but to lay the blame of this entirely difficult problem at Juilliard’s feet seems way off the mark to me.

  20. Jules says:

    There are 2 different issues cropping on on this thread: the anti-American rants and the questions about college funding. As to the first: let it go. The funding of college educations here is barbaric at best, but not worthy of a “damn Yankees” approach. Our government does not offer the kind of grants that are available in other countries, leaving large amounts on the table for the families. Translation: schools want to make sure they are really doling out cash for those in need, and therefore have every right to make sure candidates could truly use the help.

    As for the second problem: funding for higher education is remarkably abysmal these days. We all fill out an ludicrous form, FAFSA, which then determines what we are “permitted” for support in the US. Neither of our daughters was granted generous aid packages, despite good grades and excellent auditions. Additionally, most of the schools were state schools, which have virtually no endowments to dip into to for help. The result? Huge bills, to be paid by huge loans. Example: we would have owed over $100K for University of Maryland. When you factor in international students, the equation becomes even dicier.

    And before you all crow about Canadian schools, let me assure you that they are now charging a very large uptick, with very little support, to US students. What was once a great bargain is a now bargain no more.

    Better than pillorying our government and the process, perhaps we should be examining why the cost of higher education has become to wildly out of reach for so many over the last 20 years. That would be a far more enlightening conversation.

  21. Christy says:

    Logic would dictate that if this student is “funding his college career,” he would be the one single person on all the documents. Therefore, his parents would receive no requests – the school would not have their information.

    I know several people who did, in fact, fund their college education at moderately priced (for the US) schools. They received no request for documentation. They simply paid the bills.

    The one and only reason any person receives requests for financial information is because an institution is considering this person for financial aid. That person is not “funding their college career.” That person is getting loans or applying for grants to fund their college career. If this person is young, they will need a co-signer on the application. Young college students are notorious for not paying back their loans. If they don’t, the parent will be responsible at co-signer. If the young student is applying for a grant that will not be paid back, the school must confirm that the parents have no means.

    The fact is that this system allows millions of Americans to go to college. While this site oddly is a magnet for all who hate America, there is nothing untoward about this request at all.

    1. Thomas says:

      Why would you say that, “this site oddly is a magnet for all who hate America.”? Things are not so black and white, meaning, if you criticise America, you hate it, if you agree, you love it. That simplistic American mindset of reducing everything into black and white, good and bad, friend and enemy, the “you are either with us or against us” mentality is what you are showing with such a comment. Fortunately, most of the world rationalises in more nuanced ways. And no, I don’t hate America at all, but I do pity it!

  22. Scott Fields says:

    Thanks Thomas. I could use some pity. Assuming that you pity Americans as individuals and not just the entire meta-America. Speaking of pity, I could also use cash. My student loans have long been paid off, but I have several large-ensemble projects I would like to fund. Just consider it a contribution to a disadvantaged, simple-minded victim of Americanism. PayPal or wire transfer, please.

  23. hypocritesgalore says:

    Why do so many international students of all stripes still clamor to come to the US for education? The competition is fierce and as a country the US is more open than any when it comes to accepting international students.

    1. Rita says:

      While it was once true, and for a long time, that the U.S. was a very desirable destination for foreign students to come to study, that is no longer the case. Countries such as Canada, Australia, the UK and others have roared ahead and apart from a far easier process of admission and far less violation of privacy, the U.S. doesn’t make obtaining a student visa easy either, with reports of extremely rude staff carrying out interviews in embassies and consulates and menacing and surly border agents at airports. Apart from that, many parents are fearful for their children’s safety in the U.S., i.e. on campus gun violence, extremely high rates of violent crime, armed citizens, ever growing poverty, decaying cities and outdated infrastructure.

      There are indeed wonderful universities in the U.S., but when factoring in the enormous costs for tuition and all of the above, it no longer seems so attractive. It also should be said that countries like Australia and Canada also have wonderful institutions of higher learning at far lower costs and in clean, safe societies that are basically non-violent and where every third citizen is not walking around armed and ready to shoot if threatened.

  24. Lucy Harbin says:

    If he is a US citizen then he should know that this sort of inquiry is absolutely standard in American universities of every sort, based (as is mentioned above) on the assumption that practically all higher education students will either have their education completely or in part funded by their parents.

    The fact that there is no link to any corroborating story here makes it look like Lebrecht has been bamboozled again by a juicy-looking anti-American story, never mind that it is almost certainly a tissue of lies.

  25. bratschegirl says:

    As several other commenters have pointed out, nobody fills out these intrusive forms unless they are applying for financial aid of some sort, whether institutional grants or student loans or what have you. If you have the cash to pay your entire bill, you need divulge none of this to anyone (except the IRS, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely). And again, no undergraduate student (with rare exceptions such as emancipated minors) under the age of 22 is considered financially independent of his/her parents for the purpose of qualifying for financial aid for higher education.

  26. Bruys says:

    There doesn’t seem to be much here except, gee, it’s fun to see the pro- and anti- America folks stirring up the dust.
    If the student is seeking consideration for financial assistance, then the institution is perfectly entitled to seek details of the parents’ financial situation. The assumption that parents are primarily responsible for a student’s financial support is not peculiar to America. If the student is not seeking financial assistance, then the information is immaterial, and a “not applicable – not seeking financial assistance” on the form would surely be sufficient.

  27. Stefan Hersh says:

    Some of the respondents have alluded to the issue but as a member of the community of musical academics I would suggest that the crux of whether or not this represents an intrusion lies in the question of whether or not the applicant is a dependent child or files a tax return as an independant. My girlfriend’s son for instance, is estranged from his father for reasons beyond his control. It would be unfair for him to be prejudiced against for failing to provide his father’s tax return in the college application process. My institution honors the standards of the FAFSA in this regard, but from what I understand, Juilliard goes beyond the Federal requirements in demanding financial information from family members even if the applicant is independent and files tax returns as such.

    SH

  28. Robert Holmén says:

    The question they should first ask then is “Are you a dependent on anyone else’s tax return?”

    If “no”, and if the student is truly paying his way himself, then there is no reason to be asking for someone else’s financials.

  29. Bobby Junior says:

    lets be honest, especially at Juilliard- if you are a white american, you are a minority and hardly get any help with scholarship, unlike the (royally) rich foreign chinese or korean student who can get around tax forms/ finance information. It is very sad Juilliard isn’t supporting their own country and helping American musicians… not too mention the good old days, when Jewish and Russian violinists were also a popular asset of violin teaching in Juilliard and mixed with American style and rigor. Shame on President Polisi, the school looks like a spaceship, and the violinists sound like aliens with no heart in their music.


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