Good News about Going to College for a Music Degree

There’s good news about going to college for a music degree. According to the latest findings from a national survey of more than 33,000 arts alumni, arts graduates, including those who studied music performance, are likely to find jobs after graduation and use their education and training in their occupation.

by Caitlin Peterkin

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) is an organization dedicated to analyzing the impact of arts education. In its online survey, SNAAP asked alumni from fields including performance, creative writing, and film, about employment, relevance of their education to the work they’re doing, and their satisfaction with their education in the arts.

Raymond Tymas-Jones, Associate Vice President for the Arts and Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, praised SNAAP for its efforts in a recent post on ARTSblog. “The information from the survey provides important insight as to how artists develop in this country, helps identify the factors needed to better connect arts training to artistic careers, and allows education institutions, researchers and arts leaders to look at the systemic factors that helped or hindered the career paths of alumni,” he says.

When asked about  the skills and competencies acquired during their studies, respondents listed the following transferable skills: critical thinking, creativity, listening and revising, teamwork, broad knowledge, leadership, project management, networking, research technology, entrepreneurial, and writing skills. “Each skill,” stresses Tymas-Jones, “is applicable for any vocation and often provides opportunities for arts majors to be major contributors in any environment.”

Success in employment

Arts graduates have also seen success with employment, with 67% working in the arts. Outside the arts, alumni are employed in a variety of fields, including law, management, computer science, engineering, and communication. Overall, 87% of arts alumni said they were satisfied with their primary job, and 81% had opportunities to create work that makes a difference in their communities.

Tymas-Jones says that the SNAAP findings “confirm that arts schooling is a good economic investment as well as a meaningful ladder to meaningful work.” He goes on to say that SNAAP stats indicate that alums “do not consider that they are without options and opportunities. It is inherent that artists can create for themselves and others through the power of their imagination, creativity, and innovation.”

Caitlin Peterkin is a writer/editor and arts enthusiast who has worked as program manager for Earshot Jazz (Seattle) and has written for, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Paste Magazine. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Music.


  1. Susan

    I’m so happy that these issues have finally come to the foreground: better late than not at all I guess. I once had a teacher who said ” it’s easy to talk, so we might as well talk positively than negatively. I was a hopeless romantic who wanted to die for my art ( and almost did). Performers tend to be narcissistic and want what they want when they want it. Look around!! There’s a world out there. Be creative: a gig at a super club, playing for belly dancers, a Baha’i convention. I lost my teaching job, recently, but at least I’ve got a pension. Don’t think too much about what is ” marketable” because you’ve already screwed that one up. Do as many different things as possible to pay the rent until something secure comes along.

  2. Brent H

    “We’re not sure what skills you feel you’ve missed out on in music school that could be useful to you now. ”

    That’s a simple question to answer: all the things that are taught in other courses outside the music department.

    1) Statistics
    2) Marketing
    3) Finance
    4) Accounting
    5) Computer programming
    6) Database management
    7) Medicine
    8) Engineering
    9) Math

    Do you get the point, or do you need more examples?

  3. Jennifer

    It appears that your study only includes job satisfaction for those who actually obtained careers in the arts. I have a masters in music but now have become a registered nurse. I was told by professional musicians that it takes about 40 auditions (worldwide) to obtain a successful position in an orchestra. Even then, there is a large disparity between the number of music majors to actual orchestra positions. My teacher in music school said, “Only 1 of the 7 of you in this room will obtain a successful orchestra position. She was right. We must prepare our children for reality, the reality of the current economic state and how to survive that. Dreams are important, but we still have to put food on the table.

    • Hello,

      Your point about careers in an orchestra is well taken. Because seats are so scarce in symphonies across the country, and because so many symphonies have been ailing, we’ve been trying to address this upfront with articles including: 5 Suggestions for Today’s Aspiring Symphony Players, and Music as an Employable Major. We know that an increasing number of music schools are addressing the challenges to aspiring symphony players and hope that students will seek out these schools. To our knowledge, the SNAAP study did not separate out genres of study nor specific career areas in which study participants work.

      We’d be very interested in hearing how your background in studying music has informed your nursing education and career.

  4. Enjolras

    Speaking as a music degree holder who just graduated, I question some of their information…
    I’m unsure how these supposed people that were polled found jobs in or out of the field.
    I graduated with a Vocal Performance degree in May, and have yet to find meaningful work as either a musician/conductor or in another field. Employers want skills – and NOT the skills you learn in music! An employer could care less that you sing great and play trumpet, and have training to conduct a choir, they want the scientific pig pucky that I was never good at (the skills doctors and engineers are good at)… There are many moments I regret being musically inclined. It appears I will never find meaningful work…

    • We’re not sure what skills you feel you’ve missed out on in music school that could be useful to you now. We also wonder whether you had opportunities for internship and outreach experiences as a student, and whether you were able to take any entrepreneurship and/or business/how-to-market yourself classes or seminars to prepare you for leaving school. Note that it’s not too late to do any of that. We know it’s harder once you’re out of school and needing income in addition to filling in gaps in your education, but it’s essential stuff regardless of what area of music you want to work in.

      As a music major, you’ve had to learn skill sets that are important in practically every field outside of music as well. Check out “Transferable Skills – You Can Take Them with You,” and “The 7 Skills Students Must Have for the Future” — they both talk about what you learned in music school: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, time management, and juggling several projects simultaneously. Think about how these skills relate to the types of jobs you’re interested in applying for, so you can “package” what you’ve learned in a way that makes you more marketable.

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