‘Tis the season when graduating seniors, high school and collegiate, begin to receive acceptance or rejection letters from colleges and universities. I recall from my own experience, this is perhaps that most nerve racking time. The waiting game is harsh on emotions causing both excitement and anxiety – mostly anxiety. I remember.
Musicians go through a unique experience applying for entrance into a university because we aren’t just asked to take the ACT and/or SAT. We also have to go through an audition process. A music audition will vary by instrument, department and university/college. In general, it is either sitting in front of a panel or being judged by the prospective teacher performing on a primary instrument. An audition recording is also accepted in most cases because not everyone can travel. Since most schools only have one guitar teacher, I usually performed for one person. Then there are of course the aural, theory and piano tests, mostly given to determine placement into classes if accepted to the school. Depending on early music training, student could test well and be allowed to skip a theory and/or ear training class.
After the audition is complete – the waiting game commences. Depending on the school, it can take a several months. Eventually letters or large envelopes arrive. Unless things have changed in the past few years, the large, thick envelope filled with “the goods” is positive news. It usually means the prospective student has been accepted into the school.
Here is the catch: What happens if you receive more than one large envelope? How should anyone decide what school is best?
I think the following four categories are the most important.
Private Lesson Teacher
The private music professor is the MOST important factor to consider in the decision making process for a music student. Why? Because the music professor will establish the musical foundation that will impact a student’s progress, and many cases their career, especially of the career goal is to perform. The private instructor is the primary resource influencing a student’s musicianship. The lessons with the private teacher will be kept by the student for the rest of his/her life. It is impossible to escape it.
The next factor to consider is the quality of the school. Although, for other majors, quality of the school should come first, this is not always the case for the music major. There are always a few exceptions to the rule, like being accepted at Yale University, but the “prestige” of the institution should come second.
Deciding whether to attend a music conservatory or “regular” university is challenging. There advantages and disadvantages for each. The greatest advantage attending a music conservatory is the ability to focus on studying music with slightly lesser emphasis on academics. There are of course general academic requirements as part of the general curriculum. But in a conservatory, dedication to studying an instrument reigns supreme. Most conservatories have a partnership with a major university, so that could also influence making a final decision.
On the other hand, a university provides equal balance between music studies and general curriculum. A university also has a larger student body and includes additional extracurricular activities important to student success, like college athletics, fraternities/sororities, larger campus, etc.
Money is the largest barrier for attending the institution of choice. Many institutions offer excellent financial help in the form of scholarships and grants. When I was in school, the ability to acquire a loan was not an issue. Now, it likely is. There are signs that student aid will change and evolve, but understandably this is a MAJOR issue these days. Regardless of the loan issue, education should be treated like any other kind of investment. Attending a good school might cost a lot, but the long-term benefit pays for itself.
Selecting a school in a good location is important for the overall well-being of a student. There are several great schools located in small cities and large metropolitan cities. Normally, larger cities are better for the arts. Cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, to name a few, have a robust artistic community where students can learn and become more acculturated in all of the performing arts. At the same time, these cities offer more distractions…
On the other hand, smaller cities, while not as acculturated with major art museums or symphony orchestras, may be more appropriate for students who want to avoid large cities. Some students prefer small towns. The advantages are less distractions and the ability to focus more on studying – and practicing.
Lastly, distance from home should also be considered. I don’t remember a freshman who didn’t miss home even a little. I know I fought bouts of home sickness, and being closer to home helped.
These four factors are what I used to select the music schools I attended. Making a final decision was brutal, especially for graduate school. I was accepted to both the Eastman of School of Music and Cleveland Institute of Music for graduate school. Both are excellent institutions to study music, but my final decision was determined by these four factors. Deciding where to go was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.
For my undergraduate years, I chose to acquire a balanced education double majoring in both music and Latin American Studies. Completing both may not have been possible if I had decided to attend a music conservatory. I also chose to remain closer to home as I chose to attend Southern Methodist University remaining in my home state versus moving across the country to Boston University. It made dealing with home sickness easier. Family was able to visit me on campus, and I could drive home on extended weekend trips making life just a tad easier. However, tuition … well I will be paying for that over many years, but I did not let the expense influence my decision too much. I have no regrets no matter what the cost.
Unless parents have a music background, knowing which school is best for student is often challenging and stressful, but hopefully these guidelines and tips help.