You did it! You’re done! You’ve made it through the college visits, prospective lessons, pre-screening tapes, and auditions! Now, before you go and do anything else, congratulate yourself and take some time to relax. You have made it through the most difficult part of the music school admissions process and you deserve a break.
Then, before you know it, the acceptance letters start coming in and you are forced to start deciding where your home will be for the next two to four years. Although this may seem like a daunting decision, it can actually become quite easy if you consider three important factors when weighing offer letters and schools against one another. In my experience, the three most important things to consider are location & community, your primary teacher, and the cost.
Before you start thinking about any of this, Get Organized!
Start by creating a spreadsheet on Excel or Google where you can enter every detail about all of the schools that you have received an acceptance letter from. When I was deciding on schools for my graduate studies, my spreadsheet included columns for location, cost, scholarship opportunities, professors, ensemble opportunities, distance to nearby major cities, size of school, and curriculum details amongst other things. Your spreadsheet does not have to include all of these columns. Instead, your spreadsheet should include the details that are important to you. For instance, if chamber music is your specialty and you are wanting to build a career in chamber music, your spreadsheet should probably include a column about the chamber music offerings/curriculum at that school.
Most Important Things to Consider #1: Location & Community
As a musician, one of the most important factors to consider when weighing multiple acceptance offers is the location of the school in the community, and in relation to nearby larger cities. For most musicians, and especially freelancers, larger cities will provide a wealth of performance opportunities that are vital for your development as an artist. On the contrary, a school situated in a small town in the middle of nowhere might be limited in the number of off-campus performance opportunities that it can offer. For example, if you are a freelance jazz artist or chamber musician, a school in close proximity to New York City, or Chicago may be a good choice. In the end, your goals as an artist will determine what size city you need to be in. Do your research, and consider the location of the school when you are comparing your artistic goals with the offerings at the school.
Consideration #2: Your Primary Teacher
Having a working bond with your private teacher at your chosen school is massively important! If you have done your homework up to this point, you have probably taken a sample lesson or two with your prospective professor. You have also had your audition experience to gauge the kinds of feedback you will receive when studying with that person. In my opinion, it is vital to choose the school where you feel that you connect and work well with your private teacher. You are looking for a teacher that is going to take your strengths and build upon them while also tearing apart your weaknesses as a performer and pushing you outside of your comfort zone to experience new things as an artist. Finding that balance is essential! If you are still torn between two teachers while trying to make a decision, get in touch with them and ask for a meeting. Most teachers will be more than willing to speak with you and answer your questions. You may want to ask them things about opportunities that you may have within the studio, and what performance opportunities they may be able to assist you with outside of the school in the professional world.
Consideration #3: Cost
Because of the day and age that we live in and the extreme cost of higher education, the price tag and scholarship opportunities at any school are an important deciding factor. For you graduate students, do not pay to go to graduate school! Out of your acceptance letters and financial aid offers, choose that school that is going to pay you to attend via a teaching assistantship position or fellowship. Undergraduates, although the “full ride” to school may be the dream, be prepared as this is not often the case. Through extremely hard work and diligent practice, this can be the case, but it depends on the school and the amount of funding that they have available. In reality, when decided upon a school, know what you can support financially. Talk with your family about cost support options, loans, and scholarship offers. Paying for a college education is a very individual decision, depending on the student. So talk to your college admissions office about the best way for you to pay for that education. In your end decision, cost needs to be heavily weighed against the other two considerations that are listed above.
At the end of the day, your dream school should have a healthy balance of all of the considerations that I have listed above. The pros and cons in each of these areas will be different depending on your professional aspirations and situation, but the goal is to choose a school where you feel good about what the school offers in each of the three areas. I hope that this article has given you some clarity about what to consider when deciding on music school, and we would love to see you here at the University of Illinois next year if it is the right fit for you!
Andrew J. Buckley