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The best music schools are conservatories, but which of all the hundreds of options out there might be the best music conservatory?

With that title being thrown around and used by many institutions that probably should name themselves something else (but why not go for the classier option if you can?), it is sometimes tough to know which music schools will provide the most in-depth education with the greatest chance for success.

Below is a bit of an explainer on what a music conservatory is.

And here’s our list of the best music conservatories in America:

  1. The Juilliard School
  2. New England Conservatory of Music
  3. Colburn School
  4. Curtis Institute of Music
  5. Mannes College
  6. San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  7. Cleveland Institute of Music

What Is a Music Conservatory?

The definition of a conservatory states that it is “a school giving instruction in one or more of the fine or dramatic arts; specifically, a school of music,”1 and while some may want to tweak that slightly, it’s actually pretty spot-on.

These days, the word conservatory is used a bit more liberally than in the past, or so it seems. If you think you’re looking for a conservatory, don’t be turned off by an institution just because it uses a term like college, school, or university instead. Look at the facilities, the faculty, the classes, the tuition–anything but the name, which can be deceiving.

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What Is the Difference Between a Music School and a Conservatory?

A fair question to ask, then, would be what the difference between a music school, a university that offers music programs and a music conservatory is. In practice, there isn’t really one any longer, though music conservatories tend to focus much more on the music as opposed to a well-rounded education. Those who are looking for a conservatory are usually interested in becoming the best musicians possible, and they aren’t very interested in clubs, minors, extracurriculars, and so on.

If you want to learn the business of music and everything that goes along with being a professional artist, a music conservatory is not for you.

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The Best Music Conservatories

Now that we’ve gotten a few important tasks out of the way, here’s a look at what I believe are the best music conservatories for young musicians.

1. The Juilliard School

Location: New York City, NY

Of all the conservatories in the entire world, is it any wonder that Juilliard ends up first? The name is truly a global brand, recognized in every corner of the music industry, and if you can get in there, you will almost surely have a job at the end of your time learning…but getting in is one of the toughest tasks in higher education.

According to some sources2, Juilliard’s acceptance rate is actually lower than Harvard’s, which is famous for how many bright young people it turns down.

Getting in the doors may be incredibly difficult, as there are thousands of potential superstars applying every year, but once there, the workload is incredible, the demands are enough to break anyone, and it’s absolutely exhausting…but at the end of it all, if you survive, you’ll be among the best musicians in the world at what you do.

If you haven’t been scared away from even attempting to apply, go for it, but read on and learn about other conservatories that might not be so intimidating to aspiring musicians everywhere.

The Juilliard School

2. New England Conservatory of Music

Location: Boston, MA

Boston may be a relatively small city, at least when compared to other places like New York City or Los Angeles, but it has more than its fair share of music conservatories. The New England Conservatory of Music is easily one of the best choices in the entire United States.

It features plenty of highly-regarded staff who work in local orchestras (especially the beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra) and it features several impressive performance spaces, including the world-famous Jordan Hall, which is used by students and touring acts who are familiar with the concert venue.

New England Conservatory of Music

3. Colburn School

Location: Los Angeles, CA

This oft-overlooked institution must go on every list of music conservatories for prospective students to consider, and not just because it’s a great place to learn.

When choosing a school in California, young people should look at a place’s reputation, staff, and what the alumni have gone on to do after they leave, but there’s so much more to consider! Where is the school located? Will there be life outside of class and homework? How much is this going to cost, and is help available?

What the Colburn School lacks in flashy reputation it makes up for in other areas. Located right in Los Angeles, there are more opportunities to find internships and work in fields not available almost anywhere else, such as in film and TV, which are not often discussed when it comes to musicians, Singers, and Composers, even though there’s good money to be earned.

Also, the Colburn School is one of several educational brands that is looking to offer highly subsidized degrees, or possibly even full rides, to many of the students who choose to go there, making it especially attractive to those who may have the passion, but who might not have the means to attend other colleges.

Colburn School

4. Curtis Institute of Music

Location: Philadelphia, PA

The Curtis Institute of Music is one of the smallest colleges in America, and certainly one of the most intimate conservatories, especially when looking at those that are known around the world. The Institute only teaches under 200 students at a time, but that certainly doesn’t mean it has a tiny reputation.

In fact, Curtis Institute of Music alumni may have made the greatest impact for the smallest classes, as they have gone on to win Grammys, perform in symphonies all around the globe, and teach in most of the other highest-rated conservatories.

Learning in an environment as intimate as the Curtis Institute of Music can be tough, but it also has its benefits. There is a greater opportunity to shine, to forge close relationships with many classmates, and certainly to work one-on-one with Professors and fellow musicians, which is perhaps more useful for those who attend conservatories than any other type of higher education option.

Also, while the school may be small, Philadelphia is a lovely city, and there will be countless chances to get out beyond the walls of the Curtis Institute of Music and explore, meet other people, and live a full, completely-rounded life.

Curtis Institute of Music

5. Mannes College

Location: New York City, NY

Mannes College was, for a long time, located way uptown, and while it’s not exactly a long trek to get anywhere in New York City, the fact that it has now moved to 13th Street makes it even more appealing to those looking to get the real NYC experience.

One of the greatest benefits that comes with being accepted to Mannes College is the fact that it is partnered with the New School, a group of well-known schools. The New School features a jazz conservatory, which fits in perfectly with what Mannes College does, though they actually aren’t in the same locale. If you want to study jazz, you’ll need to go to the West Village (which is way more fun anyway).

Mannes College

6. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Location: San Francisco, CA

Many of the highest-rated music conservatories are located on the East Coast, whether they be in Boston, New York City, or Philadelphia…but that’s not to say that the West Coast is devoid of fantastic places to receive a top-notch musical education! Looking up north, San Francisco, itself a world-class city worth spending some time in, features the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Now centrally located in the heart of the great City by the Bay, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music allows students to start early with their pre-college programs, earn their bachelor’s, go on to their master’s degrees, and then go straight into local institutions like the ballet or the symphony, both of which rank among some of the most impressive in the world.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is ideal for people who love the city and want to stay there. Some colleges are located in places where no one would want to reside, especially those in the arts, but the same cannot be said for this selection.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

7. Cleveland Institute of Music

Location: Cleveland, OH

This list had to include at least one school that wasn’t located in a coastal city (or one right nearby)…and even if it didn’t, the Cleveland Institute of Music is still worthy of being featured anyway. This option is absolutely fantastic at what it does, though it’s very important to note that it only focuses on one thing.

The conservatory is rooted in classical music, and that’s the only genre taught at the Cleveland institution, so if that’s what a potential student is interested in, this must be considered. If anyone is thinking of looking at any other types of programs, this is not the place. Being among the best classical musicians in the world requires years of rigorous learning, and also laser focus, which is exactly what will happen here.

Cleveland may not be the sexiest place for a young person to live, but the education one can receive here is more than worth the time spent, and there’s still plenty of fun to be had here–plus, it’s home to the legendary Cleveland Orchestra, one of the “Big Five” American orchestras.

Cleveland Institute of Music

  1. "Conservatory". published: 2012. retrieved on: 4 December 2020
  2. 2Grove, Allen. "The Juilliard School: Acceptance Rate and Admissions Statistics". ThoughtCo. published: 6 July 2019. retrieved on: 4 December 2020
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