6 of the Best Colleges for Sound Engineering Courses
Audio engineering is a tough field of study.
Before you decide it’s something you’re interested in going to college for I highly suggest you do some research or even speak to someone who works as an Engineer, as the gig might not be what you had in mind. Sure, there are plenty of Audio Engineers who work with major artists in cool recording studios and who take home Grammys, but as is the case with much of the music industry, this is only a small group of people and it’s tough to get there. For most Engineers, the job can be very different and it would be a shame to get a degree in something only to realize later it wasn’t really what you wanted. When it comes to higher education, there are a lot of options but not everyone agrees about which schools should consistently rank at the top of any list of the best. However, if you do know engineering school is where you really, really want to focus your efforts, there are certainly enough to investigate to find the right fit for you.
Here are six great choices for colleges. I suggest you begin your search here.
1. Berklee College of Music
Location: Boston, MA
It’s tough to imagine any list of the best music colleges in the country that doesn’t include Berklee College of Music in Boston. When taking into account the great variety of musical courses of study, it is by far the best school for music education. While there are certainly colleges that excel in teaching different areas of music studies, there is nothing musical that Berklee can’t do. Sound engineering and design are included in the many fields of study the Boston institution is known for and the school even offers a great online degree program in the subject. Having the name Berklee on your resume will help you get places in the music industry and while Boston isn’t necessarily a huge music town like New York or Los Angeles, there’s enough going on at the many colleges in the area and on the live music circuit to keep you busy and ensure you get some great experience in engineering.
2. Full Sail University
Location: Winter Park, FL
If you think Boston is a bit out of the way when compared to major American music cities, wait until you head down to Full Sail, which is based in Winter Park, FL. Sure, the location isn’t necessarily ideal (unless we’re thinking solely about the weather, in which case it clearly has Berklee beaten in the colder months), but the school is top-notch for everything connected to the music industry. In only a few decades, Full Sail has worked its way to the top of many lists of the best schools for those looking to get into the business and it belongs high up on this ranking as well.
The college reportedly offers over 100 “production environments,” which is a somewhat vague term, but it shows those in charge are serious about giving everyone the opportunities they need in a musical setting. There are several different courses of study you can choose from and all of them will get you ready for a career in music engineering. If you can afford it (Full Sail is a for-profit school, by the way), I’d say actually going to the campus and living nearby for a full session would be the best option. If that won’t work for you, there is an online engineering program, though of course, it’s always better to be there, you know?
Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program.
3. New York University – Steinhardt
Location: New York City, NY
The first two options listed in this ranking (which doesn’t necessarily place schools from best to “worst”) are known for music and only music, which is why they landed above New York University’s Steinhardt school. Though in many ways, this school is a much better choice.
First of all, NYU is the best known of the three top schools on our list, both inside and outside of the music industry. If you’re only ever going to work in the business, degrees from Berklee or Full Sail should do you just fine but NYU’s name and logo catch the eye of employers in every field so if you ever end up deciding music just isn’t for you (which may seem impossible now, but trust me, it happens to even the best and most dedicated), the fact you went here will be helpful when it comes time to move on.
Second, being in New York City offers a multitude of options when it comes to internships, volunteer positions, outside classes, and eventually, jobs — which will be critical to your engineering education. Classrooms are great but getting real-world experience in anything musical, especially something technical like engineering, is invaluable and you’ll have your best chance of doing so in a bustling metropolis like New York City.
Steinhardt’s degrees in music technology are some of the best in the world and they absolutely live up to the name printed on your diploma when you finish your four years.
4. The Los Angeles Film School
Location: Los Angeles, CA
When the majority of young music lovers decide they want to get into the music industry, most of them think about working for a record label, getting into PR, working at a booking agency, becoming a performer, or if you’re reading this list, getting a job at a studio or doing live sound. There are so many other sectors of the business that allow you to be creative or are connected to music in some way; many forget a huge part of the film industry is focused on and needs music and there needs to be a steady stream of people heading in that direction all the time.
The Los Angeles Film School is the perfect place to learn how engineering and production factor into every field of music and how it differs between industries. You will spend time (or you’ll have the option to — sometimes it’s up to you to take advantage of everything possible) learning in-studio work on a song or an album, live recording, and film music, which is a completely different monster (even though it’s all just sound).
The audio engineering degree program only lasts eighteen months so plan accordingly and make sure you spend this time doing as many internships and entry-level studio gigs as possible because it will go by quickly!
5. Georgia Institute of Technology
Location: Atlanta, GA
Sure, if you head to Atlanta to learn how to become an Audio Engineer, you’ll take some of the same kinds of classes and learn some of the same material you would at almost any other school offering this type of degree. But the Georgia Institute of Technology offers so much more and it should really be on your radar.
This southern school has an entire research department dedicated to music and audio — a rarity anywhere in the world, especially outside of major companies selling high-end equipment. The future is all about hi-res audio, acoustically-perfect rooms and buildings, and about making the sound quality better in everything from headphones to speakers to cars. It’s pretty crazy how many advancements are coming out of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
There are many classes really geared only toward those looking to do high-end engineering work but if you give some of them a try you might find this is exactly the type of audio engineering that interests you. If not, you don’t need to wind up in a lab somewhere, but knowing what’s on the cutting edge and what’s next in this field certainly won’t hurt you!
6. Carnegie Mellon University
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
I know I stated above that having names like Berklee or New York University on your resume would help you land jobs later on — and it will — but Carnegie Mellon is probably even better than those two. It is an esteemed institution and the name is known around the world as one of the best in everything it does. It might sound petty but I won’t lie: having a degree from a school with a “brand name” absolutely makes something of a difference. While attending a “name” school is not everything, if you can make it work, at least think about this place.
The university’s newly-created music and technology program (it was established in 2009) is described by the school itself as a “joint project” between the School of Music, School of Computer Science, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The last item, in particular, should interest you. The combination of departments involved means these will not be just your typical engineering classes, but ones which might be further ahead than what other colleges and universities offer in terms of how deep they get into the science and math of sound. If it seems tough, it likely will be, but getting this type of degree will help you understand audio engineering and what goes into it in a way others won’t. This will not only make you a better candidate for the same types of jobs but it will open up different avenues for you, as well.
In addition to being more technologically advanced than some other engineering programs of study, Carnegie Mellon offers a standard bachelor’s degree in this music and technology vertical and it also allows students to go on (or apply and work their way in if they weren’t lucky enough to attend undergrad at the same location) to receive their master’s degrees in the same field. There aren’t too many colleges featuring undergraduate-to-graduate offerings in this field so clearly the staff here is built to take in top-notch students, teach them well, and share as much knowledge as they can handle.
Curious about attending school for sound engineering? Learn what you need to know before picking a program, discover the classes you’ll likely take, and decide if audio engineering school is really worth it.
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