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Picking a Music School

Students aiming to attend music schools may find that choosing which schools to apply to and audition for is one of the most difficult parts of the application process. Compared to regular four-year colleges and universities, there are additional factors that must be considered when determining which music school is the best fit for a student. Different music schools offer programming, resources, and opportunities that cater to students’ differing personal and career goals, so attending a certain school will make achieving specific goals easier than others. This means that choosing the right-fit music school is an essential career move that can set students up for future success.

Here are our top tips for deciding which music schools to apply to:

Decide what you are looking for in a musical education

While it’s never easy for young musicians to answer questions like “where do you see yourself in ten years?” it’s helpful to think about how you see yourself studying music in college and what you do and don’t want to do with a career in music. Do you imagine yourself as a soloist? An orchestral musician? Or perhaps you’d rather be a teacher or researcher? Maybe you are not sure and would like some flexibility.

For example, if you’re an excellent performer but would like to receive teaching credentials, it may be wise to attend a program centered on education rather than on orchestral performance. If you would rather work with multimedia in a collaborative environment than become a soloist, you may want to pick a school that offers cross-disciplinary training rather than solely studying performance. If you want to pursue a liberal arts or engineering degree and study music at a professional level, consider applying to dual-degree programs (more on that later). The type of education you want will be the primary deciding factor in choosing a music school, even more important than picking a teacher to study under. You will want to audition for and attend a school that you know will suit your personal and professional needs!

Research the schools

After thinking about what kind of education you’re looking to obtain, it’s time to research the schools. There are many factors that can shape your experience in school, including but not limited to:

  • Location: where is the school located and how will that affect your learning experience? Being situated in Los Angeles would certainly present a different musical environment and different career opportunities than being situated in New York, for example.
  • Alumni Network: does the school maintain good relations with its alumni? Where are they now? It is important for students to be able to engage with alumni for career opportunities and advice.
  • Career Development: what does the school do to prepare their students for careers in music? Many schools offer professional development opportunities and help students find work during their time at school and after graduation.
  • School Philosophy and Culture: does the school have a more experimental, creative environment or a more conservative, by-the-books environment? It can be hard to gauge this by reading the information schools post on their websites. You’ll want to learn about schools’ philosophies based on their course offerings and programming, and if possible, by speaking to current or former students.
  • Faculty: what are their teaching styles and philosophies? This is one of the most important aspects to pay attention to when researching a school, because your teacher is one of the few faculty members who will work with you one-on-one for the entire duration of your studies at the school.
  • School Policies: how easy is it to invite outside collaborators into the school? How easy is it to take a leave-of-absence to pursue professional opportunities? These policies will affect how you will navigate your professional career while you are completing your education.
  • Academic Rigor: what are the school’s academic course requirements? Some schools have a more academically rigorous liberal arts curriculum than others, which often reflects the school’s teaching and artistic philosophy as a whole.
  • Last but not least, reputation: does the school’s name speak for itself? No one will have any doubts about your musical abilities if you tell them that you attended Juilliard or Yale, and that by itself will open many doors for you.

As you complete your research, you will want to think deeply about these factors and how much each of them matters to you: is it important that you attend school in New York or Los Angeles so that you’re immersed in an urban music scene? Or is it more important that you study with a specific teacher? These questions are meant to help you decide what’s most important for you in your education.

Consider dual-degree programs in music

Some high school students are top-notch musicians but also have great academic records and interests. These students often have trouble deciding whether to attend a regular college or a music school, and are unsure about their future career paths. If this sounds like you, we highly recommend that you explore the various dual-degree programs offered by many schools in the U.S.. These programs allow students to attain both a Bachelor of Arts/Science and a Bachelor of Music (or Master of Music, depending on the school) in five years. While these programs are challenging and will require an additional time commitment, you will be able to pursue your academic interests while taking lessons with a studio teacher and having access to the music school’s abundant resources. This ensures that you will not have to give up your music or your academics in college. Graduating with two degrees will also give you more flexibility in terms of career plans after graduation, especially if you decide to pursue a master’s or doctoral program in music.

Pick the right teacher

One of the most important aspects of pursuing a music education is selecting the right studio teacher. Here at Command Education, we suggest finalizing teacher selections after determining which schools and types of programs will be the best fit for you. There are a few reasons for first choosing a type of school or program: while studio teachers play a crucial part in shaping their students’ experience at school, they are only a part of the students’ music education, and students generally have a much better experience when the school’s programming is a good fit overall. In addition, many top teachers teach at multiple schools, and studying with a teacher in one school will not be the same experience as studying with the same teacher at another.

You should work with your current teacher to build a roster of teachers you would like to study with while looking into the various music schools during your junior year, then reach out to teachers near the end of summer to schedule trial lessons with them throughout the fall of your senior year. We recommend students stick to this timeline because most music teachers have outside engagements during the summer and it may be hard for them to find time to offer students trial lessons.

Trial lessons are essentially the music school version of a consultation, and most teachers offer them for free. These lessons are a great opportunity to get a feel for the teacher’s teaching style and their teaching philosophy, two important factors that will determine how comfortable you will be studying with them for years to come. While the trial lesson is not an audition, teachers will evaluate the student, even if subconsciously. Be sure to go to trial lessons prepared! Prepare two or three contrasting pieces to play for the teacher, be flexible and take their instructions when given. Prepare several questions about their teaching and the school to ask at the end of the lesson.

We hope these tips will help you as you research music schools and find the ones that will best serve your personal and career goals! Be sure to check out our advice on how to prepare for an audition here and our post on the top dual-degree music programs in the U.S. here!