Starting out at a community college may be a good choice for some music students. Benefits can include:
- Lower overall cost
- Diversity of curriculum and student body
- Flexibility in scheduling (many students work while going to school)
- Opportunity to raise your GPA and improve your study skills before taking on the pressure of a four-year school
- Opportunity to build your performance skills and music theory background to the level expected by four-year music schools
If your goal is to transfer your community college credits to a four-year music school, there are a number of things to know up front that will ultimately save you time, money, and aggravation.
1. Who is likely to benefit from starting out at a community college?
“Community college music programs are particularly suited for students who are not sure that they fit into the traditional model of four-year college music programs,” says Andy Krikun, music professor at Bergen Community College (New Jersey). “These students get a chance to work on remedial courses in music theory and musicianship, as well as help in defining their academic and career goals.”
Bart Grachan, former director of the Community College Transfer Opportunity Program (CCTOP) at NYU’s Steinhardt School, and now admission director at St. Thomas Aquinas College, adds, “Community college students are either academically solid but not ready to make a full commitment to school; did poorly academically in high school and want to ‘recover’ on the community college level before going on to a four-year school; or are attending community college purely for financial reasons.”
Steve Enos, chair, Cuyahoga Community College Jazz Studies Program, sees additional value. “Because community college programs usually have a smaller enrollment base, students can get considerably more individualized attention and save on tuition costs as well.”
2. Can I study music at any community college?
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, there are currently 1,132 community colleges located across the U.S. They differ dramatically from each other. Some have strong music programs, with state-of-the-art production and performance facilities. These schools tend to have strong, active musicians and other music professionals on faculty. Other schools offer music classes geared more to non-music majors. So it’s important to check carefully, particularly if you’re using the community college as a springboard to a four-year music school.
The good news? According to Andy Krikun, who teaches songwriting and music business, “The community colleges that have developed strong music programs offer music students a solid foundation for transfer opportunities to four-year music programs in music performance and composition, music business, music education, and music technology. At the completion of the two-year transfer program, A.A. (Associate of Arts) or A.F.A. (Associate of Fine Arts) degrees are awarded. Most often, these degrees duplicate the first two years of a four-year bachelor in music program, including core music courses as well as general education courses.”
3. What classes should I take?
Continuing with lessons and practice is very important. Dr. James Arnwine, Dean of the School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts at Pasadena City College in California, urges students to also take music theory and musicianship classes. Otherwise, upon transferring, you are “still at freshman level in the theory and musicianship courses.”
But according to Dr. Bjorn Berkhout, music theory professor at Queensborough Community College in New York, not all community colleges offer private instruction on your main (“primary”) instrument. And not all offer ensemble experience. “Some may not require ensembles to be taken each semester,” he says. “This can be a problem for students who transfers to a 4-year program where it may be a requirement [for graduation] to have 4 years of lessons and ensembles.”
Berkhout adds, “Without the lessons the student may not have the necessary level of applied proficiency. They may lack essential performance/audition experience. Without opportunities to give a recital, or play in front of others (both fellow students in convocations and faculty members in an end-of-semester jury), students will often be under prepared for the eventual audition into the 4-year degree. This is one of the challenges students in community colleges can face if the college doesn’t have private instruction on the instruments.”
Brad Andrews, director of admissions at University of Redlands School of Music, adds that to transfer, “you must play at a high level because sophomore and junior transfers are evaluated differently than freshmen.”
If there’s room in your schedule, getting some of the gen ed classes out of the way will also be helpful. Thomas Hynes, assistant professor of guitar at Azusa Pacific University School of Music, says that “lightening the academic load of the student who will eventually be involved in a time-intensive music degree program –– is not a bad idea.”
4. Will my credits transfer?
Unless your community college has an articulation agreement with the four-year schools you’re interested in transferring to, you may discover that music credits taken at a community college won’t transfer. Some community colleges like Bergen, Cuyahoga, and Pasadena have strong music tracks, while others have “relatively undemanding theory courses with a gentle grading scale that don’t prepare students for a demanding university program,” says Hynes.
Arnwine encourages students to “investigate the articulation of their community college courses to the university they are aiming to attend.” This requires time and attention but will pay off down the road. Articulation agreements ensure that specific classes taken at the community college level will transfer, with full credit given.
According to Hynes, “Universities vary significantly on their flexibility in accepting transfer units. The bachelor’s degree reflects the standards of the university, not the college you transferred from. All the more reason to counsel with the new school.”
Remember that if your credits don’t transfer or if you need to take more classes at a four-year school, you could end up squandering some or all of the money you saved by starting out at a community college.
5. Do I need an A.A. (Associate of Arts), A.F.A. (Associate of Fine Arts), or A.S. (Associate of Science) degree to be able to transfer to a four-year music school?
It depends on who you talk to. Some community colleges prefer that you do get your A.A., A.F.A., or A.S. degree before transferring. If they have articulation agreements with the four-year schools you’re interested in, spending two years at the community college level and attaining a minimum GPA may be required. As long as you follow their recommendations, your music classes and GE classes will transfer.
If you’re considering community colleges that don’t have articulation agreements with four-year schools, it’s essential to check with the schools you’re interested in transferring to before you get too immersed in your community college education. And it is unlikely that obtaining an A.A., A.F.A., or A.S. is necessary for transferring.
6. Do I have to apply and audition in order to transfer from a community college to a four-year music school?
Yes, applying and auditioning are required, even at four-year schools that have articulation agreements with community colleges.
Phillip Placenti, assistant dean for admission and student affairs at USC Thornton School of Music, reminds students that “transferring, in general, can be tricky for music majors, simply because there are so many different types of course requirements. Different schools have different course requirements, and students’ backgrounds in these various courses can vary considerably (especially in courses such as music theory and keyboard skills).”
“In most music courses,” Placenti says, “students take placement exams at the start of their first semester in order to be sure that they are enrolled in the appropriate courses.”
Colleen Glenney, assistant director of admissions at Berklee College of Music, assures students that as long as they’re working on their skills and following the plan that Berklee sets up with specific community colleges around the U.S. and abroad, there’s a good chance of acceptance. She describes the student who transfers well as one who is “serious about their studies,” maintains “a GPA that is a reflection of their work ethic,” and who exhibits “a passion for music in their audition interview.”
7. What can I do to graduate in four years?
Some four-year schools will tell you that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to graduate in four years if you transfer from a community college. Indeed, if your skills or music theory are not up to par, you won’t. Arnwine reminds students that “there is a possibility you will need to repeat a class or two.”
At schools with articulation agreements, however, especially where the community college music curriculum is designed for students who plan to transfer, it is possible to graduate in four years.
Adam Torres, assistant professor of music at Colorado State University Department of Music, Theatre, & Dance, urges students to “Obtain a copy of degree requirements for the university you want to ultimately attend. Those classes that require 6-8 semesters of commitment (ensembles, lessons), or have a long sequence of required classes (class piano, music theory, etc.), should be built in, as best as possible, into classes taken as a community college student.” Torres goes on to urge students to “make sure that you practice hard and put in the hours while studying as a community college student, so that your applied lesson placement stays on track, to keep you on pace for a timely graduation.”
Getting a BA instead of a BM in music may be another way to graduate in four years as a transfer student. Brad Andrews at University of Redlands points out that the “Bachelor of Music degree requires four years of lessons and ensembles” while the BA allows room for more General Education and elective credits.
8. What about scholarships and merit aid for transfer students?
Transfer students are eligible for federal need-based aid just like freshmen. However, the availability of merit or academic awards may be less. Ask each four-year school you’re interested in about your chances of getting the kind of financial aid you’ll need in order to attend.
Final Thoughts – Music School Requirements for Transfer Students
- Know that every four-year music school has its own set of guidelines and requirements for transfer students.
- Check with each school you’re interested in to make sure that as a music student, your credits will transfer and that the time, energy, and money spent at community college will be well-used.