Finding the right music school is hard.
In fact, it’s one of the biggest decisions any musician will ever have.
There are literally thousands of options worldwide.
Yet, for any given student, only a tiny fraction of these schools would actually feel like they fit just right.
So, this begs the question…
What does being in the right school feel like?
What is it like to be in a school that is the right-fit for your future?
These are two of the most important questions to consider when looking into your future…
Unfortunately, this is where most applicants go wrong.
They simply apply to schools their teacher told them were the best…
Or, they heard someone talking about a school and they felt they should apply there…
Their families end up doing endless hours of online research trying, with the best intentions, to find a great school for them.
However, finding “The Right” school can be terribly difficult.
One must be thinking about the right environment, opportunities for themselves or their son or daughter…
One must be aware of the right faculty, what the culture of the school is like…
Of course, a parent must find out if a school has trustworthy outcomes…
And finally, it is important to figure out if the school has “good chemistry” with the student.
As you can see, finding the right school is not simply one linear thing, such as “a school with the best teacher for me.” That is only one part of the equation.
Rather, the right-fit school feels like a confluence of factors coming together…
Imagine being in a community where you have the right people supporting you in your goals…
Imagine the right opportunities to grow as a musician and person…
Imagine being given incredibly valuable connections that will serve you in your future career…
And, imagine getting a merit-based scholarship to have these things.
In my own college consulting practice, I have helped over 170+ students find and get accepted into the music school best for them.
It is not uncommon to see my students obtain significant, 5-figure yearly scholarships to attend their dream schools, which easily pays back many times over an investment into working with me.
These are the 10 most important factors that I look for in finding the right school for a student.
10. Type of School
We’ll start with the most basic one that is the easiest for many to figure out.
There are three major types of schools in which you can study music.
A liberal arts college.
All of them have their own benefits, but here is a quick breakdown:
A conservatory is where everyone studies music/arts and nothing else.
A liberal arts college is a bit larger than a conservatory, up to 5,000 students, yet offers a large variety of majors.
And a university is perhaps what is linked with a “classic college experience” – academics, music, sports, the whole nine yards.
Some students have a preference, and some do not.
Do note that a student is not required to have a preference here: some do have a strong preference, and others are open to the idea of all three types.
Figuring out what is best for you can be an important first step if a preference does exist.
The environment of a college is unbelievably important when finding the right music school for a student.
What is the school’s community like?
Some schools have the feeling of a supportive community…
Others can feel very “cutthroat” in nature.
What about the support for their undergraduate students?
Some schools have a nice balance of undergraduates to graduate students…
Others are very “graduate-heavy” and focus most of their premium resources on the graduate students.
These are just a few of the many questions to ask when finding the right environment.
Discovering the right environment for you or your son/daughter is “mission critical.”
Why do I say this?
Because environment has a direct connection with the success of any person.
This is especially true for music students, who must carefully pick which environment will best suit them for all four years of undergraduate.
8. People, Part 1 (Faculty)
Finding the right people is so important when finding the right school.
In my own practice, I help setup many of my students with meetings with professors at top schools, places like Berklee, Juilliard, USC, Michigan, Mannes, and dozens more.
These meetings can strongly determine whether a student likes a particular faculty member or not, and can help shape their future “list of schools.”
Faculty is equivalent to “mentorship.”
For four years, a student can work with a faculty member, or a group of faculty, to shape their musicianship, their ideals for success, and even their work ethic.
It’s important to find really great teachers here…
Some people teach only because they need a paycheck…
Others teach because they love teaching and want to help their students have amazing outcomes in their careers.
Being placed with the right teacher feels like a true partnership, a true collaboration.
And that is what you want to find in a future teacher for you or the musician in your family.
7. People, Part 2 (Student Body)
Similar to faculty, finding a like-minded student body is key, as well as a talented one.
You can be the best in the world at modern music technology, but a school like Curtis in Philadelphia, which is focused exclusively on classical music, will not be the best destination for you.
The same can be said of any major in music.
Finding a like-minded student body is key.
After all, when you go to college, you will be spending the majority of your time with other students.
Getting the right student body will be enormously important.
6. Level of Challenge
You don’t want to enter a school as the best musician in that school…
The reason is simple.
Who would you have to look up to?
Challenge is essential to growth.
Every musician is at a different place in their studies and musicianship.
As a result, being around highly advanced musicians in your grade level is key.
I see this happen all the time…
When a student enters a music school, and they are not challenged, they can feel bored and like the experience is not quite what they want.
However, when a student enters a school and is surrounded by amazing musicians…
Something phenomenal happens.
They seem to advance at an unbelievably fast rate in their own musicianship, and their own growth.
Let me stress this point like no other…
Psychologists say we are the average of the people we associate with.
Surrounding yourself with top-tier talent will do wonders for your own career.
5. Outcome of School
Let’s talk brass tax.
College is a major investment.
Getting the right outcome is key to that investment.
After all, why invest if the outcome is not there?
Ensuring that you end up going to a school that can provide you with the kind of outcome you want is hugely important.
Are students regularly getting jobs, positions, regular freelancing gigs, or graduate school placements within a few years?
Being a music major can yield a great career…
Finding a school that can help a student achieve the ideal outcome is essential for future success.
It is important to get an amazing education.
It is also important not to go into mountains of debt.
Here is the truth about merit-based scholarships (the kind you don’t have to pay back)…
Only some schools are generous with scholarships.
Navigating the landscape of scholarships is tricky…
As just about every school says on their financial aid website that they will “make education at the school possible for any accepted student.”
Does that mean crazy loan debt? Does that mean merit-based scholarship?
Different schools have different policies and levels of generosity in the merit scholarship process.
I know musicians in their 50s who still call upon connections made in college.
That’s the amazing thing about being in the right-fit school.
You will secure connections with other musicians, professors, students, professionals…
Lasting you a lifetime.
I remember one connection I made in my undergraduate…
His name was Preston Stahly and he directed a major music festival called Tribeca New Music.
One year out of school, I sat down with Preston for coffee in New York City.
One meeting led to another, and soon enough he programmed my own music to open the first night of his major music festival in uptown Manhattan.
Meeting the right people can lead to jobs, positions, internships, or just amazingly valuable career connections.
All of this can, and does, happen at The Right music school
In some majors, such as musical theatre, the opportunity to perform for agents and directors…
Opportunity is the lifeblood of music school.
Any great music school will provide students both academic/educational opportunity as well as hands-on opportunity.
1. Chemistry Between Student and School
Finally, we arrive at the #1 most crucial factor to look at.
Every unique student will have a unique chemistry with a school.
Sometimes, this can be evaluated with someone who really understands the ins and outs of a music school and has experience placing students into school.
Other times, it takes a thorough investigation that includes touring, meeting people at the school, trial lessons, and much more.
Every student will have a unique chemistry with any school on their list.
I have seen two students of similar age and interests have wildly different reactions to the same school after visiting.
This is what I am saying…
Finding the right school is not simply about just checking off one or two boxes…
It is not simply finding a school with one good teacher…
It is a place that, after all is said and done, must feel just right to a student and family.
When all is said and done, and you have truly figured out which schools will fit you best, and have evaluated all of their merit, you are left with a feeling of yes or no.
Follow the chemistry, and you will be surprised just how perfect that music school can be for you.