All About Music School Admissions


This article originally appeared in the February 2024 edition of In Tune Monthly as “All About Admissions.” Reprinted here by permission.

The music college application/audition process can be a confusing one, and without preparation and research, it could leave you and your family frustrated and perplexed. Make a mistake, it might seem, and it can cost you acceptance into your dream school. While not the reality, we’ve assembled the following insights from administrators, educators, and a few students on how to get started and navigate the process more easily.

Should I Major in Music?

Before addressing the process of college applications, consider that pursuing a music degree is a significant decision requiring thoughtful reflection. At its core should lie a passion – a relentless drive to immerse oneself in artistic, technological, or business study (or a combination thereof). However, deciding to satisfy these interests should also weigh priorities like career pathways, lifestyle factors, and economic issues. It’s important to evaluate potential music industry roles spanning diverse options like education, performance, production, therapy, etc. Then, for those tracks that appeal to you, research expected compensation, job availability, and skills demands. This will ground your decisions and help create realistic expectations. Also, reflect deeply on your definition of success, be it fame, fortune, or following more modest yet fulfilling pursuits.

Lifestyle issues are important to consider. Examine the comfort, or lack of it, in pursuing non-traditional schedules, as creative careers can interweave varied projects and demands that can compete with one another. If stability tops your priorities, make contingency plans that might allow you to apply musical skill sets to corporate or alternative vocations. For performance majors, the regimen of rehearsals, practice, and ensemble participation, on top of general studies, is profoundly demanding. Long nights, repeated pieces, and high-stakes auditions could stretch perseverance. Assess strengths by managing constructive criticism common in musical training. Aim to thrive under pressure, not just survive it.


Once you are confident that pursuing a music major is the right choice, your next step is to consider the

type of music degree that best suits you. That hinges on your career goals. Envi- sion your ideal creative career, then work backward. If seeking virtuosic performing mastery, specialized degrees concentrating purely on applied instruments or vocal excellence make sense. Are you interested in multimedia production or entertainment management instead? More diversified programs blending more comprehensive liberal arts studies with music may suit better. Research degree types cater to niche industry goals like composition, education, sound engineering, etc. Mapping studies strategically to excel in fulfilling target vocations is critical.

Here are the main types of music degrees (although there are many others):

• Bachelor of Music – Mastery in instrumental, vocal, composition, education, and more. Rigorous applied skills training for music industry careers.

• Bachelor of Arts in Music – Broader studies fused with liberal arts. Develops well-roundedness for integrating music into business, production, etc.

• Music Production / Recording Arts – Equips songwriting, editing, and engineering wizardry for production, broadcast, and technology roles.

• Musical Theatre – Emphasizing singing, acting, and dancing. Broad interdisciplinary curriculum. Springboards stage performance careers.

Areas of Study

You’ll find specific areas of study within each type of degree listed above. Take a Bachelor of Music. Familiar focal tracks like instrumental or vocal performance stress technical skills and solo repertoire development necessary for pursuing playing/singing careers. Composition and songwriting routes build creative prowess in crafting original works.

Other common areas of study within the Bachelor of Music degree can include conducting studies for the direction of ensembles and orchestras. Music education readies methodologies for teaching in schools or privately. Musicology primes strong analysis capabilities towards academic careers. With many subsets across classical, jazz, and contemporary genres, it is essential to identify your niche passion. Only after at least considering what you’d like to study can you begin to choose a school and program, and then credibly apply for admission.

Create a Shortlist

Deciding on the type of music degree and area of study that most interests is a selection of schools you are serious about attending, narrowed down through intentional filtering from endless college options. Crafted during application season, it spotlights standout contenders personally suited to your key preferences academically, financially, geographically, and culturally.

Creating this priority list requires self-reflection on the best fits related to your desired major, area of study, and other factors. A tailored shortlist brings much-needed focus to a complex search process. It guides your energy towards targeted applications for schools where you meet requirements and can envision thriving on all fronts. Creating a college short- list requires self-reflection. What mix of academics, costs, location, and culture suits you best? Research with those aspects in mind, filtering options to identify a few schools vital in key priorities.

This targeted list focuses energy only on top con- tenders rather than thousands. Crafting it takes work but ultimately reduces the difficulty in finding colleges where you can flourish. When applying, targeting just 5-10 colleges keeps options focused yet flexible enough to find the right one. And don’t forget that it’s ok to dream big with “reach” school options. Emma Davis, Senior Associate Director of Admission at the Manhattan School of Music, observes, “The biggest pitfall happens before the application process; when students decide they won’t get in, (and) they don’t even apply! You cannot know your admission decision or scholarship award if you don’t try. If you are passionate about a school, don’t let doubt get in your way of putting yourself out there.”

Campus Visits

Many students and their families should visit each campus of the schools on their shortlist, but when doing so, it is key that they do more than look at the buildings and listen to a presentation. Make sure to experience a program’s environment directly. Tour facilities from studios to soundproof practice rooms and assess if a school’s infrastructure meets your educational needs. Sit in on ensemble rehearsals and classes, gauge interaction styles and approaches. Meeting one-on-one with department faculty provides invaluable perspectives on program distinctiveness and mentorship trajectories based on specialties.

Ask about academic intensities, performance opportunities as well as career preparation. Observing classes will convey teaching dynamics – from lecturing and discussion formats to student collaboration expectations. Get a sense of musical analysis and history rigor, and whether there is a dedication to a well-rounded artistic education. If you can, sit in on ensemble rehearsals and concerts to experience the department’s sound firsthand.

Jeffrey Izzo, Associate Professor at the Mike Curb Endowed Chair of Music Industry Studies – California State University Northridge (CSUN), says, “Visit the schools to see if the campus “vibe” – in the cafeteria, the student union, the library – is something you’ll be comfortable with for four years.” Similarly, Joseph Pignato, Professor and Chair of SUNY Oneonta Music Department, says, “Every institution has its own culture with regard to teaching and learning music, but also in relation to student life, housing, campus life, and extra-curricular opportunities.You want to feel at home and feel like you will connect with your classmates, your faculty, and the campus community.” During your visit, chat with current students about their typical day. Ask about access to specialty instruments like harps if required. Investigate complementary offerings, like music indus- try internships or songwriting workshops. Find ways to build rapport with faculty, conveying your artistic passions and professional goals while determining optimal mentorship fits.