The Colburn School located in Los Angeles is another tuition free institution, which, of course, make the school a serious contender on any prospective music students’ list. Given the free tuition, legendary faculty, and notable alumni, Colburn is very, very selective. We should also mention Colburn’s full scholarship support not only includes tuition, but also room and board! The school offers its students more than 300 performance opportunities every year, many of which are free to the public.

Note: Colburn does not have a music composition or electronic music program; however, its faculties for strings, winds, percussion, and brass are second to none. The Colburn School is comprised of three academic units: the Colburn Conservatory of Music offering rigorous performance training to college-aged musicians; the Colburn Music Academy providing a conservatory-style experience for extraordinary pre-college musicians; and the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts offering open enrollment classes in instrumental music and voice for students of all ages and skill levels. The Colburn School also offers aspiring ballet dancers the Colburn Dance Academy.

The Colburn School was founded in 1950 as the Community School for the Arts, a preparatory organization connected to the University of Southern California. In the 1980s, the institution received generous support from Richard D. Colburn and became the Colburn School of Performing Arts, an independent, nonprofit institution.

Colburn School

Colburn School: Photo by Dave Parker via Wikimedia Commons

After becoming independent, Colburn continued to grow and develop by adding programs and classes in jazz, chamber music, drama, larger instrumental and vocal ensembles, and early childhood arts education. Originally housed in former army barracks and warehouses near the USC campus, the school moved to its custom-built Grand Avenue home in 1998.

Relatively young, the Colburn Conservatory of Music began instructing gifted college-aged musicians in 2003. More recently, in 2007, the school underwent a major campus expansion and added more classrooms, rehearsal and practice facilities, and new public spaces, including a performing arts library, three concert halls, and a café to serve the surrounding community.

If you’re looking for top-notch school with free tuition and room & board, then look no further … Colburn, if you make the cut, should be at the top of your list.

Acceptance Rate

For the Colburn Conservatory of Music, the acceptance rate is between 5-8% depending on the year and the number of applicants. Keep in mind, the Colburn Conservatory is quite small with approximately 100 students, so very few new students are admitted each year.

As with all applications to music school, 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

As mentioned, the Colburn School of Music is free and includes tuition, room, and board. (Just so you have an idea of the scope, the total cost per year for tuition, room, and board is estimated at $62,000 and Colburn foots the bill!) Keep in mind, to take advantage of room and board, you must eat your meals on campus and live in the Residence Hall; juniors and seniors can, if they are determined to pay rent, opt to live off-campus.

Although Colburn offers great scholarship support, few things in life are entirely free. All students must pay a $3,000 Comprehensive Fee per year to underwrite a portion of the institution’s cost. Further, books and supplies are estimated at $1,200, personal expenses (transportation, entertainment, etc …) at $2,950, and all students are required to have health insurance, which is offered through the school at an approximate cost of $2,750. So, the estimated cost for you to attend Colburn per year is $9,900 … still an amazingly good deal considering the cost of college these days.

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

If you do need financial help to pay for additional costs at Colburn, 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 Colburn Conservatory of Music offers the following program degrees: Bachelor of Music (BM), Performance Diploma (PD) for students needing more flexibility and to support students who need extra time to solidify their English language skills before enrolling in the BM program, Artist Diploma (AD) for performing musicians who have completed a baccalaureate degree prior to matriculating, Professional Studies Certificate (PSC) often used to help train for competitions and auditions, Master of Music in Performance (MM), and the Chamber Ensemble-in-Residence.

To apply to the programs offered at Colburn, all prospective students fill out the same application, which includes uploading a pre-screening video recording. You can find link and a checklist of all application material here.

As noted, schools may not always have openings for a given instrument. Fortunately, Colburn provides a helpful list of current openings on their website here.

If you are accepted to audition at Colburn, I would recommend you schedule a lesson with a faculty member in the department you are interested in enrolling into at Colburn 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 the Colburn School include concert pianist David Fung who has appeared in major orchestras throughout the world including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Orchestra of Belgium, and the San Francisco Orchestra just to name a few; American jazz pianist and composer Eric Reed who had three albums charted on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums including The Swing and I, Pure Imagination, and Manhattan Melodies; and classical violinist Leila Josefowicz who made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994 performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

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


The faculty at the Colburn Conservatory of Music is impressive and provides rigorous training to highly talented college-age students in classical instrumental music performance.

Faculty members include: Mark Lawrence, the former principal trombonist of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for 34 years; Yehuda Gilad, clarinetist and conductor who has developed one of the most sought after clarinet studios in the world at the Colburn Conservatory; and pianist and dean of the Colburn Music Academy, Ory Shihor, who appeared as the featured guest soloist with the Liege Royal Philharmonic of Belgium under Music Director Pierre Georges Édouard Bartholomée.

You can find a complete directory of Colburn faculty here.

Similar Schools & Ranking

Similar schools to Colburn would be a top conservatory atmosphere with free tuition or such as the Curtis Institute of Music or the graduate program at the Yale School of Music. Eastman School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Peabody Institute are also high-caliber music programs on par with the level of musicianship at Colburn.

At Music School Central, we rank Colburn very highly at number 7 on our 2014 list of the top music schools. Keep in mind, our rankings are only meant as a guide and finding the right music school for you can often be a complex and difficult task; of course, we can help make the complexities of applying to music school easier here at Music School Central.