3 Things to Consider Before Starting Music School Applications

by Katherine Pukinskis –

Majoring in music is not for everyone. Even the application process is a bigger time commitment than your friends planning to major in other areas will experience. Here are three things to consider before applying along with tips for now that will help you in December. And in February, when you are still applying to schools!

1. Only apply to the schools you want to attend.

Don’t spend time applying to schools that don’t offer what you need or want. Yes, Mom went to the University of Whatever, but if music is only an extracurricular activity there, maybe it’s not the place for you. A school that doesn’t have an orchestra is not a good place to train to become Principal Clarinet of the BSO. If you want to play jazz as your focus or on the side, make sure there is jazz at your school or somewhere close by.

Research performance opportunities for undergrads, what the greater community offers (an opera company, symphony orchestra, new music ensembles), and teachers. Who there can you study with? What have they done and what are they doing now? What are their former students doing professionally? You create your own future, so starting with the odds in your favor is worth the extra research now.

2. Get organized.

After filling out applications on the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral levels, I’ve finally come up with a system:

Most of your non-music-school-applying friends will stop after the “Fee” row, but look at how much more you’ve got to do! Having all this information in one place allows you to know where you are with the entire process. It will also help you be more efficient.

You can organize your recommendation requests and you can cross- check your audition repertoire. Schools often have similar audition repertoire so there is no sense in learning two separate cello suites if two schools have asked for one of your choosing!

3. Make time. Use it wisely.

After creating that table, you may or may not be freaking out. You may be asking, “How am I supposed to complete all of these applications, record pre-screening CDs, prepare my auditions, and go to high school AND take the SATs AND play soccer AND ever see my friends again?”

I like to think of the application process for music as your first taste of the self-discipline and time management skills you will need in music school. As a music major, you should be practicing two or four or seven hours a day, but nobody is saying to you, “It’s time to practice.” If you can keep it together now, it’s a a good sign of what you can do over the next four years.

This fall, you will probably watch less TV, and you might miss some movies with friends. My advice is to log out of Facebook when you’re working on essays. Really. Also, mentally practice your audition repertoire on the ride to school. Find little ways to keep it all fresh in your brain, and balance musical with academic tasks.

Sometimes doing the things we love involves a certain amount of tedium and frustration. If you’re like me, and cannot imagine your life without music, then keep calm and dive in. Get started!


Katherine Pukinskis is a PhD student at the University of Chicago, studying music composition. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Composition from Carnegie Mellon University.

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