Circus News

Circus School Tuition Costs – A Barrier For Many

Time and time again, as hopeful circus students begin their search for which circus schools to apply and audition for, they run into the question of “How am I going to pay for my circus education?” This is not just a concern for new students, but for students further along in their education as well.  Although the scope of this article cannot include every professional circus school, to examine funding opportunities and resources further, this article contrasts the tuition costs of several of the commonlysought after international circus schools and their funding options. Due to the international nature of students applying, and their financial needs, it feels pertinent that more funding options and more information about accessible funding be available.

In July of 2020,  CSAW (Connecting Circus Students Around the World) conducted a survey for US-based circus artists only, asking them about the financial barriers that they have faced in the pursuit of circus education. Among 92 respondents, 73.9% said that the cost of tuition discouraged them from enrolling in or continuing a professional or higher education circus program. 75% felt that their opportunities had been fewer or less accessible due to finances and 89.1% said it would be easier to attend if financial aid were available to them. 

A pie chart reflecting that many feel discouraged by circus school tuition costs

Differences in Cost Based On Citizenship

The ways in which you may be able to pay for your circus education vary immensely based on which country you have  citizenship in. Many circus schools (such as SHK – formerly DOCH) are free to attend for EU or EEA citizens. Those same schools are often-times double, triple or quadruple the cost of tuition for non-EU citizens. As this author understands it, these differences in citizenship tuition costs are almost always government mandated and are not the decision of the school itself. 

A pie chart reflecting that many people feel limited by their finances in the circus world

Other schools (such as ACAPA and CODARTS) offer significant discounts for EU Citizens, but not free attendance.  ACAPA, for example, is 2,143 euros per year for Dutch, EU/EEA, Swiss or Suriname Nationality students while it’s 10,143 euros for all others. 

Based on our research, the only school that is free for all international citizens is SASAK (The Lahti Circus School) in Lahti Finland. This is due to the nature of free higher education in Finland. Very closely behind though isEsacto’Lido (formerly Lido) which is 262 Euros to enroll in the school once and then free following that. Similarly,  CNAC is 170 Euros to enroll each year and otherwise free. 

These numbers shown below do not take into account cost of housing, travel, visas or other fees that students may incur. This topic can also be challenging to research, but students who attend the schools are a great resource for this. Ask around, check social media for tagged students, or email the school to see if you can find someone to ask about the cost of living in an area.This research can be a crucial decision point if you are having to make your enrollment decision based on financial circumstances. Some schools, such as CNAC, provide specific information about this and other aspects of student life on their website.

Generally speaking, the circus schools available in EU countries have a much cheaper tuition per year than comparable schools in the US, Australia, or the UK. Let’s compare some tuition costs per year from school to school: 

A graph comparing costs of well-known circus schools
*This graph is not comprehensive, and only compares costs of some of the well known circus schools. More research should be done if you are looking for the most affordable school for you.

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So, what do you have if you are not an EU citizen or if you don’t have the means to pay for your circus school tuition? 

Scholarship / Financial aid Directly from the School

Circus Schools are aware that the cost of tuition is often a barrier to enrollment or the re-enrollment of their students–as well as a cause for students dropping out. This is why many schools offer scholarships or financial aid directly through the school. 

Here are just a few examples of these scholarships & related resources:

  • NECCA offers a $3,000 Scholarship to students who identify as LGBTQIA+ , as well as a $3,000 Scholarship for Pro-Track students in financial need
  • SKH offers scholarships for those who wish to attend their masters programs 
  • ENC lists all of their financial aid options on their website. This school offers what they refer to as a “bursary” Here is a sample of an application form for this specific grant
  • CNAC offers “scholarship students” the opportunity to waive their enrollment fees if they can prove their scholarship status
  • NICA is raising funds to create a scholarship for Indigenous students
  • NCCA says“There is a range of support available to students, to enable you to train at the National Centre for Circus Arts with minimum financial commitment, including government loans to cover tuition fees and/or living costs, fee discounts, scholarships, and bursaries. Eligibility criteria applies. 
  • ESAC lists this information about scholarships on their website. If you are an EU student, you can request an application from the Loans and Study Allocation Service of Ministry and French-Speaking Community. All others are meant to write to the “cultural services” of their country.
Grants From Outside Organizations

If you are unable to receive the financial aid that you need from your school, you can seek help from outside institutions. Depending on where you live, you can seek help from the government. AtL’ecole Cirque de Bordeaux, the students can seek aid from the Mission Locale which is a government-supported organization that provides those ages 16-25 with support in professional development.

If your government is unlikely to provide support for this kind of thing (hi, USA) then you can seek grants from non-government organizations! Artwork Archive provides a comprehensive list for arts grants opportunities.

CSAW has also created Microgrants for US Circus Artists of Color which are awarded in $1,000 amounts monthly and can be applied for with the intention to use toward circus school. The microgrants will be awarded every month until August 2021. 

NCCA in the UK suggest that a good resource for grants might be “The Conservatorie for Dance and Drama” which offers fee discounts and cash bursaries among other scholarships. If you wish to go this route you must complete an application to Student Finance England as soon as possible. You may only receive £4,000 per year. 

Some circus students also seek out personal loans from local, national or international banks to help pay for their circus education. Talk to your personal bank to find out more!

Work Study/Creative Solutions 

While funding can seem to be hard and set in stone, there are often ways to find a compromise with your institution or come up with creative funding solutions. 

Circus students training in a large room at Circadium
Students at Circadium. Photo credit Kyle Driggs

Circadium, for example, offers a work study program for their students. Available to those who can prove a need for financial assistance, Circadium’s work study program allows students to complete tasks for the school and receive a set amount off of their tuition at the trade of $10/hr. Since the pandemic, Circadium also offers their students the chance to apply for Emergency Tuition Relief, with other schools also looking into relief like this. 

People in the circus sector see and typically understand the financial struggle that comes with training at a high enough level to become a professional, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! Many circus artists have gone before you and struggled to piece together funding, but by increasing open communication about resources and voicing the need for more funding across nations we can only improve opportunities and access to funding for those who need it.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is largely based on interviews conducted with students of programs. All tuition cost information is susceptible to change and should be verified directly with the institution as it is subject to change on anindividual basis and year to year. This article also only references ten circus schools, and it should be noted that other schoolswill have other tuition costs and financial aid criteria. 

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Feature photo CNAC.
Sierra Rhoades Nicholls
Community Coorinator, Circus Student -United States
Sierra Rhoades Nicholls is the founder of CSAW (Connecting Circus Students Around the World) and is the former Community Coordinator for CircusTalk. Originally from Missoula, Montana, Sierra was a gymnast for 10 years before pursuing a professional circus career. Sierra currently attends Circadium School for Contemporary Circus where she specializes in handstands and partner acrobatics.

Sierra Rhoades Nicholls

Sierra Rhoades Nicholls is the founder of CSAW (Connecting Circus Students Around the World) and is the former Community Coordinator for CircusTalk. Originally from Missoula, Montana, Sierra was a gymnast for 10 years before pursuing a professional circus career. Sierra currently attends Circadium School for Contemporary Circus where she specializes in handstands and partner acrobatics.