Prospective music majors frequently ask us: “Which is the best music school for me?” Regardless of your area of interest, instrument, or genre, the answer is typically the same: it’s subjective. You can get ideas and advice from teachers, parents, college counselors, private consultants, and websites that match you to a school based on your answers to a few questions. But only you can determine what the best fit really is for you, and which school or schools can provide that.
Create your criteria list
Answer these questions and then prioritize them so that what’s most important is at the top. This becomes your list of criteria. Add to it as new ideas come to mind.
• What do you want to study? Are there areas in addition to music?
• What do you think you want to do career-wise? What kind of training and real world experience will you need?
• Who do you want to study with?
• In what kind of environment do you learn best? Large school and student body? Small? City? Small town? Competitive vs. non-competitive?
• What’s your financial picture like? Do you need financial aid and merit scholarships?
Then, read about schools that you’ve heard about or that offer what you want to study. Look at their videos. How do the schools stack up against your list of criteria?
Before You Visit
Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a few, consider visiting the schools that appear to be the closest “right fit.” Include a school that’s a stretch for you as well as one that you’re likely to be accepted to.
• Set up a lesson with one or more faculty who may become your private studio teacher over the course of four years.
• Ask to sit in on a few classes to get a sense of what it’s like to be a student at the school.
• Find out if you can spend a night in the dorm with a student pursuing a similar major.
Once you’re there
Take your list with you when you visit schools. Use it to make sure you get information you need. And to rate the schools according to how well they meet your needs. This will become really helpful especially if you are accepted to more than one school.
• In addition to getting a lesson, sitting in on a few classes, and spending a night in a dorm, hang out in different areas of campus to get a feel for student life.
• Take the tour of the school if it’s offered. It’s a great way to see the campus highlights, but be sure to do the following as well:
1. Visit the practice rooms.
2. Eat in the cafeteria.
3. Talk with students. Find out what they like and don’t like about the school.
4. Get a sense of how well you’ll fit in with other students – as friends as well as people to collaborate with.
5. Find out about opportunities to perform and hear music.
6. Get a sense of the surrounding town or city – and how you would get back and forth from campus.
Music schools encourage you to ask them questions. They even want you to consider the audition as a time for them AND you to assess whether their school is the right fit for you. They’ll be checking you out; you should do the same.
Arrive at your audition prepared with a few questions that will help you learn more about the school and also show your sincere interest in the music program. These should be things you can’t easily find answers to on school websites such as:
• What kind of support is available to students to help prepare them for careers in music?
• What kind of support is offered to prevent repetitive motion/overuse injuries?
• How does the alumni network support new music grads?
• What are the benefits of getting a BM vs. a BA? (Note that some music programs offer BFA or BS degrees.)
• Can you study abroad and still graduate in 4 years?
• What would it be like to double major or minor in another area?
• Who are some current students and recent alumni you can talk with?
Create a spreadsheet of application requirements and deadlines and audition dates and requirements. This will help organize all the details you’ll be accountable for. Here’s a sample: Tracking College Applications
Note your most memorable reactions – both positive and negative – when you communicate with and visit schools. It’s so easy to confuse schools when you don’t take time to note your observations and perceptions while they’re still fresh.
• Review your perceptions, feelings, and observations while they’re still fresh. Make notes about all of it to refer to later, when you have to decide which school to accept.
• Send thank you notes to anyone who helps you, gives you a private lesson, or auditions you.