Are grades, test scores, and GPA really important for getting into music school?

Here’s a question that nearly every student musician, parent, and heck, even guidance counselor would like to know.

After all, the average GPA of an incoming freshman studying liberal arts at an academically competitive university is usually no less than a 3.7.

Do the music schools & programs attached to major universities care strongly about grades?

What about independent music schools like New England Conservatory, Juilliard, and Berklee?

The answer is a resounding “depends-on-the-school-you-are-applying-to.”

If we look for a minimum GPA requirement that an independent conservatory like Juilliard lists on its website, we will find no such requirement.


Independent Conservatory & GPA

In fact, this is Juilliard’s official stance on the matter “Although the Juilliard School does carefully evaluate the transcripts and diplomas earned by applicants, there are no specific courses, GPAs, or class rank required.”

In short, there is no minimum GPA necessary for entrance into some independent conservatories.

For an independent conservatory, the audition is going to be the most important factor, followed by other essential items, including your pre-screening recording, resume, college essay, recommendation letters, and at some schools, the interview.

Other conservatories tend to follow this same model; the actual GPA of the student is significantly less important than the audition & background of the applicant in question.

That being said, your GPA can signify to these schools a certain level of diligence in your work ethic, so having an accomplished GPA can have a positive bearing on admissions.


University-Attached Conservatory

Northwestern University Bienen School of Music, an academically competitive school – photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Universities with music schools attached are unique from independent music schools in that, generally speaking, they do care about the students having a competitive GPA. Keep in mind that while this is not always the case, it is in the case of many university-based programs.

That being said, if we examine the requirements of music schools attached to universities closely, we find that the GPA requirements are, most of the time, not as high as the standards required for those applying to the liberal arts program in the school.

One school that exemplifies this stance is the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, an academically competitive school as well as a top music program.

If we look at the average GPA of a student at the University of Michigan in any department, we find that the number is 3.87. Here is the source straight from the University of Michigan website for students entering in fall 2017.

If you are unsure of what a 3.87 would translate into, you can always deduce GPA with the following rules:

  • An average of 95 – 100% is a 4.0.
  • For every percentage point you have below a 95, you deduce 1/10th of the GPA.
  • Thus, a 95 is a 4.0, a 94 is a 3.9, a 93 is a 3.8, and so forth.

That means the average student entering the University of Michigan in any field (not music specifically) is about a 93.7%. In other words, not even an A- student; the average student at the University of Michigan is a solid A student.

However, the music school at the University of Michigan discloses its GPA requirements for music students.

Although Michigan music school has not yet released the data for 2017 music students, they did release the data for 2016 music students, and the average is a 3.67 GPA. This translates into a 91.7% average, solidly A-.

So to gain admission into a university attached conservatory, do you need an A- average in order to be considered for acceptance?

The answer? An A= average is neither necessary nor sufficient for SOME music university-attached conservatories.


On the next page, we discuss the GPA requirements for university-attached conservatory programs.