You’ve gone through the audition process at music schools and within a few months you’ll officially decide on which school you’ll go to in the fall. How do you choose with wildly different offers in different locations? The main aspects you’ll want to pay attention to are the professor, the program, the location, and the money. Here’s what you need to know and what questions to ask yourself.
Professors at every school have their own personalities, teaching styles, and ways of running their studio. To make sure they’re a good fit for you, you’ll want to know what experience you’re looking for and what types of people you work best with. Are you looking to have a close relationship with your professor or would you rather have a more hands off experience? Do you learn best when someone supports you no matter what or someone strict who keeps you accountable when they notice you changing your behavior? Do you like working with someone more laid back or organized? Is your ideal career something this professor has experience with?
You will most likely spend more time with your primary instrument professor than any other professor on campus, so it’s important to find someone that you think you’ll work well with. Think of teachers or professors you’ve had in the past - who are some of your favorites and how have they helped shape you into the best version of yourself?
The School and Program
It’s common in the music world to want to attend schools with a certain level of “prestige”. Remember that a big name does not equate to an ideal experience. You won’t get the job of your dreams just for attending a big name school. Consider if the program is very traditional or if it offers opportunities that will help you in the modern world of being a musician.
For performance majors, does the school prepare its students for life outside of school in terms of options outside of auditions like running a private studio, freelancing, creating solo recitals, etc.?
For education majors, is the curriculum based on traditional teaching methods or does it teach a more inclusive and modern approach? How soon does the program bring you into schools (to see if this is really what you want to do)?
For composers, are there modern options like electronics, recording labs, options for composers to collaborate with performers, etc?
How flexible is the program if you decide you want to switch majors or expand beyond what you’re learning?
Is there a music business/entrepreneur class for students towards the end of their degree to help transition students into post-student life?
Does the environment seem supportive, friendly, welcoming, competitive, cutthroat, etc.?
If you’re able to talk with any current students from the school, ask them what they like and dislike about the school - they’ll be honest with you. This can be even more valuable than hearing from professors, admissions, or the school’s website since it will be a more personal answer, but take it with a grain of salt since everyone’s experience is different.
A school’s location can be very important or unimportant to you. Some people are willing to move anywhere in the country to find the best program for them and some would rather stay near home, and either is completely fine. Is this a place you are comfortable with living? How far away are you from home (if that’s important to you)? Is the campus in a bubble or integrated within the city? Will you need a car to get around? Are there opportunities outside of campus that you’ll be able to take advantage of during school or once you’ve graduated? Location is weighted differently to different people, but if you hate or love the vibe, that’s important to know.
This is a big one, and for many, the most critical factor in deciding where to go to school. One important tip to keep in mind is that from any school, you can always ask for more funding. The answer is no until you ask. Other than the tuition cost itself, there are some other costs to keep in mind. Do you have opportunities to make money while in school, for example, on-campus jobs, work study, or easy to access off-campus work? Especially for grad school, is there an assistantship, and if so, is it minimum wage or is it a healthy stipend? Will you be expected to do unpaid work as a grad student? What is the cost of living in the area (especially if you’re off campus)? Will you need a car to get around town? Does the school have a music library where you’ll be able to borrow scores or textbooks instead of buying them? Will the expenses take away from your experience as a student and your ability to learn and thrive?
Of these variables, everyone will have different priorities. There’s a lot of gray area when making decisions as big as this one, but some aspects will probably feel black and white to you. You might have gone into audition season aiming to decide on the school that gave you the most money or will give you the most opportunities. Maybe you like a school in general but you would rather be closer to your family. Maybe when you arrived to audition, you hated the environment and know your mental health would suffer in such a place. Maybe when you met the professor, you fell in love with their teaching style and aura and can’t imagine yourself studying with anyone else.
If you can see yourself in 2-4 years when you’re finished with this stage of school, will this school be able to take you there? Where will you be able to become the best version of yourself? Know what your bottom lines are, know what your non-negotiables are, and most importantly, listen to your intuition.
Best wishes to those of you finishing up auditions and choosing schools!
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