Choose the perfect music school for you in 5 easy steps

Choosing what music schools to apply to can be a daunting process. It can feel overwhelming because it has the potential to prepare you for a great career or leave you reaching for an impossible dream. The fact is that most music majors do not end up working in music and that is just fine. It is important to be honest about what school would be best for you and your life goals. 


Step one - Take stock of your abilities and goals

Some music students are extremely disciplined and have been working hard their entire lives to be the best in the world. They should apply to the top conservatories like Juilliard, Eastman, Curtis, or Colburn. If you are not quite at that level but you are not shy about dedication in the practice room there are plenty of schools that will provide a great education that will give you more breadth in your education than an orchestral or solo performing career. 

Schools like the University of Texas in Austin,  CU in Boulder, and USC in Los Angeles, or Rice are great universities that require undergraduates to study a wide variety of topics regardless of their major. Top tier private universities may have amazing music programs that are both rigorous but accessible to those who are not already prepared to win an audition. 

Of course, don’t be afraid to reach for your dream school, but you may want to talk to your teacher, and ask yourself some hard questions about your skills when choosing where to apply. 

Some sample questions might be: 

Do you know all your major and minor scales and variations. See if you can pick up your instrument and whip out a Db harmonic minor scale in thirds or fourths. 

Am I willing to play my instrument for 6-8 hours per day? 

Can I handle the pressure of intense competition for very limited opportunities? 

Use your answers to these questions to help guide your path so you are neither overreaching or selling yourself short. 

Step two- visit and meet the professor

Unlike most college majors, music students form a very personal bond with their primary professor. They will guide you for 4 years or longer and will continue to be a resource to you well into your career. It is extremely important that you can get along with each other. Make sure to visit the campus and take a trial lesson. If you are able to get into a summer program that they teach with that would give you an even better taste of what it would be like to work with that teacher. Not every student will be a good fit for even the most famous teachers, so keep your mind open and try working with a few different people before you commit. 

Some professors play in a full time orchestra in addition to teaching so you may want to find out how often they are available at the school, or if you will be able to see them perform regularly. 

You may want to consider some additional things like school location,quality of the ensembles, and what minors or extracurricular activities might be available. If you are interested in Music Education, look into the quality of  the school districts and programs like in the area. 

Step three- Stay on top of your documents and applications

Applying to college is very time and resource intensive. Some applications can cost as much as $120 and there may be fees to have your transcripts or other documents sent as well. Stay well organized with application deadlines and audition dates. Missing these is often  unforgivable.

Use tools like excel and google calendar to organize your trips and submission materials. If you need to submit pre screening recordings make sure you find a good room to play in and use good equipment. 

Most schools require applications and pre screenings to be submitted Dec.1st but do not wait until the last moment. Try to have everything ready a week or so ahead of time to accomodate any last minute issues. 


Step Four- Be extremely prepared for your audition

Music school auditions are very different than other kinds of auditions in that the professor is judging your potential to succeed in their studio. You should put lots of time and energy into being as prepared as possible because you only have 10-15 minutes to show them what you can really do. Don’t leave anything on the table. 


In addition to musical proficiency, personability can go a long way. Make sure to be pleasant, polite, and be ready to make any changes the professor requests at the audition. 


Be ready to play scales and sight read in addition to the required audition material. If you can play your audition pieces for memory that is a good indicator that you are very prepared. Of course don’t take any unnecessary risks and use the music for the real thing. 

Step Five- Make the most of your education

Whether you go to a top conservatory or a large state university, college is the best place to find out what you want from life. Be sure to work hard and put in 100 percent into everything you do. Planning is a good strategy but building habits is even more important. Be sure not neglect life skills as you transition into independence during your college years. 

Build strong relationships with your classmates. Your biggest opportunities after graduation will come from your peers. Be sure to be kind to your fellow music students and be friendly. Each alumni network is different but they are all a great resource as you attempt a very difficult career. Even if you do not end up pursuing music professionally, the skills you learn and the friends you make will propel you forward in life and help you stay the course of a bright future.  

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