1) Performance Opportunities
Does the program include undergraduate and graduate studies? If so, are graduate students the only ones who get the big performance opportunities? Look for a program that can offer you the chance to perform in ensembles (e.g. orchestra, band, or choir) as well as the chance to perform solo. Both ensemble and solo performances are important to your education as a musician. Even if you made it into the most elite program, would you want to spend four years never having a chance in the spotlight?
2) Class Size
Again, having large class sizes may limit your chances to perform. Large classes will also make it harder for you to make a personal connection with your professor or private instructor. Smaller class sizes tend to make for an environment of comradery and personalized learning experiences. However, small class sizes have the potential to force you into working with people you may not get along with.
Are you located in place that you enjoy spending lots of time in? For example, Los Angeles has a lot of opportunities to see (and maybe even participate in) shows, concerts, clubs, and festivals. A place like Buford, Wyoming will not have nearly as many events and resources available on a regular basis. You also have to enjoy the weather and community surrounding the school if you plan on living on campus, because you will be spending most of your time there.
4) On-Campus Resources
Does the program have adequate facilities to support what you want from a music program? If your program takes 30 students per year and only has 5 accessible practice rooms, there may be an issue. If the program is attached to a bigger university, is it prominent on campus? It can be awkward if no one on campus knows that the music department exists, and that usually means that the program is underfunded or ignored.
5) Faculty and Staff
How do you feel about the professors and instructors? You should reach out to them and request a trial private lesson or ask to sit in on a class or rehearsal. This will help you decide if you can see yourself thriving at that school. Teaching styles vary greatly from professor to professor, so be sure you can work with them for the long run. Are there any notable individuals, such as artists in residence on campus? Great faculty = great learning experiences for you.
6) Program Philosophy
Decide what you want from your learning experience in music school. If you want an intense and competitive environment, a conservatory may be the place for you. If you want a relaxed, nurturing environment, maybe look into smaller programs with a religious affiliation that matches your personal beliefs. Do enough research to know what the program stands for and what they expect from their students. It’s always good to be pushed, but be prepared for the level of dedication a specific program requires of its students.
7) Degree(s) Offered
Make sure you understand what type of program you’re getting into. For example, Berklee College of Music specializes in popular music and jazz, while most institutions specialize in classical music. Decide if you want a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) or a B.M. (Bachelor of Music). They are very similar degrees, and it really depends on what kind of career or further education you want in the future. Does your school offer a master’s program? Is your degree a recognizable bachelor’s degree, or is it a certificate of completion? Can you have a double concentration? Do your homework and know what you’re getting yourself into.
8) Notable Alumni
Does your program produce mega-superstars? What are people doing now after graduating? Will the school help you get a job right away? Google your program and look at their notable alumni. They could have famous people that you’ve heard of, or they could have extremely successful people who aren’t household names. Look into what alumni are doing- are they working as musicians? I found my school by getting to know someone who went there. He had nothing but positive things to say, and on top of it all, he’s an excellent (working!) musician.
I turned down a spot at Boston University- which seems kind of stupid right off the bat, I know. It definitely wasn’t an easy decision and it’s too soon to tell if that was a mistake, but hear me out. The school had everything I wanted: an amazing study abroad program, loads of (new) practice rooms, and large-scale operas. The thing I couldn’t get over was the cost. I had no scholarship offers, which meant I had to pay a whopping $65,000 a year (and rising) to go there. Not to mention airfare and living expenses. I would’ve put myself in so much debt… which would be a naive thing to do since (newsflash!) young musicians don’t make loads of money right away. I also want to get my master’s later on, and I’d like to be able to afford that without living in a cardboard box XD . Anyway, my point is, know your financial situation. If your parents are helping you pay for school, sit down with them and talk about it. Know your limits before becoming attached to a school.
10) Overall Experience
Lastly, consider every aspect of life at school. Do you want to be able to go to football games? Then choose a big university. Do you want to stay close to home? Then consider a state school. Do you want to focus on music and music only? Look into conservatory-style programs. Just make sure you realize that there will be more than just your instrument to deal with. You’ll have to deal with peers and housing and food and lots of other non-music stuff. I don’t particularly care for sports, so I chose a small school that focused on academics more than having a winning sports team. One thing I didn’t consider at first was the type of people my school attracts. An expensive private school in California attracts privileged people who care about location… and who go on vacation to Australia just because. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone is a rich jerk. I have plenty of wonderful, hardworking, normal friends who got here through scholarships like me 🙂 That’s just a factor I didn’t even think about until I got here.
I hope this list will make your life a bit easier! Good luck!