Music Major

What Does Applying To Be A Music Major In College Actually Look Like? (Part 1)

Like being a full-time musician, going to college is a lot of work. Between classes, rehearsals, meetings, internships, and jobs, it can become rather exhausting but at the same time, it’s rewarding and you’ll find it will likely be one of the best times of your life.

Now, actually getting into school is another story altogether. Applying to colleges is a long, drawn-out, complicated, not particularly fun process and it can be even tougher for those looking to pursue music. There are a lot of resources aiming at helping young people through the process but those existing resources perhaps aren’t quite helpful enough because I remember not even knowing where (or when) to begin. I wish I’d had something like a list to guide me through the rocky terrain.

I’ve compiled a ranking of steps you’ll need to take as you apply to colleges, covering the journey from the beginning all the way to the end…which, in another sense, is actually just the beginning. I know when I was submitting applications I wish I’d had somebody tell me how much work it would entail, how many different pieces of information I’d need to gather, and how far in advance I should have started. (Hint: it was a lot earlier than I guessed).

Applying for college looks different for every student, as no two people have the same situations, the same goals, or the same strengths or weaknesses. Having said that, there are still some steps that need to be followed by pretty much everybody looking to further their education and if you’re already planning on going to college for something related to music (I focused primarily on Performance in this piece but even if that’s not your anticipated major, these two articles can still be helpful), please read through these carefully.

Research

It may seem incredibly obvious to state the first thing a prospective student needs to do when they begin thinking about what college they want to attend is, well, think about what college they want to attend. It is but it’s still worth putting this line item first. It’s a no-brainer you’ll need to do some research about music departments and what it takes to get into one but few students may realize just how much time and effort is required to understand all that is necessary. Please, please don’t think researching colleges will take an afternoon or even a day or two before you’ve got all the info you need. If you want to be especially proactive (and you do, trust me), start doing research a year or so before you begin any application process. This may sound excessive but it will make your life much easier and if you do so you won’t wind up being quite as frenzied.

Take your time and don’t just be thorough with your research but think long and hard about your future. What do you want to do and where would you like music to take you? Start looking into different universities and colleges and what they offer in terms of degrees, courses, programs, travel abroad options, help with internships (and later, job placement), and who teaches there. I’m not suggesting you need to collect and read a bio of every Professor at every college you may consider but perhaps there is a specific musician on staff you know you’d love to work with or maybe one school is known to be great when it comes to giving students real-world experience, as opposed to keeping them cooped up in classrooms all day. These are things you may want to know and think about as you’re filling out applications and it can take a lot more time than you might imagine at first to collect all of this data.

The internet is, of course, the best place to find a lot of the information you’ll be interested in and there are hundreds of websites (this outlet included) that can help you learn more and which can guide you down the complicated, lengthy path of applying to and being accepted to the right school for you. Spend some time looking at the websites of each individual college, as they often post a lot of detailed information about their programs and who is involved and you may be able to locate everything you need in a relatively short period of time.

Also, feel free to start talking to people in the music world early on in this process, as they may have knowledge or be able to provide anecdotes you won’t find on the internet. Your Teachers, other musicians, and all kinds of people in the industry can be helpful, and even if they don’t have much to say about a certain college or area of study, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can give you valuable insight.

Start looking into different universities and colleges and what they offer in terms of degrees, courses, programs, travel abroad options, help with internships (and later, job placement), and who teaches there.

Lists

When applying to college, you’re going to be making lists — lots of them — so I hope this is something you’re already used to doing. I suggest making so many lists you actually make a list of lists you’re going to need to write out. That might sound ridiculous and I fully admit it is, but it will help you stay organized and ensure you don’t miss anything important.

Start by making a list of every college you’re considering and then a list of lists you’ll need for each of those. One should be to do your research (which we discussed above), which will include many different steps (speaking with people, looking online, and even going to the location, if possible), and another will be in regards to collecting everything you need to turn in to actually be considered by the school itself.

Perhaps the most important list and the one every student applying to any type of college should make is the schedule of what needs to be turned into the school and when. Every university, no matter what kind of institution, requires many different pieces to complete an application and while there are usually many things in common, sometimes there are glaring differences. Between the actual application, essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, financial disclosures, audition tapes, medical papers and many other official forms and documents, there could be dozens of different items required to apply to just one school and there are probably just as many dates you’ll need to keep track of as well.

That’s enough to scare anyone off but if you have a system and a list, you’ll be able to stay on top of everything and send each form and paper in on time. Since every school will ask for different things by different dates, there’s no way you’ll be able to remember it all in your head, so please don’t even try!

It’s rare to find a college that doesn’t offer, or even encourage, tours of their grounds, their classrooms, and their dorms, because these site visits can be one of the greatest ways to either up your excitement about one option or help you decide you were entirely wrong.

Tours

While you’re doing your research about colleges with music programs you may find yourself crossing several names off your list of ones you want to apply to. Don’t feel bad about that or worry — it’s what you’re supposed to do! If you begin with a rather ambitious grouping of regal institutions and wind up with only half as many (or even fewer, depending on how many were there to begin with), you’ve likely done a good job looking into the programs and the Teachers, and you’ve found some seeming like they may be a good fit…as well as plenty of others that aren’t what you had in mind.

Once you have narrowed down your shortlist, start planning actual visits to as many of them as you can. It’s rare to find a college that doesn’t offer, or even encourage, tours of their grounds, their classrooms, and their dorms because these site visits can be one of the greatest ways to either up your excitement about one option or help you decide you were entirely wrong.

I can say from personal experience when I was applying to college, one of the schools I was leaning towards ended up being an immediate no when I went to see it. Sure, the photos they chose to post on their website were nice and it certainly had its benefits but it only took about an hour for me to know I wasn’t meant to go there…and it didn’t even take a meeting with a Counselor or any Professors for me to feel right about leaving it behind.

Touring every college on your list won’t always be an option for many prospective students for many reasons — they may be too far away, you might not have the time (or your parents or guardians might not), and it could easily wind up being too costly to make the trek to all of them, depending on where they’re located — but you should make an effort to head to as many as possible. It would be a shame for you to go through the hassle of applying and then maybe even beginning your secondary education at a college only to realize a short while after you arrive you’ve made the wrong decision and it potentially could have been avoided simply by walking around the school itself.

Tours should only take a few hours at most and you’ll likely only need to do one per college. If you can, try to schedule time with Professors, Counselors, and other musicians while you’re there, as they can give you insight no brochure or pamphlet will. You can even kill two birds with one stone and knock out a visit while you audition or interview…but more on that in the second half of this piece.

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