I have spent my entire life waist-deep in various musical experiences, but the college application process was tougher than anything else I’ve ever gone through. To help all you aspiring music majors, here are my top 5 steps for getting into college.
Before you start…
Before you ever start looking at colleges, it’s important to think of the present. If you are in high school, think about what classes you could take that might give you an advantage when applying and going to college. I knew I wanted to major in Music Education, so I took a ton of music/ensemble classes and a ton of education classes. This can also mean joining extracurriculars that can help you build your resume. It’s important to think about these things a LONG time before you start applying to schools. It’s smart to think about your activities and extracurriculars as early as your freshman year.
1.) Do your Research
Before you start your college search process it’s important to do your research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across families applying to music school who seem completely clueless as to what they are supposed to do. My older sister had been a music major as well, so we already had a good idea of how things worked, but we still had learn a lot more.
The most important piece of this is deciding on a major. Music is a very broad subject area, and there are a lot of different things you can do with it. Here are the most common music-related majors:
- Music Performance
- Music Education
- Music Therapy
- Music Technology/Business
- Church Music
- Music Composition
- Musical Theatre*
- Music Minor
It’s okay if you haven’t quite decided what you want to major in, but maybe you can narrow it down to a few you might be interested in. When looking at colleges online, look at what majors they offer, as well as how their program is set up.
Some schools will let you major in music without coming to audition, but you need to decide what’s best for you. I am a Music Education major, but performing at a high level is still very important to me. That meant that I didn’t want to go to a school that didn’t require an audition. Schools with no audition requirement are great for people who have a strong passion for music but don’t know if they are necessarily the best performer in the world.
Be careful when looking at “top 10” type lists online. Most of the people who post these are not qualified, and just because a college appears on a ranking list doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you. Some people applying for music school will only look into the best-of-the-best conservatories and universities, but you never know what you’ll come across when searching the web.
2.) Visiting and Touring
Looking at colleges is much easier if you know what you ‘re looking for. Sometimes you might know what you want right out of the gate, but a key component to figuring out what colleges are right for you is visiting and touring. Yes, it takes a lot of time and can end up being a little pricey over time, but it’s definitely worth it.
In the end, I think I went on official campus visits at as many as 30 schools. My mom and I actually made our college visits into mother-daughter road trips and whenever we finished touring a school we would drive around the campuses of all the other schools nearby. Including schools we just drove through to glance at, I probably looked at over 50 colleges and universities.
Sometimes you won’t notice something you want or don’t want in a college until you see it. I know people who have always said they wanted a big state school but immediately changed their mind when they set foot on a small campus. Having a list of what you’re looking for is essential, but don’t be afraid to explore other schools that might not fit the picture in your head. I had always said I wanted a very small campus, but my mom made me visit a huge school at least once before I completely ruled them out and I’m glad she did.
If your family doesn’t have the time or money to visit colleges, most schools have some kind of virtual campus tour on their website. I know my school has an instagram account where they post pictures of campus, as well as a Facebook page. These are great ways to get a feel for a school without going on an official visit. However, once you’ve narrowed down your college decision you should at least try to drive through the campus one time. Pictures are great, but they pale in comparison to seeing things in person.
I went on 3 campus tours at my college before I finally figured out that it was my dream school (The first 2 times it was pouring rain on the tour so I couldn’t see anything!) If you had a bad tour guide or the weather is crappy it’s not a good enough reason to rule out a college. It’s important to keep an open mind and try to stay positive!
3.) Apply, Apply, Apply
As you finish looking around and visiting schools, you will probably have some clear favorites in mind, but stay open to new possibilities. When we started doing our research my mom told me that I had to apply to at least 10 schools, and in the end I applied to 13. Having backups and plan B’s are very important. When it comes to music you never know what they are looking for, and I’ve seen some people go through a crisis because they assumed they were a shoe-in at certain schools and then didn’t get in. I’ve seen a lot of people have to take a gap year because they only applied to the best 4 schools and then didn’t get in anywhere.
I had the schools I applied to in a few different categories. Tier 1 was my dream schools and the hardest to get into. Tier 2 was schools that were slightly easier to get into and safer than the top of the list. Tier 3 was the backup schools that I wouldn’t mind going to, but were definitely not my first choice.
Some other things to consider when putting together your list are money, campus appeal, and location. The best-of-the-best schools are usually also the most expensive. You have to consider that even if you get in there you might not be able to afford it. If you have audition at a school, there is usually a potential to earn music scholarships but there is no guarantee that you’ll get one. Some of your backup schools should be ones that are much less expensive or ones you know offer a lot of scholarships.
Some of your backup schools might just be ones that you really like the campus. I applied to one school under a different major (they didn’t offer mine) just because it was so freaking beautiful. Location means that it might be a good idea to apply to at least one school either really close to home, or really close to an area you’d like to live near.
Thanks to things like the Common App, it can be easy to apply to a ton of schools. Fine Arts majors are different than any other degree program. At most schools you will have to get accepted to the school academically, AND musically. These are usually two separate decisions and they can cancel each other out. So, even if you get in somewhere academically the music school can still turn you away. This happens more often than you’d think, so it’s a much safer bet to load up on applications.
4.) Ace your Auditions
I applied to 13 schools, and all of them required an on-campus audition. If you apply to larger schools they might require a prescreen video. The good thing about prescreens that most schools want similar things so you can use the same video for multiple schools. If you send them a prescreen and they like you enough they will invite for an actual on-campus audition. If you live really far away from a school you are applying for they will sometimes let you just do a video audition.
It’s good to know where you are applying well in advance because it takes a lot of time to learn, memorize, and perfect your audition pieces, and because some schools may have very specific audition requirements. One school I applied to asked for songs that were from certain centuries, and another one had every auditioner prepare the same folk song so they could compare people side-by-side.
For most auditions you do in person, the process is very similar. Aside from performing your repertoire, some schools will have you do other things. They may have you sight read or do some other kind of aural skills testing, there may be a piano skills test, you may have to take a music theory placement test, and depending on your major you may have to do an interview. Don’t stress about these extra little tests. A lot of times they are just placement tests so that they know what classes to put you in if you decide to go to that school. If you can’t do any of the things they’re asking you to do that’s perfectly fine. On the other hand, if you are particularly good at something like piano or theory it’s a chance for you to pass out of the basic level class. You DO NOT want to end up in a class you are not prepared for, so don’t be upset if they put you in the bottom level.
As long as you are fully prepared for your audition there should be nothing to worry about. If you don’t get in it doesn’t mean you are terrible and untalented. It just means that you aren’t what they were looking for or it just isn’t a good fit. For those who are looking into Musical Theatre, some schools are focused in on a certain style or genre so even if you are amazingly talented, you might not be right for their program.
Plan your auditions strategically. I scheduled my top schools first and my backups last. Because of this, when I started to get acceptance letters from the early auditions, I was able to cancel my last 3 auditions because it turns out that I didn’t need the backup schools anymore. This saved a lot of time and money in the end. Also, the earlier you audition, the earlier you get a decision.
5.) Make your Decision
After your auditions are over, it’s a waiting game. This can be painstaking and stressful, but I can promise you that the letters won’t come any quicker if you stare at the mailbox. The biggest thing you’re looking for is whether or not you got accepted, but it’s also just as important to look at the financial award letter. Getting in is great, but sometimes it comes down to whether or not they are offering you any scholarships.
I know some people who got into their top school and that was that. They didn’t wait for any other letters, didn’t go to any other auditions, and just paid their deposit. That’s great, but that’s most likely not going to happen. My best advice is to make a chart of some kind. It’s good to line up all of your options side-by-side so you can figure out what’s best for you. Figure out what categories matter most to you and compare all of your choices. Some of things that mattered most to me were the dorms, the costs, the location, and the size/quality of the music department. I found that making spreadsheets and color coding was extremely helpful throughout the entire college search process, and made it very easy for me to finally make a decision.
Making the decision is a huge deal and can be very stressful, but try to focus on the positive. No matter what school you go to, as long as you’re doing what you love and making the most of your four years, it will be great!
Want to Hear More?
If you liked this post let me know! There are a lot of topics that I just glanced over in this post, but I could elaborate on all of them in later posts if that’s something that would interest you guys. Let me know if you have any questions regarding the college application process or becoming a music major, and let me know what you want to hear more about in future posts!