What’s the best path to achieving your musical goals? Music schools can provide an intense and concentrated learning experience to boost your musicianship to the level you desire.

Finding the right music school to advance your performance proficiency, develop artistically, and acquire the knowledge and expertise to launch your career is a very subjective process. While teachers, parents, and guides can offer suggestions and advice, you are ultimately the only one who can determine whether a school will fit your needs.

Your completed list will help you evaluate schools, compare and contrast them, and decide where to apply.

What Factors Should I Consider?

Let’s look at the five things you’ll want to keep in mind when looking at potential schools.

1. The focus of your studies

The clearer you are about what you want to study, the easier it is to find schools that offer what you want to learn.

Are you looking for performance-intensive training, with mostly music-related requirements? A conservatory may be a good fit if your proficiency level is already high.

Depending on the country where you want to study, you may find strong music programs housed in larger universities where you also take general education requirements. You may be able to major in a non-music-related field in addition to majoring in music.

Students who are unclear about their area of focus may want to look more closely at liberal arts colleges with strong music programs – the U.S. has many schools of this type. These allow you more time to explore a variety of music options as well as other areas of study before declaring your major.

2. The environment where you study

This can make a huge difference in your level of enjoyment and satisfaction. Consider the kind of environment where you tend to learn best:

  • Large? Small? Mid-size?
  • Competitive? Laid back?
  • Academically rigorous – or not?

Do you thrive in a large, fast-paced city environment? Or in a small, country setting?

Do you want or need to be near home? Or are you ready and able to travel – even to a different country?

Will you learn best if you’re the “big fish in a small pond”, or will you be better off with more advanced students around you?

Woman playing guitar on stage for an audition3. Teachers

Is there a specific teacher you want to study with? If so, you’re likely going to want to apply to the school where they teach. At the same time, be sure that the school also fits the rest of your criteria.

4. Audition

Check each school’s website carefully: do you have what it takes to meet audition requirements? Their academic requirements? (They’re different at every school!)

5. Cost

Can you and your family afford tuition, fees, and other costs at each school you’re interested in?

Do any of these schools offer scholarships? Would you be able to secure one? Are there any other scholarship opportunities for someone like you?

If necessary, could you work and go to school at the same time to help pay for school?

Due Diligence

The internet will be a wonderful resource once you’ve created your list. Your criteria will allow you to see whether any of the schools you’ve heard of will offer what you want. Websites like MajoringInMusic.com make it very easy to learn about the majors offered, faculty, cost, and other critical aspects of many schools.

If possible, visit schools that meet your criteria to learn more about them directly. Plan to attend a few classes, take a lesson with a faculty member, and get feedback on your proficiency.

Also, arrange to meet students who are studying what you’re interested in. This will allow you to get a good idea of the student experience at a school that interests you, so you can decide if it really is a good fit.

Talk with faculty and administrators so they get a sense of your passion, enthusiasm, and level of interest. They will remember you when it’s time to decide who to admit.

Finally: researching schools is time-consuming. Starting at least a year in advance is wise.

Preparing to be a Music Major

If you choose a competitive music school to apply to, you will likely need to audition before being accepted.

In the U.S., competitive schools often require pre-screens where applicants send a recorded presentation of their music to win an audition spot.

Preparing for auditions is akin to training for a marathon. It takes a great deal of practice as well as careful selection of repertoire that fulfills each school’s requirements. Private teachers with a track record of helping students audition successfully are an asset to any music school applicant.

Since sight-reading is an essential part of being a musician, start learning this skill before you apply to music school. Again, a private teacher can be immensely helpful, but it’s your constant practice and attention that will lead to proficiency!

Learning some basic music theory before you even head off to music school will help you get through your first year. If your current school or private music teacher do not offer it, look online or at a summer program where you can start learning music theory as soon as possible.

Setting Your Course

It’s essential that you address your expectations before heading off to a college-level music school. Are you someone who waits for opportunities to come to them? Do you expect your teachers to provide you with everything, including theoretical knowledge, gigs, and chances to meet other musicians?

On the college level and beyond, you’ll miss out on the experiences that will greatly inform your current and future life as a musician if you don’t take the initiative.

Music careers require active musicians. Learn to communicate your needs. Set realistic goals, and celebrate when you meet them. This will prepare you to become a career musician in whatever field of music you choose.

Barbra Weidlein is co-founder and director of MajoringInMusic.com. She’s passionate about helping students make smart choices around majoring in music. She has a background in both counseling and educational publishing, and has parented a successful music major. Visit MajoringInMusic.com online or on Facebook for consultation about studying music on the college level.