This section will address how to select which program you should apply to.
MOTIVATIONS FOR DEGREE
Contrary to popular belief, majoring in music is not easier or more fun as compared to other degrees like engineering, pre-med or business. “There is a big difference between singing or playing an instrument in high school -- and deciding to become a music major when you graduate. The bottom line is this: do you want to major in music because it is your calling and because you are so passionate about music that you are willing to take on all it requires to make it the focus of your life after high school?”. (Majoring in Music)
If you still think that music is something you are interested in pursuing, read ahead.
What you will study
As a music major, you will typically study the following: music theory, music history, aural skills and your specific area of focus. You will also be required to practice your major instrument and perhaps a second instrument. You can also expect to take classes on how to succeed as a performer, how to prevent repetitive motion injuries, how to communicate effectively etc. Your curriculum could also include rehearsals, recitals, performances and other related activities (Majoring in Music).
Music graduates go into a number of different careers. Performing and teaching are popular careers for graduates, but there are many other options available. Go through this link to get a sense of which opportunities you might be able to apply for after graduation. Note: this information is coming from a US-based source - some of these opportunities may not be available in Pakistan. For more specific detail on music-based opportunities in Pakistan, it is recommended that you get in touch with musicians/practitioners in the field. You can even consider corresponding with international alumni of the university/conservatory you are interested in applying to, and ask them about the sort of career opportunities they were able to find outside the US.
What if you do not end up pursuing a degree in music?
It is recommended that you apply only if you are sure that music is what you want to pursue. However, if for any reason, your plans change after graduation, do not worry. A degree in music can help you gain some valuable transferable skills - so even if you don’t end up pursuing a career in music, you will still be able to apply for jobs in some other fields. Here is a list of potential transferable skills a degree in music can help you gain.
If you feel like you are not ready to do a 4-year degree in Music but still want to pursue music on some level, you should go through this resource. In addition to that, you can also consider applying to a community college. Go through this resource to find out more about community colleges and the advantages of applying to them.
TYPES OF DEGREE
The following degrees are available for undergraduate study in Music, in the US:
- Bachelor of Music (BM)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
- Bachelor of Music Education (BME)
- Bachelor of Arts in Music (BA)
- Bachelor of Science in Music (BSc)
There are also three different kinds of music institutions from where you can choose to finish your degree:
- Music Conservatory
- Music School/University
How to select the best option for yourself (among degrees/programs within this field)
When deciding which degree you want to apply for, you need to keep the following in mind: which aspect of music are you interested in studying, which school fits your goals the best, and what do you hope to do after you graduate. For instance, if you want to go on to do a graduate degree in Music, you will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible to apply (which may not be fulfilled in every kind of Music degree).
BM and BFA
If you hope to be a professional musician, one of these degrees could be most suitable for you. Programs under these degrees are intensive, and will typically be a 4-year degree. The degree requirements are lengthy, and you will not be able to take too many non-music elective. You can tentatively expect music classes to take up to two thirds to three-fourths of your classes (depending on the kind of school you choose to attend). Because these are such intensive degrees, you will usually have little room to incorporate other activities like ‘study-abroad’ into your degree.
If you hope to have a career in teaching K-12 (Kindergarten - Grade 12) vocal and instrumental music, a degree in BME may be most suitable for you. As a BME student, you can expect to study a combination of the following courses: music education, conducting, music theory, music history and aural skills. You will most likely be required to study a major instrument, take methods courses, and will also observe/conduct supervised teaching in classroom settings. You can also expect to attend workshops and events for current and future educationists. Unlike BM/BFA, the BME will usually require you to take some liberal arts courses and music technology classes.
Note: if you plan on teaching music in the US only, you will most likely need state licensure - so make sure you look into those requirements as well, as this may inform your decision about which school you apply to.
BA in Music
If you hope to study music, but also want to have the flexibility to pursue a career in a different field, you should consider applying for a BA degree. You can expect to have one-fourth to one-third of your credits to be in music (depending on the kind of school you attend). The remaining credits will usually be for musicianship, general education and other electives. Since the BA degree offers more flexibility than a BFA/BM degree, you can do a study-abroad semester and graduate in fourth years.
BSc in Music
If you hope to focus on a more business-oriented approach to music, the BSc degree may be suitable for you. Those students who typically major in music business/industry typically opt for a BSc degree. Note: some schools may also offer the BSc for music education and sound-recording technology.
Double or Dual Degrees
Some universities might let you get another degree in conjunction with your music degree. Some independent conservatories may offer degree programs in conjunction with other universities (these could be 4 or 5 years in length - check your prospective program for more information).
When deciding if you should apply for a double degree, you should ask the following questions: are there additional costs associated with doing a double degree program? Are classes for both the degrees held on the same campus or on different campuses (if they are held on different campuses, is transport easily available)? How many students are able to successfully complete their double degree at XYZ school? How intensive will a double degree program be? For more information on dual degrees, double majors and even music minors, please go through this link.
Conservatories vs. Universities
Conservatories typically focus only on music - if you want to “drench yourself in nothing but music”, a music conservatory would probably be a good option for you (PlayBill). But on the other hand, if you hope to focus on other areas (like sports, science, business), a liberal arts university might be better. There are some universities that have their own conservatories as well. For more information on the difference between the two types, please go through this resource and the first question (What are the advantages and disadvantages to attending a conservatory vs. a university?) in this resource.
As you begin your research on various music schools and music majors, you will realise that no two schools offer the exact same programs -- and schools generally do not name their majors in the same way either. What does this mean? It means you might be able to study Music Major X at one university, but not necessarily at another. Some schools might also group some majors together and offer them under a specific department. The list below will give you a general idea of the areas of music you can choose to specialize in. Please note: a) this may not be an exhaustive list, and b) the most accurate way to find out which majors/areas of study are available to you at a particular music university/conservatory is to visit its website and go over the major description and curriculum (Majoring in Music).
- Arts Management
- Jazz Studies
- Music Education
- Music Entrepreneurship
- Music History
- Music Industry
- Music Technology
- Music Therapy
- Musical Theatre
- Music Theory and Composition
- Popular Music
- Voice (Classical, Opera)
- World Music
- Majoring in a specific instrument
To find out what each of these broad categories can entail, please go through this resource. Additionally, as recommended above, you should visit your relevant (prospective) school website for more detailed and accurate information about what a certain major may or may not entail.
These resources (“What to Major in at College to get your Music Industry Dream Job” Part 1 and Part 2) can also give you an idea about which academic qualifications you need for which music profession. Note: this advice is being given by a practitioner who is based abroad -- opportunities in Pakistan may vary. If you plan on working in Pakistan after your graduation, you should also try to conduct some research on your own, on which academic qualifications are required here.
Additionally, you can also go through this link on Majoring in Music. It links some very useful articles on specific music majors (e.g. Music Therapy, Musical Theatre, Majoring in Guitar etc.) that can help you learn more about your potential options.
If you are interested in Music, you might also like::
- Performing Arts (theatre, dance etc.)
- Visual Arts
- Creative Writing
How to select the best option for yourself (among allied fields)
For any creative degree, the most important requirement is passion. You need to be passionate enough to fully immerse yourself into the field, and be willing to invest a few years of your life into its study. So you should ideally apply for the field you are most passionate about. In addition to that, a large number of these fields will require some relevant experience: for instance, some music schools may require you to know how to play at least one instrument well; some theatre/dance schools will usually want their applicants to have been a part of stage-based performances; visual arts programs will typically require you to have studied Art/Design etc. in your high school. When deciding which program you want to apply to, look at the prerequisites needed -- apply for that field in which you are meeting all the prerequisites. Lastly, you should also think about your future career plans: if you want to go into music performance, a degree in Music would be most relevant. If you want to go into dance or theatre-based performance (that may require some music-based proficiency), a degree in Performing Arts may be more suitable. If you are most interested in fine arts or creative writing than you are in Music, a degree in these may be most suitable.
- No. of universities to apply to: It is generally recommended that you apply to a minimum of 3, but not more than 7 because the preparation for music school (audition, essay etc.) will take time and you don’t want the quality of your applications to suffer (the more schools you apply to, the more time you will have to spend on each application)
- Jason Heath (previously served on the faculty for DePaul University, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Trinity International University) recommends that you focus more on ‘how many schools am I really interested in’, rather than ‘how many should I apply to?’ In other words, don’t apply for the sake of applying, apply to programs that interest you, that have the resources/faculty that will benefit you and that are within your budget.
- Scott Pingel (Bass faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) recommends that students apply to as many music programs as they can because auditioning is difficult and it gets easier as you do it more. Your auditioning skills may develop by applying to more schools (and thus giving more auditions).
Here are some links that could help you with deciding if you want to study music:
- Frequently Asked Questions by Majoring in Music -- go through this resource for more advice on how to apply/prepare
- What is the Best Music School for me by Majoring in Music -- go through this resource for more information on how you should select which colleges you should apply to/study in. This link also provides a list of things you should do when you visit the campus (in case you are unable to do this, you should get in touch with the administration or email alumni/current students and request them to share their insight)
- How to Select Music Schools -- this link includes various articles that can help you with selection
- Tips for Aspiring Music Students -- this link will tell you how important your audition is, how many schools you should be applying to, whether or not music school is worth it financially etc.
- Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on program selection (under the tab of ‘selection’).
Applying for a music degree can be a challenging process, but even deciding to apply can be difficult. Your parents may not be convinced that it is the best degree for you or you may think it is difficult to get accepted if you are not a “musical prodigy”. But you need not worry. You can go through this resource developed by Majoring in Music that specifically states “there are benefits to not being a prodigy, [as] long as you are someone who feels compelled to pursue music”. Additionally, this resource, also produced by Majoring in Music, gives advice on how music major aspirants can convince their parents to let them pursue this degree. This resource (a welcome address for freshman parents given by Karl Paulnack, Director of the Music Division at Boston Conservatory) is worth reading as well.
All in all, you should take some time to decide if Music is the right degree for you. Once you are convinced that this is what you want to pursue, you can start looking into schools and starting your application process.
A lot of our tips talk about how you can strengthen your application, but you can build a stronger application when you’ve done the things this program values in the years prior to the application. The application itself is the communication part (in which you communicate what you've done to the admission committee); but this section gives guidance on the substance part (what you can actually do before you apply). In this section we talk about what you can do in the years leading up to applying that can make you an ideal candidate. Supplement the following tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘Pre-Application’) to become a competitive applicant.
Subject and Grade Requirement:
There is no one specific kind of subject requirement for all music schools. Your requirements will usually depend on the degree and specific sub-field you are applying for and your university. Some schools expect their students to have very strong academic records and may require high grades and test scores. Others typically put less emphasis on academic records and instead focus on finding students who are passionate, talented and heavily interested in music. So it is highly recommended that you visit your prospective university website, and find out more about any academic requirements -- and then make sure you meet those criteria before applying.
Research experience is typically not required for an undergraduate degree in Music. But you are advised to check your prospective university webpages, and go through their specific requirements.
Professional experience is not usually a requirement for college, but if you have any relevant experience (like performing at concerts, open mics etc.), it will definitely give your application a huge edge.
Volunteer work is typically not required for an undergraduate degree in Music. But you are advised to check your prospective university webpages and go through their specific requirements.
The following information has been extracted directly from Majoring in Music:
“As you make a decision to major in music, you will want to have most, if not all, of the following skills and experience under your belt by the time you apply to music schools.
Check to see how you stack up. If you’re missing any of these or feel like you could use a bit of help in any area, ask a more advanced music student or a music teacher for some help before you start applying.
- Experience studying with a private teacher –– along with plenty of advance preparation and support for auditions.
- Experience in school and/or community bands, orchestras, ensembles, choirs or in your own band or performance group.
- Experience and some degree of comfort in performing solos as well as performing with a larger group.
- Ability to read music, sight-read and sight-sing.
- Listening and aural skills.
- An understanding of basic music theory.
- Exposure to lots and lots of music, in the genre you like to perform as well as in other genres.
- Experience participating in after-school music programs and summer music camps and training programs.”
This section provides an overview of general guidelines pertaining to the application process. It also delineates the key components of the application process.
Some schools will need you to apply through the Common Application (CommonApp); others may have their own specific application. The most important part of your application will be your audition and any pre-audition/post-audition portfolio submission. Some places might require an interview as well, which is also extremely important.
While the audition is possibly the most important component, the ‘paperwork’ side of the application, i.e. your personal statement and resume, also carries significant weightage. So make sure you are putting your best foot forward in those components as well.
Transcript and standardized tests will typically be required by all schools. The minimum criteria will vary by school.
Refer to the Program Selection Section for further information.
Is this component required?
How important is this component (in the overall review of the application for admission)?
Standardized tests or entry exams
May be required
Depends on school
Transcripts (past academic records)
Depends on school
Letters of recommendation
Resume or CV
May be required
Very important when required
Pakistani applicants suffer most because of inadequate information -- or wrong information -- about essays and personal statements. This section will address those inadequacies specifically in relation to applying for this program. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘essay’) to craft a stellar personal statement.
Essays or personal statements are required by a number of music schools. Each school will typically specify/share its own guidelines for the essay. If you are unsure about what is required, contact the admissions office to seek clarification.
If you are applying through the Common App, you will be required to submit a personal essay along with your application. On the Common App, you will be provided a list of “prompts” to write on. Even if your school does not require a personal essay, you will have the option to submit one (if you apply via Common App).
Some schools may have separate applications (outside of the Common App). They may require you to submit a separate music essay or supplemental essay. Again, you should make sure that you go through the instructions specified and follow them. In case of confusion, contact the admissions office.
Which resources should I make use of?
- Read the following links before you start planning your personal statement:
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD STATEMENTS
What is essential in the statement:
- Research on your prospective school/program: Brittany Jimenez (Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at USC Thornton School of Music) says “it is beneficial to research the school and program and speak to the specific aspects and opportunities you find most relevant to you and your interests; getting to know the specific programs and faculty is important because every school is going to be unique in the type of experience they offer”. Make sure you are applying because your interests and goals are aligned with the institution you want to apply to. Applying because the university is one of the top-ranked schools is not enough; you need to specify why the school is the right one for you -- what is it that it offers that makes you want to go there? (Source: Majoring in Music)
- Through your essays/statements, the admissions committee basically wants to get to know you better. They are aiming to get a better sense of your personality -- so make sure you are honest in your portrayal of yourself. Megan Grady (Music Recruitment Coordinator and Assistant Director of Admission at the University of Puget Sound School of Music) says: “we are looking for students to tell us more about themselves. We like to see creative essays that tell us something we may not be able to learn from the rest of their application”. (Source: Majoring in Music)
- Tailor your application to each school: make sure each essay is specific to a school. Why are you choosing a particular program? “Essays that are clearly cut-paste versions of an essay you have sent to a dozen schools...are not very persuasive”, says Christina Crispin (Assistant Director of Admissions at the Eastman School of Music). (Source: Majoring in Music)
What are bad statements/ what things to avoid:
- Spelling errors/grammatical errors/punctuation errors: make sure you proofread your essay several times before submitting it, you need to demonstrate that you can write down your thoughts and ideas in a clear and coherent manner.
- Avoid long and complicated sentences. Instead of using run-on sentences or very long paragraphs, make sure you are drafting a well-thought-out essay.
This section will cover everything else related to the application process; including transcripts, interviews, resumes, and standardized tests.
You can expect all music schools (universities and conservatories) to have auditions and screening requirements. Some may also require portfolio submissions, or supplemental recordings (during or before the interview) -- it is highly recommended that you visit your university websites, and find out if they are required and follow the relevant instructions.
There are generally three categories of auditions: on-campus auditions (these are for those who live close to the school campus), regional audition (these are conducted at select sites for those who are unable to give on-campus auditions), and recorded/video audition (these are for those applicants who are unable to attend on-campus or regional auditions). All schools may not have these, some schools may only have live auditions. Additionally, some schools may also require applicants to submit a proposed live audition repertoire for review, prior to the actual audition.
Each school will have specific requirements for their audition process (requirements may also vary by major/degree type). It is highly recommended that you visit your prospective university/conservatory website and find out what the exact requirements are -- and follow the instructions stated there.
All of the following tips have been taken from Dr. Michelle Stanley’s (Assistant Professor of Music, Colorado State University) article: Playing Your Best: College Music Auditions (it is recommended that you go through this article yourself as well).
- Practice: do not cram; instead, try to include regular practice in your daily routine. Keep practicing your entire repertoire for each school, and make sure you review sight-reading and scales as well. Audition committees can also ask you to play/perform something you were not expecting. This is generally done to see where you are in your musical development (not being able to perform it does not mean that you will not pass the audition).
- Create your own audition committee: keep in mind you will be performing your audition piece in front of a panel of people you have never met before. Try to give yourself an opportunity to get used to the process, so that you are able to control your nerves on the actual audition day. Try to have your friends, teachers and even people you do not know watch you perform your audition piece. Request them to have you play scales/pieces you have not prepared (so that you are prepared for this should it happen on the actual audition day).
- Dr. Stanley says your audition begins “the moment you walk into the room”, meaning you should be “well-dressed, friendly, respectful, and confident”.
- It is okay if your repertoire is not perfect. The audition committee is focusing more on your potential than on your actual performance. The committee members understand that you are “developing musician” - and observe your strengths and weaknesses to judge if they are in line with the school’s specific teaching style.
- Don’t worry if the audition committee stops you before your piece is finished. It does not mean they did not like it; they might just be interested in hearing more of what you have to offer. Since there is a limited amount of time the committees usually have with each applicant, they do try to hear as much as possible from each applicant in a short period of time. It is recommended that you practise stopping at different places in your audition piece and move on to other pieces as you review your repertoire.
- You need to show your passion and enthusiasm for music, and for pursuing a music major. Make sure that your love for the art comes across while you perform.
- Don’t be compelled to play “fast or furiously” to impress the audition committee. Dr. Stanley recommends that you should play with “attention to intonation, integrity of rhythm, thoughtfulness, musicality, and a beautiful tone”.
- If you are able to get an in-person audition, use it as an opportunity to explore the school: talk to the current students, check out the school’s facilities and try to meet the teacher you want to study with. Make sure the school is the right fit for your objectives and passion.
Some schools may have interviews (alongside auditions, or perhaps after you have submitted your portfolio). Some schools may not. The requirement varies by school. Make sure that you check out the interview requirement when you go through your prospective music school website -- and follow the specified instructions.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for interviews (under the tab of ‘interview’).
“The résumé is the place for applicants to highlight their musical accomplishments and experiences,” says Christina Crispin (Assistant Director of Admissions at the Eastman School of Music). “If [you] want us to know about other extracurricular activities, leadership, volunteer work, etc., the résumé is a good place to capture that information”.
Almost every school you apply to will require you to submit a resume. There is no single ‘correct way’ of writing a resume unless your prospective school provides specific guidelines. But general tips that you should keep in mind are listed below.
- Make sure you add your contact information and other music-specific information and experience.
- Try to present your resume in an organized way. A “clean” resume is most effective: you should ideally list down what/where you have performed, competitions you have won, ensembles you have performed with etc.
- Some admissions committees also recommend that you keep your activities limited to your high school achievements unless you have achieved something extraordinary in your pre-high school years. Mention the instruments you have been playing and the length of time you have been playing them for, who you have studied with, who your directors are etc.
- Make sure you proofread your resume multiple times. There should be no spelling/grammatical errors.
Some schools may require you to submit standardized test scores; others may not. If it is required, you will typically need to take the SAT. Please go through your prospective school website to find out: a) if you are required to take any standardized tests, b) which standardized test scores are accepted, and c) what the minimum score criteria is. You should also try to find out what the deadline for submitting scores is, and register/take the test accordingly.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for standardized tests (under the tab of ‘tests’).