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The Best Music Schools in the U.S. 2017

Music schools provide an education to talented individuals in a wide-range of areas. Typically, musicians receive training and knowledge in both their specialized field, as well as in the history of music and its development over the ages. Students take classes in music history, receive academic and hands-on training to improve instrumental performance requirements; take classes in orchestral performance, receive special training in numerous music genre’s like jazz, pop, big band, and the blues; music education, theater performance, music appreciation, and voice and vocal development; just to name a few. Some music schools may even offer classes in various aspects of music production, which occurs behind the scenes or in a studio of film setting. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best music schools, along with factors to consider when choosing a school, and guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    24 schools ranked

  • Famous for providing the highest caliber of education in the arts; Julliard attracts superior talent in students and educators, is committed to diversity and inclusion and emphasizes global citizenship.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 894
  • By providing full-tuition scholarships to every one of its students; The Curtis Institute of Music offers an exceptional learning experience for gifted young musicians. Training includes the liberal arts as well as music.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 174
  • When alumni have won more than 250 Grammys/Latin Grammys; you’re assured the education offered by their alma mater was exemplary. With its students hailing from 96 countries; Berklee’s impact is global.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 5,289
  • Founded in 1867, NEC’s student body learns in a historical setting; the Conservatory and Hall are National Landmarks. Matriculants come from 46 states and 39 countries.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 789
  • IU's Jacobs School of Music combines both the intense focus of a conservatory with diversified academics. Its treasure—180 full-time internationally renowned faculty.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 48,514
  • With over 240 Steinway pianos; 1,500 musical instruments of the highest quality; 8 performance spaces and over 150 windowed practice rooms; Oberlin offers the very best in education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,929
  • MSM was founded in 1918 as a community school. Its dedication extends to children ages 5-18 via its Pre-College program; to over 4,000 by distance/educational programs; in addition to BA & Graduate studies.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 998
  • The logo at Eastman reflects its passionate approach to music education, “Eat, Sleep, Music.” The holistic approach to learning, encourages students to grow musically, academically, personally and spiritually.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 900
  • A graduate school within Yale University; the School of Music is one of the world’s most prestigious and exclusive programs. It is the only Ivy League school which offers a School of Music

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,385
  • Distinguishing SMTD from other music programs are: world-class mentorship; the extreme dedication of resident faculty and an immersive approach to learning. Exuding balance, the school covers scholarly, conservatory and entrepreneurial curricula.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 43,651
  • Proof of the exceptional nature of the education provided by Shepherd School is in the accomplishments of its alumni: Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-Award recipients, just to name a few.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 6,719
  • With a truly unique undergraduate program; all students must complete a 5-year, dual degree program which affords them both a Bachelor’s in Music and a B.A. in a non-music subject.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 2,332
  • Offering fully accredited degrees from BA to PhD; the College of Music is globally recognized for its comprehensive programs; as well as offering the world’s first jazz studies program.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 37,299
  • Having just joined the Jazz & Drama schools downtown; Mannes students enjoy brand-new, custom built, state-of-the-art facilities. The relocation also enhances opportunities for collaboration with other performing arts.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 10,344
  • CIM is dedicated to training classical musicians; and is hailed as a premier conservatory. Students learn from internationally renowned faculty & The Cleveland Orchestra.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 432
  • Founded in 1917, SFCM is an elitist program enrolling only 400 students. The curricula honors tradition while encouraging innovation. Renowned faculty support students in the development of individual excellence.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 379
  • Founded over 150 years ago, the Peabody Conservatory has built an international reputation for its leadership, esteemed community and excellence in professional, musical training.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 22,686
  • Continually operating since 1884, the Thornton School is ranked in the top 1% of US schools of music and conservatories. It offers programs ranging from ancient music to today’s leading-edge music.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 43,401
  • Appealing to those interested in a career as a scholar, performer or teacher; the School of Music & its distinguished faculty, offer rigorous, conservatory-level training in the classroom, practice and concert hall.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,655
  • As one of the largest and most prestigious music schools in the nation, The Frost School is known for providing students premier performance experiences, master classes and noted guest artists.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 16,825
  • NYU Steinhardt is famous for its intensive & systematic training of music students in their area of specialization. With superb academic resources, students receive an education of the highest caliber.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 50,027
  • The Herb Albert School of Music is known for its excellence and integrating programs in Music, Musicology, Ethnomusicology and Music Industry. Faculty members are acclaimed & internationally known.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,908
  • The Conservatory of Music at Colburn is highly selective; requiring an audition and formal application. It offers students full financial scholarships which include tuition as well as room and board.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 110
  • McNally Smith celebrates music as a dynamic art form, reflective of cultural globalization and advancement in technology. It creates new approaches to learning, while balancing them with traditional methods.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private, For Profit
    • imgEnrollment : 455

How to Choose a Music School

A first-class music school will encourage students to cultivate their unique and harmonically-rich musical voice. Music schools help students gain a tremendous amount of invaluable musical and interpersonal knowledge. And, while what is gained in class is incredibly beneficial, using what is learned and applying it to real-life opportunities will lead to a more well-rounded education and career post-graduation. In class, professors will impart their musical expertise onto you and guide you as best they can throughout school, both as a mentor and advisor. You will meet many other great musicians, each studying a variety of specializations in the genre of music and learn from them. After all, the more you know about music and the many areas in the world of music, the better off you will be after you graduate. You will gain from the relationships you’ll make, improve your performance, and possibly even advance your knowledge into a new area of music altogether. In college, you will learn and grow as a person beyond music by learning soft skills, like critical thinking, time management, and persistence, which will undoubtedly help you in your career and beyond. It goes without saying that a working knowledge of music will benefit you if you plan to pursue a career in the music industry in any capacity – whether on the creative side or the business side.

But, along with the widely-accepted benefits of attending music school, there are also widely recognized risks. It can be expensive to attend college, and many prospective students wonder if skipping school, saving their money and trying their luck in the industry for the next four years is best. Maybe you want to play in a band and feel the time it takes to earn a degree would hurt your chances of ‘making it’ while you’re young. Are you thinking about becoming a professional classical musician, music historian, or college music professor? If so, a college education is imperative. You may think you would you be better off learning the business aspects of the music industry on your own and simply taking private lessons to improve your skill and performance? All said, whether or not you choose to attend college really depends on the type of person you are and the career you want to pursue. At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that many employers want candidates who have earned a degree and have the skillsets to hit the ground running. The stakes are high, and competition can be fierce. But, a college education can unlock doors, make you more competitive, and help you get a job, keep a job, and make more money.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL

First things first. When choosing the best music school for you, think beyond geographic location and tuition costs. Yes, it costs a lot to attend college, just like it costs a lot to attend any school, but tuition and location (either across the country or around the world) shouldn’t be your first consideration. You must find a school that meets your needs both personally and professionally, while in school and also post-graduation. Does the school offer a major in your area of study? What are the requirements for applying to the school? Do the faculty seem engaged and professional? Are there performance opportunities? These questions, and a lot more, are all key factors you should consider when choosing a college that’s best for you.

Most music schools offer at least three music degrees: performance, business, and education. Some schools offer more specialized degrees, such as composition, music history, audio engineering, and music therapy. Some schools offer an art degree with an emphasis in music, which provides a broader overview of liberal arts classes and less intensive study in ensemble performance or private lessons. Some schools offer a performance certificate, while other’s offer an associate degree that focuses on the many styles of the mainstream music industry, such as pop and rock. Each option can a good fit for students entering music school depending on career goals. But, you have to find the school that will provide an education to meet your career goals while also giving you the skills and education you expect out of the college experience. Don’t match yourself to a program, but make sure the program matches you.

FACULTY

Although a positive student-professor relationship alone does not translate into good grades or academic success, students that establish relationships with their professors typically perform better. In addition, the reputation of the faculty is often the main reason students choose one school over another. Your college professors are much more than just teachers. They are counselors, mentors, and advisors. They offer advice based on their professional music experience, and help you develop your strengths and identify opportunities in your chosen field. As a mentor, they can guide you into areas you didn’t know existed, or help you with career choices in the music industry.

Professors are crucial to a school’s success, and the relationships they form with the student body is paramount to student’s feeling a sense of belonging and affiliation. It’s also fundamentally important to make sure your professors are people whose experience you can trust. Your best chance to find this out first hand is during the audition process. During your time on campus, you’ll be sitting in on rehearsals and lessons, meeting and auditioning for the faculty, and attending performances, while getting a feel for the day-to-day life lives of music students on-campus. And, keep in mind that not only are you auditioning for them, but they are auditioning for you as well. Take a good, hard look at the professors who teach at the music schools on your list, and make sure their experiences, philosophies, and their style of educating and approach to music are in line with your expectations. After all, you want to be sure that the professors you are with in class for the next four years are committed to you as much as you’re committed to your education. Keep in mind too that it is not uncommon, even in music school, to have adjunct faculty, graduate assistants, or student assistants teach class. Ask if your classes will be taught by tenured professors, or how many of your classes will be taught by student assistants instead.

PERFORMANCE OPPORTUNITIES & GROWTH

Let’s face it, some music schools are more conducive to a student’s growth and opportunities to perform than others. The sheer size of the student body can have a lot to do with whether or not one student performs (usually the more accomplished students) and another student has fewer opportunities on stage. It’s a fact too that some teachers are just drawn toward certain students; usually the ones that land the top jobs in orchestras or win competitions. But not all schools are created equal, and most strive to offer all students the same opportunities. Still, this is something to consider when choosing a school. The best way to find out if you will get the chance to show off your talents is by asking other students if they have had ample opportunities to perform. Sometimes all it takes to get noticed by your professors is persistence and hard work. If they can see real dedication in you and a willingness to improve, they may allow you to perform more in order to learn, be critiqued, and grow as a musician. Also, patience is key. If you’re willing to put in the effort (practice, practice, practice) and wait for ‘your turn’, you’ll get noticed. After all, to compete and succeed in school and in the super-competitive musical world, it’s essential to be on top of your game at all times, and also consistently raise the bar for yourself.

LOCATION

Many prospective music students choose a college, university, or private music school-based on academic programs, cost to attend, faculty, or because their friends are attending the school. But, another thing to take into consideration is location. Sometimes, attending the school of your choice means moving away from home. This can be an exciting time for many prospective music students, but it can cause anxiety for others. And, no doubt larger cities like NYC, LA, and Chicago offer many more opportunities for performance, internships, and landing a job after graduation, but they also have their drawbacks. Larger cities are jam-packed with talent (you’re not the only musician to think a larger city offers more opportunities). It can also be more expensive to live in a city if you choose to live off-campus. Keep in mind that not all schools, and especially private music schools, offer housing. Transportation can be crazy, and getting around can be a headache. Larger cities, however, are packed with museums, shows, nightlife, and concerts, all of which can distract even the most committed students from their main purpose, learning and practicing. There are also cities and schools that are better for one music genre over another, like many Chicago music schools are famous for jazz, while Harvard and LA are great if you want to become a composer. If you’re willing to relocate away from home or out-of-state, take a serious look at college music departments, faculty, course offerings, and concentrations to make sure they match your goals.

MUSIC COLLEGES & CONSERVATORIES

Schools that house music colleges or conservatories sometimes allow students to earn a music degree in conjunction with a degree in another field. And, some conservatories offer four- and five-year programs in conjunction with universities, like New England Conservatory / Tufts University, or The Juilliard School / Columbia University. Keep in mind that choosing a minor in a separate but related field from your major can open-up doors to your career post-graduation as it conveys your serious interest in a particular field when it comes time to look for an internship or job.

In addition, to say music school curriculum varies from school to school and from program to program is an understatement. Classes and coursework will depend on the music field you are most interested in pursuing, like:

  • Music Recording
  • Songwriting
  • Music Business
  • Music Education
  • Record Producer
  • Music Production
  • Audio Engineering
  • Recording Engineer
  • Music Publisher
  • Music Performance
  • Symphony, Orchestra & Opera
  • Session Musician
  • Sound Technician
  • Music Therapy
  • Music Journalism
  • Music Merchandising
  • Public Relations & Advertising
  • Program Director

You may study music history, musician performance, composition, music theory, sound arts, and computer music. You may learn digital audio recording and editing programs, arranging, the musical concepts of rhythm, harmony, and melody, survey of jazz, or pop, scoring for instrumental ensembles, tonal harmony and composition, and much, much more. Of course, if you’re entering the business side of a musical career, you may take coursework in sound design and acoustics, business of music production, mix techniques, vocal production, music production for records, and marketing and advertising. Because there are so many career fields to choose from in music, the curriculum you study will depend on the path you take.

Music Degrees & Program Types

Every school will have its own set of requirements for each degree or major. Sometimes degree requirements will be quite different, despite having the same name. That said, there are some general differences between the various degrees available to music students that are easy to recognize once you know what to look for

ARTIST DIPLOMA (A.D.)

An artist diploma (A.D.) is ideal for students who have already earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but want a high-level of continuous study post-graduation. This degree has an intense focus on music-based classes, and generally has no liberal arts requirements. Students who hold an AD are often viewed as being among the very best musicians in the school.

BACHELOR OF ARTS IN MUSIC (B.A.)

A bachelor of arts (B.A.) is best known for being a well-rounded liberal arts degree. It is also a good degree for students who wish to pursue a double major in a field outside of music, as many of the core requirements to complete a music major can be achieved by earning a BA. However, a BA does not offer the intense musical curriculum as a Bachelor of Music does, since more credits are dedicated to fulfilling liberal arts requirements. There is also a Master’s of Arts (M.A.) which is best for students who wish to continue their liberal arts education at the graduate level, while pursuing coursework in a music field at the graduate level.

BACHELOR OF MUSIC (B.M.) OR BACHELOR OF FINE ARTS (B.F.A)

A B.M. or B.F.A. are professional degrees that prepare students for careers as professional musicians. Music classes with take up about three-quarters of your coursework, depending on the school you attend. A degree of this nature is intense and immersive into the world of music performance, as well as careers in non-performance areas, such as an arranger, composer, orchestra conductor, and in film scoring or writing music for video game development. The Master’s of Fine Arts degree is best for musical theater and drama majors who wish to achieve a terminal degree in their area of study. The Master of Music is for students looking to pursue a graduate degree in the field of music with little emphasis on liberal arts and very intensive importance placed on music performance.

BACHELOR OF MUSIC EDUCATION (B.M.E)

A BME will prepare students for a career as a K-12 vocal and instrument teacher. It also prepares students to gain state teaching licensure. If you opt to pursue a BME, check out state regulations regarding licensure, as it may help you decide where to go to school. BME students study music education, music theory, conducting, music history and aural skills. This degree requires a certain number of liberal arts courses in conjunction with music technology classes.

BACHELOR OF SCIENCE IN MUSIC (B.S.)

Some schools offer a BS in music where the emphasis is more on the music business and music industry, and for jobs like copyright consultant, audio production and editing, clinician, or music historian.

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (PhD)

A PhD is best for musicians who want to seriously pursue the highest terminal degree possible, and is usually reserved for composition, musicology, theory, and other majors that don’t require performance. (an exception to the rule is NYU who offers a PhD in Music Performance).

What to Expect from a Music Program

Today there are literally dozens of options for what you can do with a degree in music; probably more than you ever thought possible. Teaching and performing are the two most common, but they don’t come close to covering all your career choices once you graduate. And, as performance and non-performance jobs aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other, many musicians choose to combine jobs just to support themselves. Some careers require a graduate degree; some require additional training beyond an undergraduate degree. Internships are also important to form connections in the industry and gain experience, as is learning the latest technology, innovative products, and new teaching methods.

AUDITIONS

Most schools require you apply prior to auditioning. So, create of music schools you want to apply to and fill out their applications. If you’re applying to larger universities’ music schools, you will probably need to apply to both the music school and the university. Keep in mind that the needs of some music schools change from year-to-year, and there may be more or less openings for your particular instrument or voice. This may be a determining factor on whether or not you are accepted to a specific school.

There are also an increasing number of music schools who are requiring prospective students to send in a pre-screen audition (usually a CD or DVD) that must be received by deadline. This information is available on the school’s website, or you can check with the specific music department prior to applying.

Without a doubt, auditions to music school can be stressful. You may be smart to visit a few of your top school choices to get a feel of what an audition will be like and talk to other students or faculty about the process. Learn, too, all you can about live auditions vs., recorded auditions. Some schools consider both graduate and undergraduate students for all the slots they are filling, so you may find yourself competing against other students with far more experience during the audition. Find out if regional auditions are available for the schools you are considering. Are digital auditions accepted at your school choices? Do you need to provide your own accompanist if you are performing a voice audition? Are their composition-specific requirements?

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

College is critical for individual growth. Networking and participating in internships, apprenticeships, connecting with other student-musicians, etc., are all great opportunities for personal growth and development, which is learned through trial and error and learning and trying new things. Key personal development skills that can be learned in college include communication skills, multitasking, social etiquette, confidence building, accountability, motivation, listening and speaking skills, and identifying your personal strengths and weaknesses. In college, students learn to set goals, prioritize, and learn how to manage their time. They learn that hard work pays off, and that mistakes are all part of the learning process.

But, no matter where you end of attending, music schools (or any school for that matter) all have one thing in common. You get out only what you put in. Even the most prestigious schools come with no guarantees. Every music school, music school within a large university, or even two-year programs have their advantages, but it’s up to you to capitalize on them.