How to Choose a Music School

The school you attend has a huge impact on your life and career, so deciding where to apply can be a stressful and daunting task. Furthermore, musicians must go through the unique experience of auditioning for schools by either a recording or live audition in front of a panel. This can be an expensive and grueling process, so it is important to consider these critical details before deciding where to apply. 

1. Teacher - The private music professor is the most important factor to consider when deciding where to apply. Your teacher will become your main resource in music learning and career guidance. I suggest meeting the teacher and taking a lesson with him or her before applying. This can help you decide if the teacher is a good fit for you, as well as improve your likelihood of being accepted into the teacher's studio. Questions to consider while choosing a teacher: Do I connect with this teacher? Do I feel supported by this teacher? What will this teacher expect of me, and does this match my capabilities and goals for myself? Will I have sufficient time and access to this teacher? What can I learn from this teacher? How can this teacher help me achieve my goals? 

2. Opportunities - Every school has unique features that will offer you different kinds of experiences. You should look into the performance opportunities, ensembles (orchestra and chamber music), faculty, etc. to make sure the areas of emphasis fit your interests. For example, some schools have a really big orchestra program, while other schools are more chamber music oreinted. The facilities at the school are another factor to consider. You are probably going to spend a large amount of time at the school itself, so you should look into the quality of the practice rooms, concert halls, libraries, etc. 

3. Academics - You need to decide what degree you want, and what you want your curriculum to look like. This usually prompts the question: conservatory or university? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. A conservatory such as Juilliard, Colburn, the Curtis Institute of Music, and New England Conservatory usually offer an intense level of training and the ability to dedicate your focus entirely to music. A larger university such as Indiana University, USC, Rice University, and Yale will offer a broader education, including the opportunity to take a wide variety of academic courses and participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs and athletics. 

3. Reputation - It is impossible not to consider the school's reputation and prestige. It will of course come in handy later in life to hold a degree from a "big name" school. But let's face it, music schools are highly competitive. It is important to be realistic about where you think you can actually get in, and there are also benefits to going to a school where you are a big fish in a small pond. Some students may prefer being in an environment where they are in a leadership position rather than having to work really hard to even be noticed. Both environments have one thing in common: you get out of them what you put into them. Even the most prestigious schools come with no guarantees. Every type of education has its advantages, and it’s up to you to capitalize on them with hard work and self-motivation. 

5. Location - Where you live can have a huge impact on your happiness and wellbeing, so it is important to decide if the location of the school is a good fit for you. For example, you should consider the city's size, distance from home, cost of living, music scene, etc. You will make a lot of important connections in college, and often build a professional network before you even graduate. Therefore, it can be beneficial to choose a city that you can see yourself living long-term. 

6. Cost - It is important to research the cost and possibility of financial aid before applying to a school. Money is usually the largest barrier for attending the school of your choice. The worst possibility is to get accepted into your dream school, and then find out that you can't afford to attend. Luckily, most schools offer scholarships, grants, and loans to help you pay for your education. And even if you don't receive a full scholarship, the long-term benefit of having a college degree can pay for itself. However, it is important to keep in mind that music is unfortunately not among the fields with the highest earning potential or most consistent income. An expensive education might be worth every penny, but sometimes a cheaper education can be just as effective in helping you achieve your career goals.