Pretty much every aspect of applying to college can be an intimidating experience. There is so much to do, so many places to look for information and advice (this blog included), and it doesn’t help when most incoming students are already keenly aware of how important it is to get into a program with a well-known name that will one day be a very crucial factor in securing a job in this competitive field.
One of the first things you should be doing as a student still in high school is decide which establishments you will even attempt to get into in the coming months and years. Depending on what you want to study, there could be literally hundreds of options, and all of them will claim to be the perfect fit for you. As someone who wants to study music, you are both lucky and limited when it comes to colleges, depending on how optimistic you want to be. There are many schools with music programs but only a handful have developed well-earned reputations as excellent educational leaders and those are the ones you want to go for.
Having said this, because there aren’t hundreds of beloved, truly exceptional choices, the playing field is smaller and it can be even more difficult to stand out and eventually be accepted into a program. There are more students who would love to attend these locations than spots available, so you certainly have your work cut out for you if you want admissions counselors to look upon you with favor. For better or worse, that’s just how these things go.
If you’re just beginning your search for where you may go to study music, consider these ten colleges and universities above all others, as they are widely understood to be the absolute best in the world.
In no particular order, our picks for the best music schools in the world are:
- The Juilliard School
- Berklee College of Music
- Yale School of Music
- New England Conservatory of Music
- University of Southern California Thornton School of Music
- Curtis Institute of Music
- The Royal Academy of Music
- Royal College of Music
- Indiana University – The Jacobs School of Music
- Mannes School of Music
Location: New York City, NY
Notable Alumni: Barry Manilow, Yo-Yo Ma, John Williams
The Juilliard School, or simply Juilliard as most people call it, is known as the most prestigious performing arts educational institution in the world, according to a number of rankings doled out every year. The college teaches students in a number of verticals, including dance, acting, and, of course, music, which it is perhaps best known for.
The school is attached to the similarly prestigious Lincoln Center, which plays host to some of the best live music performances to be found anywhere, with a focus on all things classical and opera. This option is best for those who one day would like to compose or perhaps play in an orchestra, but it probably isn’t ideal for anyone looking to create more contemporary popular music.
Location: Boston, MA
Notable Alumni: Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones, John Mayer
Unlike many other music programs all around the world, Berklee College of Music is focused on churning out artists who go on to top the charts and own the pop culture conversation. Many of the most successful alumni aren’t in orchestras or crafting classical compositions, but rather, they have squarely focused their musical efforts in pop, rock, and other modern genres.
Berklee College of Music produces more hitmakers than any other school in the world so if you want to make it big in the Top 40 world, this is where you need to go.
Boston is known as a college town and Berklee College of Music is simply one of the best in a crowded area.
Location: New Haven, CT
Notable Alumni: Marco Beltrami, Michael Daugherty, Matt Brubeck
Yale needs no introduction, but sadly, many people overlook the music school as the other programs receive the majority of attention. The legendary university’s musical wing is world-renowned and not just because of the name. It has truly earned its stellar reputation and it lives up to the Yale brand, producing many incredibly accomplished musicians.
New Haven, Connecticut is a relatively smaller city without all the flash of (fairly) nearby NYC but it will be worth it when you get out of school and have Yale on your resume.
Location: Boston, MA
Notable Alumni: Neal E. Boyd, Aoife O’Donovan, Vic Firth
Yes, of course, another Boston college makes this list! With so many schools in such a relatively small area, it’s impossible to avoid including more than one institution from the city on any ranking of great universities. While Berklee does get a majority of the music-focused collegiate attention when it comes to Beantown, there is plenty of room for the New England Conservatory of Music, as the two don’t overlap very much.
Where Berklee is focused on creating hitmakers and pop stars, the NECM keeps its eyes (and ears) on helping those with a passion for playing become some of the best in the world on stringed, woodwind, and brass instruments.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Notable Alumni: Herb Alpert, James Newton Howard, James Horner
Founded just four years after the university itself, the Thornton School of Music is one of the oldest musical institutions in America and it benefits immensely from more than a century of knowing what it takes to craft a truly wonderful musician. While the organization focuses on styles like jazz, classical, and earlier forms of music, the school also has a celebrated program for those looking to work in the music industry but who may not be musicians themselves.
Even if you want to be on the more creative end of things as an artist, taking classes to teach you what’s happening in the business can only benefit you and this is a great place to receive such a blended education. Aspiring Music Business majors should take note of this school. USC also has strong connections to the film music industry.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Notable Alumni: Leonard Bernstein, David Brooks, Lang Lang
While not specifically known as one of the better music cities in America, Philadelphia does have at least one hidden gem everybody considering going to college to study the craft should look into: The Curtis Institute of Music. The school, which is coming up on one hundred years of age, has been quietly producing some of the most accomplished musicians in the world for a long time. While you might not have heard of it, everybody in the opera field (the school’s specialty) certainly has!
It is notoriously difficult to be accepted to, as it agrees to take on less than five percent of all applicants, so you’re going to need to show them something really special if you want to go here.
Location: London, UK
Notable Alumni: Elton John, Annie Lennox
If you’re looking to travel overseas when you take up your musical studies, the Royal Academy of Music may be exactly what you need. The school accepts students from dozens of countries so you certainly have a chance of going but you’re going to need to be really, really great to be included in the incoming class -— this is one institution that can afford to be picky.
The college is also connected to the University of London which can come in handy if you’re looking to study something other than music (in addition to becoming a serious artist, of course).
Location: London, UK
Notable Alumni: Andrew Lloyd Webber, James Horner, Vanessa-Mae
Speaking of London, if you don’t get into the Royal Academy of Music, there are other options in that great city and the second one on your list should absolutely be the Royal College of Music. The two similarly-named universities are part of the ABRSM (the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), four wonderful educational institutions in the U.K. dedicated to teaching the art of performance.
Only two of the four are located in London, which is where you probably want to live if you’re moving to the country for college. In addition to actually helping people become better musicians, the Royal College of Music does a lot of research into all things related to performance, which further influences teaching methods and how live events are staged and buildings are created.
Location: Bloomington, IN
Notable Alumni: Joshua Bell, Carl Broemel
It may not be quite as impressive as some other schools on this list and it doesn’t carry the same reputation to one day help you get noticed by employers simply because of a famous name but the Jacobs School of Music, which is based at Indiana University, offers the greatest chance of acceptance for many up-and-coming artists. Many of the universities I’ve already mentioned only admit a small group of new applicants every year, while the Jacobs School has almost 2,000 students at any given time.
As a public university, this option is often offered at a lower price than many private choices, especially for those from the region.
Location: New York City, NY
Notable Alumni: Burt Bacharach
Another New York City school, I know — but there’s a reason why so many of these colleges are located in the Big Apple!
While it may be difficult to make a go of being a professional musician in America’s largest metropolis, it also happens to be where the majority of the music industry is focused. Students at the Mannes School of Music benefit not only from excellent Professors who typically have decades of experience, but from being just a subway ride away from countless opportunities for internships, jobs, and places to perform whenever they like.
New York City is to music what Los Angeles is to acting — you’ll be just a small fish in a big pond but at least you’re in the right pond to begin with.
Also, as part of the New School, which houses fellow artistic college Parsons (known as one of the best in the fashion world), there are plenty of facilities and faculty who will be willing to help in whatever way possible when it comes to making you a success.
Thankfully, there aren’t just 10 great music schools in the world, there are dozens. If you don’t get into the locales listed above, or if you simply want to broaden your search as you kick things off, here are 10 more institutions worthy of looking at (which could all be featured in another article):
- San Francisco Conservatory of Music – San Francisco, CA
- Boston Conservatory at Berklee – Boston, MA (yes, another school within the larger Berklee institution)
- The Johns Hopkins University – Peabody Institute, Baltimore, MD
- Cleveland Institute of Music – Cleveland, OH
- Northwestern University – Bienen School of Music, Evanston, IL
- Oberlin College – Oberlin Conservatory, Oberlin, OH
- Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, Paris, FRANCE
- University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music – Rochester, NY
- Guildhall School of Music & Drama – London, UK
- Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo, NORWAY
Planning to attend music school soon? Learn about what it takes to be a music major and discover some of our favorite post-grad programs.