The Eastman School of Music, a comprehensive music school, is part of the University of Rochester, N.Y., and continues its long tradition of promoting American music and musicians.

The school is incredibly selective and boasts a small program dedicated to the craft. In fact, the school’s favorite slogan is “Eat, Sleep, Music.” With an impressive history, the school believes in nurturing artists as a whole and combines music techniques with the study of humanities, interdisciplinary pursuits, and the influences of other art forms.

Further, the school is well-funded. In 2016, Eastman received $2.5 million in leadership support to prepare its students to be entrepreneurial thinkers and leaders in the ever-changing musical landscape.


Photo by Jiyang Chen Via Wikimedia Commons

Eastman opened its doors in 1921 with just 104 regular students; however, they rapidly expanded in the 21st century and renovated the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre and opened a new East Wing Building including a large-ensemble rehearsal space, studios, and the new Hatch Recital Hall to allow aspiring musicians plenty of performance opportunities.

Eastman is committed entirely to music and offers five degrees: Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, Master of Arts, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy (composition). The School’s Grand Hall is named after its first graduate, Roslyn Weisburg Cominsky, a former pianist with the Rochester Philharmonic and three-time winner of the Juilliard Fellowship.

Although the school is highly selective, students looking for a small music program with gifted faculty should look no further. The total student body, including graduate students, is just slightly more than 900 total for the entire school. Be warned though, Eastman has been ranked in the top 10 by US News and World Report (when they were still publishing music college rankings) and the competition is steep.

Eastman programs are mostly performance-intensive. Their undergraduate programs focus on comprehensive musical skills and literacy; for those looking to further their musical careers, their graduate program integrates performance skills, scholarship, pedagogy, and professionalism to further prepare students to enter the professional musical world.

Acceptance Rate

To make the cut, you need to be ready to highlight your musical skills to enter this selective school. With a low student to teacher ratio of 6:1 that rivals Juilliard and the Boston Conservatory, Eastman combines hands-on learning opportunities with small class-size.

As of 2016, Eastman received approximately 2,000 applications and accepted 125 freshmen and 125 graduates, which is an acceptance rate of just 12.5%!

Eastman alumni have gone on to become members of the London Symphony Orchestra, winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and Grammy award winners.

Talk about good company.

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

For the 2016-2017 school year, Eastman’s tuition is $48,600 for undergraduates and $35,162 for graduate students according to the Eastman website.

The approximate fees vary depending on whether or not you choose to live on campus. Room and board is available for undergraduates and runs $14,818. If you choose to live off campus, Rochester is the third-largest urban area in the state and is situated in Western New York. Located in the East End of downtown, Eastman is within easy reach of independent housing opportunities and numerous artistic and cultural activities.

Eastman also lists its personal, book, and transportation expenses at $2,380. But keep in mind, the book expense is an average and may be more depending on the demands of your professors; further, your personal habits and desire to explore the city and its artistic offerings may be more on the expensive side … in short, everyone’s budget will be different.

Requirements and Admissions Tips

At Eastman, pre-screening recordings are required for all Jazz instruments, Piano (performance majors only), plus the following instruments: Cello, Clarinet, Flute, Percussion, Saxophone, Trombone, Violin, and Voice.

Composition and Theory majors must also submit pre-screening scores & documents.

Unlike many other music schools, Eastman does not require students to submit ACT or SAT scores, unless the student is homeschooled.

Keep in mind, more advanced degrees at Eastman have additional application requirements. You can find a helpful list here.

If you are invited to audition at Eastman, you’ll have to provide an in-person audition repertoire including general convocation, theory and musicianship testing, a question-and-answer session for parents, a group interview with a staff member, and the audition.

Find Eastman’s list of suggested audition materials for each instrument here.

If you are accepted to audition at Eastman, I would recommend you schedule a lesson with a faculty member in the department you are interested in enrolling into at Eastman 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.

7 Insider Tips for Applying to Music School

  1. Read the Instructions: Every school is different and you need to know what’s expected.
  2. Choose your audition dates carefully: mark the dates on your calendar and make sure you have no conflicts in case you pass the pre-screening round.
  3. Talk to your recommenders well before the application deadlines. Don’t wait. Get these in order as soon as possible.
  4. Request your transcripts to make sure they arrive well in advance of deadlines.
  5. If a pre-screening recording is required, treat it like a real audition. In short, be serious about it! A professional recording showcasing your best ability is fundamental to your application.
  6. Proofread and spell-check every document you submit. Your writing skills are important!
  7. Make sure your name is consistent on every document. Don’t use a nickname.

Notable Alumni

The list of successful Eastman Alumni is long and impressive. In almost every corner of music, an Eastman Alum can be found. Here are but a few ….

Renée Fleming, the renowned American opera singer and soprano. Steve Gadd, one of the most highly regarded session and studio drummers in the industry. Charles Frank “Chuck” Mangione, American flugelhorn player, trumpeter, and composer with international fame for his 1977 jazz-pop single, Feels So Good. Ronald Levin “Ron” Carter, American jazz double bassist and the most-recorded jazz bassist in history.

In 2016, Alumni Maria Schneider was honored with two Grammys. One for her album The Thompson Fields (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album) and for Best Arrangement (Instruments and Vocals) for her work on David Bowie’s Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).

There are too many Eastman Alumni to discuss in full here. For a good list, check out this Wikipedia page.


The faculty at Eastman is exceptional. In every department from Composition to Woodwinds, Brass, & Percussion, there are talented and performing musicians with years of experience.

Eastman faculty includes Grammy Award winners, Mozart Medal recipients, and members of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. You can find a complete list of current Eastman faculty here.

Similar Schools & Ranking

A school similar to Eastman would be a comprehensive music conservatory with a small student body affiliated with a university program. Many of these examples exist – some include University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music based in Los Angeles, the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University based in Baltimore, and the Mannes College of Music based in New York City.

At Music School Central, we rank Eastman highly. Overall, we have placed it into the top ten music schools in the country. Some of the top-10 departments at the school include the Voice, Brass, and Strings performance areas.

One of the most noted programs at the school is its Jazz performance program – you will find many of the worlds most renowned faculty in jazz teaching at the school.


Eastman provides select merit, need, and other tuition benefits. Merit scholarships are based on your musical and academic merits, need-based awards are determined by your FAFSA application, and if a parent is an employee of the University of Rochester, you may be eligible for tuition benefits.

Any student applying to Eastman should also apply for the FAFSA in order to maximize opportunities for receiving financial aid. Grants and loans from FAFSA can help pay for an acceptance to Eastman.

Is Eastman Right for Me?

If you are looking for a prestigious music school grounded in industry awareness and built on creativity, then Eastman is a good choice. Ensembles such as Break of Reality, Alarm Will Sound, Jack Quartet, and Sound Exchange all began at Eastman.

However, not everyone is suited to attend the school. Prestigious schools, like Eastman, often come at a steep price tag, or you may want a more rural setting. Whatever your reasons, if possible, a visit to Eastman should be on your list before making a final decision to attend.

Eastman’s focus is on the following programs: Chamber Music, Composition, Conducting & Ensembles, Humanities, Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media, Music Teaching & Learning, Musicology, Organ, Sacred Music, & Historical Keyboards, Piano, String, Harp, & Guitar, Theory, Voice & Opera, and Woodwinds, Brass, & Percussion.

With more of a classical and jazz focus, Eastman might not be the right choice for other musicians, such as those wishing to pursue electronic pop music or songwriting.


For Eastman and many other schools, the application process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. There are many parts to understanding how to truly and successfully succeed in the audition, interview, and college research process.

If you are interested in attending college for music, and you would like to receive high level assistance in how to audition, interview, and master the college application for Eastman or any other music school, check out Music School Central’s College Counseling Program.

Click here to find out how we can help you or the musician in your family achieve your musical dreams.