Offering a wide range of programs and a dedication to collaborative teaching, the Bienen School of Music offers something for just about any aspiring musician — performer, scholar, teacher, arts administrator, or music critic.

Located just 12 miles north of Chicago, a world class musical city, Bienen encourages its students to get outside of the classroom to advance their career while receiving conservatory-level training ready to prepare musicians of the highest caliber.

The school has deep roots. In 1873, the Northwestern Female College and the Evanston College for Ladies became the Northwestern University Woman’s College.

In 2008, the conservatory was renamed the Bienen School of Music. At present, the school has over 600 undergraduate and graduate students and 125 world-renowned faculty members. Alumni can be found in all corners of the music world from performers to educators in leading arts.

Northwestern’s Center for the Musical Arts – photo by Smandlso via Wikimedia Commons

Given its history, proximity to the vibrant musical scene in downtown Chicago, and top-notch faculty, Bienen is considered one of the top music schools in the U.S.

For aspiring musicians, Bienen offers an impressive amount of performance opportunities and currently sponsors 16 ensembles including: The Bienen Contemporary and Early Vocal Music Ensemble, Baroque Music Ensemble, Concert Band, Chamber Orchestra, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Chapel Choir, Guitar Ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, Philharmonia, the Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Wildcat Marching Band, University Chorale, University Singers, and University Women’s Chorus.

Did we mention the library also holds an impressive amount of correspondence from the American composer John Milton Cage Jr.? Those needing a break from rigorous study can avail themselves of the thoughts and insights of one of the great leading figures of post-war avant-garde in their spare time.

Acceptance Rate 

For the Bienen School of Music, the acceptance rate is approximately 10%, which makes it a highly competitive school, although slightly more in reach than Juilliard or Colburn. At Bienen, around 200 undergraduates and graduates are accepted per year.

Keep in mind sometimes the numbers just don’t work to your advantage. For example, teachers can only take on a certain number of students for a given instrument each year. In these cases, musicians who apply for maxed-out studios are usually refunded their application fee and told no one who plays their instrument will be accepted that particular year.

Tuition & Fees 

While at first glance, Bienen’s cost of $17,413 per quarter for undergraduates might seem attractive, keep in mind there are three quarters at the school: fall, winter, and spring. This brings Bienen’s undergraduate cost to a significant $52,239 per academic year.

Add to this additional costs such as room & board ($16,047), books & supplies ($1,660), and personal expenses ($2,595), and the total cost of Bienen without scholarships is steep indeed.

You can find a helpful breakdown of the cost of attending Bienen here.

If you do need financial help to pay for additional costs at Bienen, we recommend you apply for support through FAFSA, which can also be used to cover expenses above and beyond tuition costs.

Requirements and Admissions Tips

The Bienen School of Music offers the following program degrees: Composition and Music Technology, Music Education, Music Theory and Cognition, Musicology, Brass, Conducting and Ensembles, Jazz Studies, Percussion, Piano, Strings, Voice & Opera, and Woodwinds.

The school also offers the following degrees: Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts in Music, Minors, Dual Degrees, Double Majors, Master of Music, and Doctor of Philosophy.

If you are interested in applying to Bienen, here’s a link to view the official Northwestern University Requirements, or to download PDF copies of required forms at:

The school has also provided you with an extremely useful Undergraduate Application Checklist:

  • Common Application or Coalition Application sent to Northwestern University, including the non-refundable application fee of $75 or fee waiver
  • Secondary School Report (includes high school transcript and counselor recommendation letter)
  • Academic Teacher Recommendation
  • Music Teacher Recommendation (preferred but not required)
  • Required Standardized Test Scores
  • Music audition and/or portfolio materials
  • Early Decision Agreement (Early Decision applicants only)
  • Midyear Report (Regular Decision applicants only)
  • International Supplement to the Secondary School Report (recommended for international applicants onlyRead additional information for International Students here.

You can find more admission requirements for undergraduates and graduates here.

Note: If you are considering a Dual Degree or Double Major, select this option on the Northwestern University Writing Supplement to the Common Application. Here, you’ll be able to choose the Bienen School of Music and from the four other Schools at Northwestern.

If you are accepted to audition at Bienen, I would recommend you schedule a lesson with a faculty member in the department you are interested in enrolling into at Bienen prior to your audition. Knowing how a specific teacher works with you is critical for determining if a school is a good fit.

Also, if they like you and your playing in your lesson together, your chance for getting in might be higher. Keep in mind this is only a recommendation and not a fact in every instance.

Notable Alumni

Alumni of Bienen include jazz bassist and producer Steve Rodby, member of the Pat Metheny Group and winner of multiple Grammy Awards; American conductor, composer, and record producer Arnie Roth, member of the Grammy Award-winning music group Mannheim Steamroller and principal conductor & music director of the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra; and Andrew Bird, American violinist, singer, and songwriter known for his contributions to the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Bowl of Fire before pursing his solo career.

You can find past and present news about Bienen Alumni here.


The core of the Bienen School of Music is its faculty, which includes performers from the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Vienna State Opera, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Faculty members include: Jay Alan Yim, Composer/Fellow for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with works performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest; Ursula Oppens, American classical concert pianist known for her commissioning of early 20th century American composers; and W. Stephen Smith legendary voice teacher known for his unique pedagogy using a series of six vocalises.

You can find a complete list of Bienen faculty here.


I would call Bienen one of the most competitive music schools in the country.

It’s definitely a top-15 music institution, and if you want to have a school that has the very best in terms of intellectual atmosphere, academic challenge, and excellence in music, it’s probably in the top 3 throughout the country when considering those terms.

Bienen is also one of the hardest to get accepted into as they place a great amount of importance not just in your audition, but also your overall academic profile (including transcript as well as standardized test scores).