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7 Things To Consider Before Applying To A Music School

The music school admissions process is daunting compared to the average college application. Prospective students must prove themselves not only academically, but also artistically. There are overlapping deadlines, prescreenings, auditions, and interviews to work through. To make things more confusing, music schools vary widely on numerous dimensions. How do you sort them all out?

Take a deep breath, and think about the essentials. It can be as simple as asking the right questions early on, and letting your answers inform the process from beginning to end. Here, we discuss some of the most important things to consider before you apply to music school.

1. What Do You Want To Do?

Before you can identify the school that’s right for you, you have to ask a few questions of yourself. Most fundamentally: What do you want to do? Some people want to become professional musicians. But not everyone wants to play music for a living. Like most creative disciplines, music has a wide breadth of foci and possible career tracks, some involving performance and some not.

The ‘music business’ concept in particular can be a tricky catch-all. Bear in mind that producers, marketers, promoters, equipment experts, event managers, talent recruiters, label owners and product planners, for instance, each have distinct training needs. A budding concert promoter may get nothing from the same program touted by aspiring multimedia specialists and audio engineers. The more specific you can be about your professional requirements, the easier it will be to weigh the pros and cons of different institutions.

2. How Far Will You Go?

Some people pursue their music education all the way to a Ph.D., qualifying them for research and teaching. Others don’t have the time, money or inclination for graduate school and prefer to stop with a 4-year bachelor’s degree in hand. Still others just want raw instrument training and nothing more; for these musicians, music lessons or short-term certificate programs may make more sense than paying for a degree. Identify your sweet spot and you can avoid languishing in school for years, uncertain of what comes next.

3. What Does the Program Really Teach?

What if you want to get into the business side of music? Applicants should know that some music business degrees are a poor fit for those who want to break into the industry. Some programs are little more than garden-variety business degrees with a couple music-oriented electives. Avoid programs with minimal music-specific content if your heart is set on the music industry. The easiest way to filter out generic business degrees is by checking out the core curriculum. You should be able to draw a direct connection between the coursework and where you see yourself in five and ten years.

4. What Does the School Offer Besides Music?

What if your music career doesn’t work out? Getting a degree is a seriously useful hedge against unemployment in a highly competitive job market. This is one reason it can be valuable to pursue a music major within a broader-based liberal arts school as opposed to placing all bets on a highly specialized music school or art institute with little or no general education on offer.

5. What Industry Connections Does the School Have?

One of the greatest advantages of attending college to work in the music industry is the professional connections you can access while you’re there. It is thus essential to choose a music program or school based on how much it has to offer in the way of professional networking, career connections, and real-world experience. Programs formally address this need in several ways, including through internships, job placement assistance, visits to major trade shows, and special seminars that emphasize cutting-edge people and products in the industry.

6. How’s the Culture of Collaboration?

Networking is also an informal part of music school. Look for faculty with an active role in the industry as well as professors that proactively mentor their students. Mentorship is fantastically helpful. Also, search for schools whose students genuinely enjoy the work and come from all over the place. Diversity is an asset. Remember, you will not just be learning musical mechanics during school, but cultivating lasting relationships with faculty, fellow students, their friends, and their friends’ friends. The quality of these relationships matters a great deal.

7. Which Music School Should I Choose?

So you’ve narrowed down your list of schools to those that jibe with your budget, career objectives and musical specialty. How do you make your final decision?

The best music school isn’t the one with the fanciest reputation, the most competitive spots, or even the best funding. It’s the one that best fits your personality, learning style, musical abilities and aspirations. Brainstorm your personal requirements, so you can choose a music school based on how well it satisfies your desires and needs. Don’t go anywhere you can’t see yourself thoroughly enjoying every single day for years on end.

What Can You Do With A Music Degree?

“What can I do with a music degree?” It’s a common enough question for the musician who’s thinking about going to college. Unlike choosing business or nursing, where it may seem like a clear career path stretches ahead, music seems like rather a vague college major. Does a music degree prepare students to launch a rock ‘n roll band? Do graduates typically become opera divas?

The answer is yes and no. While many people who choose a music major go on to be performers or teachers, many others will go into quite different professions. Hard as it may be to believe, there are lawyers who earned their undergraduate degree in a music related major. The same can be said for doctors, accountants and advertising executives.

The reality is that a great diversity of students choose to earn a music degree. What you can do with a degree in music is truly up to you and your ambition. If it is your dream to become a celebrated cellist, then there are degree programs designed to help you achieve your goal. If, on the other hand, you hope to teach elementary school children one day, a music degree may also be an excellent choice. Even if your ultimate career goal does not obviously involve music, you can still derive benefit from the discipline, focus and creativity you will develop in the pursuit of your degree.

Inherent in the pursuit of a music degree is the development of many skills and abilities that will serve students well in any field of work. Years of intensive practice help to build a strong work ethic and the ability to fine tune a project to a highly polished degree. Because being a musician or vocalist involves working as part of a larger group, students in this major also learn to be strong team members who are good at listening to the ideas of others and incorporating them into a finished product. Moreover, many people who study music are creative and able to think outside the box. Regardless of the industry in which they choose to work, their ability to devise, refine and implement innovative ideas is a valuable skill that will be sought after by many potential employers.

Music majors who have a passion for performance may go on to become a singer or play an instrument in an orchestra or other ensemble. Some of these performers may branch out into conducting one day. Other graduates will become songwriters or composers. Perhaps they will write the next popular song everyone hears on the radio or create the score for a major motion picture. Music degree holders may also choose to help others with their learning. A degree in music education enables the graduate to teach in public and private settings. A music therapy degree allows people to help clients who are dealing with physical, emotional and psychological issues. Some graduates will take a more business oriented approach, choosing to become a music agent or a music industry executive for a record label.

Like many four year degrees, a music degree is valuable not just for the specific information the student learns in class. The pursuit of the degree also instills a number of useful skills and abilities that the student can use in absolutely any job. Whether the student decides to become a music therapist, an elementary school teacher or a violinist, earning a degree will grant them the basic credentials they need for success. The following list is merely a small sampling of the potential careers that people who earn a music degree may pursue.

  • Administrator of an arts organization
  • Music transcriber
  • Vocalist
  • Musician
  • Conductor
  • Songwriter
  • Producer
  • Historian
  • Music agent
  • Music critic
  • Teacher
  • Librarian
  • Music licensing
  • Music publishing
  • Music therapist
  • Music instrument repairer
  • Promoter
  • Tour manager
  • Sound technician
  • Public relations representative