Transfer to a Different Music School?

Not experiencing your current school as a good fit and considering whether to transfer to a different music school? According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, nearly a third of college students switch schools. With music though, things can be more complicated then just starting fresh in a new music school.

by Amy Mertz

If you’ve been thinking about changing schools, consider the following to see if transferring is worth pursuing.

Normal transitions

You did your research, visited campuses, and decided on the perfect college. You showed up in August or September excited for the next step in your journey only to find that it no longer seems like a great fit.

Maybe classes are harder than you expected, you’re not getting the grades or feedback you’re used to, or making friends is not as easy as you thought it would be. You may feel lonely and miss your family, friends from home or high school, teachers, and the routines you are used to.

This is all pretty typical of the first-year student experience. Combine it with having to learn how to juggle your time more than ever and fit eating and sleeping into the equation, and it’s a huge stretch.

But unless you’re profoundly unhappy with something very specific to your particular school, consider giving it a chance. It often takes a semester or even a year to really get settled into a social and academic routine. Perhaps a visit with your resident adviser, academic adviser, department chair, or a counselor or maybe a conversation with your family or students at your school who have been in the program longer can help you see your next steps more clearly.

When transferring makes sense

Transferring as a music student can be time-consuming and complicated. But for some students, it really does make sense.

For example:

  • You chose a college far from home, and a change in family circumstances requires you to move back to your area.
  • You chose your current school to study with a particular teacher and that teacher has just taken a position at another school.
  • You have new goals as a musician, and another institution will help you fulfill them better than your current school due to programs or resources currently unavailable to you.

These are just a few of the legitimate reasons to consider a transfer. Just make sure to do some true soul-searching as well as research before you proceed.


Most schools have guidelines specifically for transfer students, so be sure to do your research.

Some schools of music will not accept spring semester transfers because they would be out of sequence with the core music classes (music theory, music history, ear training, private lessons, and ensembles). Most allow students to apply during the regular decision process, but some have transfer-specific deadlines.

Be sure to visit the websites of every school you’d consider transferring to, and look carefully at the overall college or university policies as well as specific music school policies regarding transfer applications.

Financial considerations

Generally speaking, financial aid and scholarship allocations are less robust for transfer students than for regular decision students. If you currently have a scholarship or a great financial aid package, those will not necessarily be matched by any of the schools you’re now considering. In fact many schools are not able to award any scholarships to transfer students. Leaving your current institution could actually end up costing you in the long run.

Getting accepted

As a transfer student, you will have a few hurdles to surmount compared to regular decision students:

1. You already have a musical and academic record at the college level that specifically shows how well you are performing in your classes.

This can work in your favor if you have done exceedingly well. It can also work against you if you aren’t succeeding in core music classes.

2. Many institutions only accept transfer students on a space-available basis.

Though you may have a great audition and an outstanding transcript, there’s still no guarantee of acceptance.

If an institution admits and matriculates their target number of students in your particular area from the first-year population, you will probably not get into the program.

3. Because of the “space-available” policy, as a transfer student, you will tend to hear much later about your acceptances than regular decision students.

Transfer credits

Don’t expect a full-blown assessment of how long it might take to finish your degree at a new school until after you’ve been admitted and are enrolled.

Because all music classes are not exactly the same at all schools, you may have to pass some tests at a new school to show you are at a proficiency level equal to students at that school.

For example, even though you’ve taken two semesters of music theory, you may still be asked to pass a set of diagnostics to prove that you do not need to take those classes over again.

It’s also possible that even though you were at your previous school for two years, you may not play at the same level as students in your new school. This could mean doubling up on or even retaking some semesters of lessons to bring you up to speed.

For any of these reasons, transferring could delay your time of graduation.

Community College

Attending a community college for the first year or two may seem like a cost-saving measure, and it could be if done correctly.

Unless you do your research up front and/or go to a two-year school with an articulation agreement with a four-year music school, it can end up costing you more time and money.

If you are in a community college program right now, or are considering it for the future, check these guidelines for making it work.

Amy Mertz is a freelance writer who worked in admissions and community programs at the Syracuse University Setnor School of Music. She guided both undergraduate and graduate applicants through the admissions process, and also directed the Setnor Community Music Division.

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