USC Thornton School Of Music: Why It’s Great [2024]

Dr. David Lee Fishindividual schools, SCHOOLSLeave a Comment

The University of Southern California (USC) Thornton School of Music, an institution deeply rooted in history and tradition, has evolved into a modern sanctuary for today’s most versatile musicians. This prestigious institution, renowned for its unique blend of conservatory-style education and forward-thinking approach, is a beacon for aspiring musicians seeking technical/artistic ability plus entrepreneurial skills.

USC Thornton Screen Scoring graduate students participate in a hands-on recording session at Warner Bros.


Founded in 1884, the USC Thornton School of Music is the oldest continuously operating arts institution in Los Angeles. The school’s blend of traditional conservatory education and innovative approaches to music education makes it a leader in its field.

USC named the Thornton school for philanthropist Flora L. Thornton following a remarkable $25 million donation – the largest donation to a school of music in the United States. Thornton’s gift underscored her belief in music’s transformative power and commitment to fostering musical talent and innovation. Thornton’s foundation later gave an additional $5 million to support the school’s facilities.

Over the years, USC Thornton has continued to evolve, adapting to the changing musical landscape and maintaining its place at the forefront of music education. In 2023, Jason King was announced as the new dean, ushering in a new era for the school.

Credit: USC Thornton School of Music

Exceptional Programs

USC Thornton offers a diverse range of programs designed to cater to its students’ varied interests and aspirations. The school divides the programs into three main divisions: Classical Performance and Composition, Contemporary Music, and Research and Scholarly Studies.

USC Thornton offers Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees in more than 20 disciplines, providing students with a comprehensive music education. The school’s programs cover everything from early music, an area in which Thornton is one of the few highly-regarded music schools in the United States to offer a degree, to innovative programs in the music industry.

USC Thornton is known for its cutting-edge programs, such as its music industry program, heralded as one of the best in the country. This program equips students with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the complex world of the music industry. In addition, the school offers the only comprehensive program in Scoring for Television and Film, providing students with the opportunity to learn from industry professionals.

World-Class Facilities

USC Thornton boasts state-of-the-art facilities, providing students with essential resources to hone their skills and develop their artistry. The school’s performance halls and studios inspire creativity and facilitate collaboration.

From the Bing Theatre to the Bovard Auditorium, USC Thornton offers a variety of performance spaces to suit every style and genre of music. These facilities provide students with opportunities to perform in professional-grade venues, preparing them for the demands of a music career.

USC Thornton encourages collaboration and innovation, with students frequently working across musical genres and with peers from USC’s world-class cinematic arts, dance, and theatre schools. This collaborative environment fosters creativity and allows students to explore new ideas and approaches to music.

Distinguished Faculty

USC Thornton boasts a distinguished faculty, many of whom are active professionals in the music industry. It gives students a unique opportunity to learn from individuals at the forefront of their field.

Among the faculty at USC Thornton are award-winning educators and musicians, including Morten Lauridsen and Michael Tilson Thomas, both recipients of the National Medal of Arts. These distinguished faculty members provide students with unparalleled insight into the world of music in terms of technical mastery and artistic creativity.

In addition to their artistic achievements, many faculty members at USC Thornton bring a wealth of industry experience to their teaching. It ensures that students are not only trained in musical technique but also gain a thorough understanding of the business side of the music industry.

Notable USC Alums

USC Thornton’s alums include some of the most prominent figures in the music industry, demonstrating the school’s success in preparing its students for professional careers.

Among the school’s successful alums are:

  • Ludwig Goransson, an Academy Award-winning composer and producer known for his work on programs such as “Community” and “The Mandalorian,” and films including “Black Panther” and “Tenet.” 
  • Marilyn Horne – Mezzo-soprano opera singer. Won 4 Grammys and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
  • Dr. Dre – Rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. Founding member of N.W.A and produced albums for Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and others. Won 6 Grammys. Co-founder of Beats Electronics.
  • Nancy Wilson – Jazz singer who had over 70 albums on the Billboard charts.
  • Robbie Williams – English pop singer who found fame with the group Take That. 

USC Thornton alums have also made significant contributions to the music industry. For example, Jason Goldman, known professionally as Spicy G, is a Jazz Studies major who has gained recognition as a songwriter and producer, working with artists such as Michael Bublé.


The admissions process at USC Thornton is highly competitive, reflecting the school’s status as one of the top music schools in the country.

The standard fall application deadline for all applicants is December 1, with some programs, such as Arts Leadership and Popular Music Teaching and Learning, having different deadlines.

The overall acceptance rate at USC Thornton is approximately 20%, with some programs, like popular music, having a much lower acceptance rate. Despite this, the school encourages all prospective students with a passion for music to apply.

While USC Thornton does not explicitly state the minimum GPA required for admission, most students accepted into the school have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. It reflects the school’s commitment to academic excellence and musical proficiency.

Rankings and Reputation

USC Thornton is consistently ranked among the top music schools in the United States, reflecting its commitment to providing a high-quality music education.

USC Thornton is widely recognized as one of the best music schools in the country. Its unique approach to music education, combining traditional conservatory-style teaching with innovative programs, has earned it high praise from ranking organizations.

Internationally, USC Thornton is also highly regarded, with the school frequently ranked among the top music schools in the world. It reflects the school’s commitment to providing a world-class music education and its success in preparing students for successful music careers.

Tuition and Financial Aid

USC Thornton is committed to helping students finance their education. The school offers a range of scholarships and financial aid opportunities to assist students with tuition costs.

USC Thornton offers a variety of scholarships and grants to eligible students. These financial aid opportunities are designed to help students offset the cost of tuition and other expenses associated with their studies.

In addition to scholarships and grants, USC Thornton also offers a range of financial aid opportunities, including work-study programs and loans. The school’s financial aid office can provide students with information and assistance in applying for these opportunities.

Student Life

USC Thornton offers a vibrant and supportive community for its students. The school’s location in the heart of Los Angeles, a global hub for the arts and entertainment industry, provides students numerous opportunities for cultural engagement and professional development.

Students at USC Thornton have numerous opportunities to perform, both on-campus and in the broader Los Angeles area. These performance opportunities allow students to gain valuable experience and showcase their talents.

USC Thornton encourages its students to engage with the local community, offering numerous outreach programs and initiatives. These opportunities allow students to use their musical talents to impact the local community positively.

Preparing for a Career at Thornton

USC Thornton is committed to preparing its students for successful careers in the music industry. The school’s programs provide students with the technical skills, artistic understanding, and industry knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen field.

USC Thornton’s programs are designed to provide students with a career-ready education. It means that students are not only taught musical skills but also learn about the business side of the music industry.

USC Thornton provides numerous networking opportunities for its students, allowing them to connect with industry professionals and build relationships to help them in their future careers.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, the USC Thornton School of Music is an exceptional institution that offers a comprehensive education for aspiring musicians. Its blend of traditional conservatory-style teaching with innovative programs makes it a leading choice for students pursuing a music career. Despite its competitive admissions process, USC Thornton encourages all prospective students with a passion for music to apply, offering a supportive community and numerous opportunities for professional development.

About the Author

Dr. David Lee Fish

Dr. David Lee Fish, Ph.D. is the founder of College Music Major. A veteran figure in music and education whose extensive career spans decades, he's known for his unique approach to music and for sharing his passion with others. His expertise ranges from performance and songwriting to education and private consulting.

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