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. Use this handy Music School Application Table or create your own spreadsheet 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.

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. Be prepared to audition early.

• Applying and being accepted Early Decision is legally binding. You must go if accepted, assuming the school meets your financial needs. Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, and Priority Deadlines are NOT binding.

• School needs change each year. This affects who they accept. 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, first try searching for answers on school websites.

Still confused? 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.

• 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. Ask for help from you private instructor and/or school music teacher. Record your pre-screen in a location with good acoustics and lighting, such as a local church. Dress professionally if sending DVDs.

Some schools require downloading your pre-screen 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. Get a feel for the schools before audition day. Stop by the audition room to get a sense of the acoustics, as well as to find the nearest bathrooms and water fountains.

Learn all you can about live versus recorded auditions. Consider pros and cons of each if given a choice. Weigh these against how serious you are about the schools you’re applying to.

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 digital auditions weighted equally? Do they qualify for scholarships? 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.


Additional Audition Articles


  1. David

    Normally, will the main University review and accept a student (academically) even before their scheduled audition? I’ve applied to the University in September but am not scheduled to audition until February. They say an audition is one of the requirements for the application (along with transcripts, test scores, etc.) Will that keep the University, from even reviewing my application until February?

    • You are not likely to hear about your acceptance until after your audition. At some point after the audition (typically in March unless you apply early action or early decision), you’ll also hear about any merit and/or financial aid offers.

      Sometimes the university will accept a student who the music department or school will not accept. However, the reverse is not true (students won’t be accepted to the music school without acceptance into the overall university).

      It requires patience – and applying to more than one school!

  2. Sarah

    If you apply early decision to a school, with the intention to study music, is the decision still binding if you get into the school but not the music program?

  3. Jo

    Some schools clearly allow Dual Degrees or Double Majors. Does the desire to do something other than music alone hurt the chance of acceptance into the school of music?

    If a student auditioned really well or impressed the faculty during trial lesson, does it help with acceptance into the school that’s highly selective, such as Northwestern?

    • A student’s chances of getting accepted are not affected by their strong interest in music plus a non-music area. But the student should apply and audition in music and then pick up the second major once they’re already in school. At some schools, students apply for a dual or double degree in their senior year of high school; at other schools, they don’t apply for the second degree until they’re already in college. A double or dual degree typically takes five years to complete.

      Most admission staff will say that unless a student has an equally strong interest in music AND a non-music area, they will be better off applying for just the area they’re really most passionate about and finding other ways to explore the other area.

  4. Lauren

    Hi! I have two questions- 1, if I do not get past the audition but I do get into the school academically, will they give me the opportunity to change my major? My first choice major is music ed. but I have other options, because the my top priority is the school not the major. 2, most audition requirements say something along the lines of “two songs, preferably one in a foreign language.” Would it be acceptable to sing something outside of the typical “art song” category for the English song? That classic style is not my favorite or my strong suit, so I was hoping I could go for something more musical theatre like.

    • 1. If you get into an overall university but not into the music department or school, you will be able to pursue a different major. But if you’re passionate about music, talk with the school about which classes to take in case you can re-audition for spring semester or want to re-audition for the following fall.

      2. As for audition requirements – follow EXACTLY what each school asks for. Do not send a generic audition because schools will look for how well you follow directions. If you’re uncertain about the audition requirements for any school, contact their admission office first and ask them. They may send you on to someone else. If you don’t hear back, give them about 3-4 days and try again. Again, make NO assumptions about what they want.

  5. Rob

    Have a question about the weight auditions typically have in music education degrees. One college had said that auditions for a straight music performance degree were 75% of the decision – is this the same for music ed normally?

    • Every school is different. And yours is a great question to ask the admissions office at every school you’re seriously interested in applying to.

      But here’s a general rule of thumb regarding auditions at many schools: the “bar” is set differently for different areas of music, with Performance set at the highest. In other words, Performance applicants will be expected to perform their audition at a higher level. Note that universities and liberal arts colleges require strong academics (GPA, SAT/ACT scores if required) in addition to the audition. In fact, at universities, students will apply to the university AND to the music program.

  6. Keeley

    How many schools would you consider a good amount to apply to if you have a few reach schools in mind but also want to have some more safety schools?

    • The number of schools varies from student to student. It is certainly a good idea to have a few schools that are considered reach as well as a few that you’re likely to be accepted to – and perhaps a few in between. Get a sense of what each school requires re: GPA and test scores as well as auditions by going to their websites. Don’t waste your time applying to schools that you might get in to but really don’t want to attend. Be sure to track all the application and audition requirements – as well as pre-screen requirements if any of the schools you’re interested in require those. It’s very easy to confuse all the details and end up sending the wrong information. Schools do not look kindly upon students who don’t follow their directions and that’s reason enough to turn students down.

  7. DivaDee

    I am an incoming junior in high school and been singing opera for 3 years now. I am intending to major in vocal performance ..and have been trying to build my music resume since freshman year.. do you think it is too early to contact music schools for sample lessons if I plan to try to attend that music school? and what approach would be the best.

    • Many schools have indicated to us that students should request a sample lesson in their junior or senior year of high school but not before then. It’s a good way for them to assess your proficiency and for you to learn more about the faculty, the school in general, and what you need to work on to be ready for pre-screens and auditions. Note that at some schools, you will pay for these lessons; at others you will not. Every school is different. Start by contacting the admissions office to see if they can help you set up a sample lesson.

  8. Nik

    I am interested in studying music composition. I understand that i will need to submit a portfolio as well as audition. But, what should my portfolio look like? Are short pieces of music ok? I have some things written for a brass ensemble I’m in and some straight piano pieces. But nothing longer that a few minutes long. Is that ok?

    • Because every school is so different, we don’t like to make generalizations or assumptions about what they do and don’t want to see. So we suggest you first read very carefully their audition requirements on their website. Then, if you still have any questions or any uncertainties, contact the music admission office and be very specific about your questions.

  9. Janissa

    I was accepted into college, however I have my upcoming music audition. If I’ve already been accepted into the school, but my audition doesn’t go that amazing will I not be able to pursue the major I want (music industry)?

    • Find out if the audition for the BA in Music is weighted differently than the BM. If you don’t pass the audition, ask for feedback as to what you can do and when you can re-audition. If you have to wait a full year, see if you can take lessons, music theory, and any other classes that will keep you from falling behind if you do get accepted into the music program later on. Is there a music minor or the option to take music classes even if you don’t major in music?

  10. Linda

    How important it is to schedule lessons with a faculty member prior to applying for a music college? Any suggestions how to approach that? Advice and things to do and avoid during this process?

    • We think scheduling a lesson with a faculty member at a school you’re planning to apply to is a GREAT idea. You’ll get to experience a teacher in whose studio you could end up for four years. You may find that it’s a great fit – or not. Good to know in advance of applying or accepting an offer.

      Very often the first lesson for prospective students is free. If you decide you need another lesson with another faculty member, you may have to pay for that one. Most students take only one lesson. You may also be able to get some feedback about your proficiency – and about what you need to do to be a competitive applicant at that school.

      Best way to set up a lesson is to start with the music school/department admission office. If they want you to talk directly with a faculty member, they’ll let you know. And always send a thank you note afterwards – to the faculty member and to the admission office.

  11. Tyler

    If you are not accepted into the school academically, but you audition for the school of music at the same school, can your acceptance into music school override the academic acceptance?

    • This is a great question and we’re responding so everyone can see it. You need to be accepted to the overall school in order to be able to attend the music school or department. This is typically the case at universities with music schools or departments. We are aware that in the event your audition is outstanding but your academics are not, faculty in the music school or department may advocate for your acceptance with perhaps the agreement that if accepted, you will take specific classes to bring your academics up to speed.

  12. Hannah

    Hi I have an audition at FSU for vocal performance coming up and I have one aria in particular that I would really like to sing but the requirements for the live auditins state that they discourage any songs that are vocally demanding and require a lot of dramatic acting and I’m not quite sure if the piece I want to sing would be frowned upon because it’s nkt very dramatic but it is a fast piece and I feel comfortable singing it but may sound difficult to sin, I would really like to sing this piece but I’m afraid it might lessen my chances of getting into the school…. I hope that wasn’t confusing…

    • Programs that are auditioning prospective students continue to tell us that they’re looking for individuals who abide by the audition requirements set forth on their websites. They also want to see and hear you perform repertoire that you’re really confident with rather than try to prove to them that you can tackle harder material but not do so well with it. If you still have questions about any school’s audition requirements, contact the admissions office. They’re there to help.

  13. Emily

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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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