Which Music School to Accept?

Just when you thought this process would never end –– one more thing. Deciding which music school to accept and attend. Maybe you didn’t get in to your first choice. Perhaps you got in everywhere or you have just a couple of schools to choose from. So…where do you go from here?

by Katherine Pukinskis –

Many of the considerations you’re facing now are similar to those you mulled over when you were deciding where to apply:

Faculty: Did you like the teachers in the studio? Did you connect with them? Do you feel like they are musicians you can work and grow with?

Students/Peers: Competition exists in schools everywhere, no matter what you’re studying. Sometimes it’s cutthroat, sometimes it’s supportive, sometimes it’s all out in the open or a silent push in the back.

YOU are a competitor, whether you want to be or not. It’s important for you to figure out what kind of competitor you are, and what kind of competition you can handle and want to participate in. Then decide whether you’re in alignment with the school you’re looking at.

Think about the current students you met at your auditions. Which ones did you really connect with? Would they be people you’d want to jam with in a practice room?

These will be your peers for the next four years, and it will be important for you to have a good support system, to have people around who know what you’re going through. It will also be important to have peers who will help you grow with your music and who share a similar sense of passion for the work.

Non-music Students and Activities: Some find this crucial in making a college choice. It was and still is really important to me to have people in my life who are not musicians. We music students are awesome and a whole lot of fun to be around, but there are times when you might just need to get away from your discipline. Having non-musician friends or non-music activities is important.

Location: Big city or small town? Snow? 80 degrees year-round? How’s the public transportation? How easy (or hard) is it to get home? There are a handful of non-music, non-university factors that contribute to your experience; even if the music school is perfect, you can’t live there every hour of the next four years. Consider your larger environment.

$ (or $$$$): This is a big one, more for your parents than for you, but as you are getting older, it’s something for you to be aware of. You can ALWAYS ask a music school or university for more than their initial financial aid offer. If a school really wants you in their program, they’ll do everything they can to get you there. And if you have been accepted, they really want you.

Oftentimes, schools will respond to better financial offers from competing institutions. Like so much of this process, it’s a numbers game: if your Number Two school gave you a free ride but your Number One school didn’t, let Number One know that there is another program out there that wants you more. Chances are, Number One will respond with an adjustment to your offer.

Be aware though, that at some point, there is just no more funding to offer. Talk to your parents about the pros and cons of loans, think about work-study, and work with the schools to get the best offer you can.

If you feel it would help, by all means figure out how to go and look at the top school contenders one more time, with your eyes wide open.

So, which music school to accept? It’s a big decision, but don’t fret. There are plenty of people out there hoping to support you in this decision and the next four years of the rest of your life. Good luck!

Katherine Pukinskis is currently working toward a PhD in Music Composition at the University of Chicago, studying with Marta Ptaszynska. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Composition from Carnegie Mellon University. She has studied at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom with Geoff Poole and with Leonardo Balada at the Summer Composition Course in Montserrat, Spain. Other private teachers include Nancy Galbraith and Noel Zahler. Pukinskis has had her compositions premiered throughout the United States and in England, most recently at the Royal College of Music in London.

Katherine is available for composition and arrangement/transcription commissions as well as composition and theory lessons, and can be reached at katherine@pukinskis.org.


  1. Sandy

    You got this quite right – one factor that we had in our college search for my son who is majoring in jazz studies was the music community near the school. It came down to Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington IN and Frost School of Music in Coral Gables, FL. One factor (not the most significant but still a consideration) was that Miami has a vibrant jazz community to gig and to listen. Bloomington just couldn’t compete with that.

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