Applying and Auditioning to Music School:
Making Sense of It All

Are you trying to figure out how to make sense of all the aspects of applying and auditioning at several music schools? We feel your pain!

Each school’s website includes a very specific list of their application and auditioning requirements, so there’s no reason for us to include all of that information here. Instead, this article is designed to to clarify and hopefully simplify various aspects of applying and auditioning to music school, an often daunting component of majoring in music.

Once you decide which schools you’re interested in, prioritize them according to your own criteria. Then create a list of application, pre-screen, and audition requirements and deadlines for each school or use Katherine Pukinskis’ handy Music School Application Table (see right column) to track all the information. Otherwise it’s easy to miss, assume or confuse any number of key components of the application/audition process.

You may find that it’s not humanly possible to prepare for all the auditions because of school, homework, exams and other commitments you would have to miss. You may not have the finances to get to all of your auditions. You may also discover that there are too many non-overlapping audition requirements. Think of this as helpful information for eliminating one or more of your lower priority schools.

Each school expects you to apply before auditioning. If you are applying to a music school within a larger university, you must apply to both the music school and the university by their stated deadlines. Note that some schools accept students for fall only; others allow both fall and spring semester start dates.

Most music schools offer regular admission as opposed to Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) since ED and EA require you to apply and audition early in your senior year. Auditions are typically scheduled in mid-to-late January or February, after the ED/EA deadlines. Should you find a school you really want to go to that offers ED or EA and you think you have a good shot at getting in, make sure you understand the terms under which you are applying should you be accepted. Also make sure you’ll be ready to audition in the fall as opposed to the winter. See the link at the end of this article to learn more about ED and EA.

As Rebecca Joseph, associate professor at Cal State Los Angeles reminds: applying and being accepted Early Decision is legally binding (assuming the school meets your financial needs). However, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, and Priority Deadlines are NOT binding.

The needs of schools change each year and that has major bearing on acceptances. In any given year, there may be more or fewer slots for your instrument or voice part than the previous year or for any year in the future. This is not meant to frighten or dissuade you from applying. It’s just factual information to help you understand that some of the factors that determine whether you get accepted or not are simply out of your control.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, contact the admission offices of the schools and ask questions. You have the right to get all the information you need to make informed decisions, just as you would do before making any other enormous purchase you’d be living with for at least four years!

? Note that no matter what a school says, unless you have applied Early Decision or Early Action, you have the right to wait until May 1st (postmark date) to let schools know whether or not you are accepting their offer.


An increasing number of music schools are requiring prospective undergraduates to send a pre-screen audition before considering them for live auditions. The pre-screen consists of a CD or DVD created according to each school’s specifications that must be received by the school’s deadline.

Find out what is expected of the pre-screen recording in terms of audio quality, repertoire, and accompaniment. Doug Long, academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy, encourages students to take their pre-screens seriously. He suggests actively involving private lesson instructors and recording the pre-screen in a location with good acoustics and lighting, such as a local church. He also recommends that students dress professionally if sending DVDs.

Some schools prefer that students download their pre-screens through designated tech companies specializing in digital auditions. Faculty then review those online. Schools that use this method of screening will walk you through the process on their own websites.


Auditioning can be a stressful experience. Doug Long at Interlochen encourages students to visit their top two or three schools prior to the audition, if possible, to get a feel for the schools before “A” day. He suggests stopping by the audition room to get a sense of the acoustics, as well as finding out where the nearest bathrooms are.

Learn all you can about live versus recorded auditions. If given a choice, consider pros and cons of each and weigh these against how serious you are about the schools to which you are applying.

Students sometimes like to audition first at schools they consider their “safety schools” to get audition experience under their belts. While the subjective nature of auditions means that you can’t assume any school is a “safety school,” if the stakes feel higher for some schools compared to others and if auditioning at a lower priority school will help you better understand the audition process, go for it. Just remember that your “safety school” could turn out to be the only school that accepts you, so give all of your auditions your best possible performance.

Some schools consider both undergraduate and graduate students for the slots they are looking to fill in, for instance, their jazz orchestra or big band. What this means is that you may find yourself competing against students with far more background and experience when you audition.

Tips for Successful Auditions:

  • Find out which schools require pre-screens, as well as live auditions versus recordings.
  • Are regional auditions available at the schools you are interested in?
  • Are regional auditions weighted equally? Are they available for your instrument? For vocal applicants?
  • Are digital auditions acceptable at the schools you are interested in?
  • Are digitall auditions weighted equally? Are they available for your instrument? For vocal applicants?
  • Do you need to provide your own accompanist?
  • What are the instrument specific, composition-specific or vocal-specific requirements?

? Remember: When going on a live audition, allow extra time for travel just in case inclement weather causes traffic or airline delays.

 Links & Resources

  • See Katherine Pukinskis’ 3 Things to Consider Before You Start Your Applications.
  • NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, offers excellent information regarding the responsibilities that students and colleges and universities have to each other including the fact that students have the right to delay their college decision until May 1st.


  1. Emily

    If you don’t get academically accepted to a school, does that ruin your chances of getting into the music school?

  2. Adrianne

    I just auditioned for Music Therapy at Sam Houston State Uni, I was given a last minute audition with a few others students that are applying for Spring. I am actually not going until Next Fall (2017) but will be out of state during the auditions, which is why I had to audition this semester. I auditioned about a week and a half ago and I know the other students need a response faster than I do so that they can start enrolling into classes for Spring. I was just curious, about how long do you think it will take to get a response?

    • Schools vary in terms of when they notify students about the status of their application. They may be waiting until all students who are applying for the same start time have had the opportunity to audition. You could certainly contact the admission office or Music Therapy department in early December and inquire as to when they send out acceptances.

  3. Jothea

    If I have never studied vocal training during high school, but I am interested in going to college for musical studies where should I start?

    • You’ll want to look at non-audition schools if you don’t have a musical background in either vocal or instrumental music. Look at liberal arts colleges with good music departments as well as music as a minor.

  4. Aashna Gupta

    Hi, thank you for the advice! I’m an international student completing high school in New Delhi, India, and I’m stressed about the live auditions as it won’t be possible for me to travel to multiple states in the US during Jan/Feb/March for auditions. Some dates clash with each other, clash with my school exams, and it will be difficult to travel financially as well. However, most of the colleges I’m interested in require one. What do you recommend I should do? I’m interested in Songwriting and Performance, and I want to be a singer-songwriter.

    • Most schools offer either regional auditions (including international), Skype auditions, or recorded auditions for students who live too far from the school to get there for auditions. Look carefully at the audition requirements at schools you’re interested in – as well as information specifically for international students – and see if you can find these options. Note that at some schools, a portfolio of previous work will also be required. Also, don’t hesitate to contact admissions departments directly with your questions.

      If schools you are interested in are participating here on, use the information form on the schools’s page and we will make sure your questions are answered.

  5. Michael

    I am a senior at El Modena High School and I wanted to know how auditions would work if I wanted to become a music therapist. Also I would like to know how I can get my credentials for Music Therapy.

    • Read the various music therapy articles on our website. Then visit the websites of any of the schools you’re interested in attending and review their music therapy information. Feel free to use the forms on participating school pages on to ask specific questions to schools once you’ve done your research.

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