Composers, performers, producers, educators, music therapists…

Behind this important fabric of society lies some of the most profound education one can receive in any college major.

Choosing to attend a top college for music is among the most important decisions for any young musician and their family.

Why should a musician go to music school?

Going to college for music gives you the opportunity to study with master musicians of top orchestras, performers who have won Grammy awards, jazz artists who have recorded on the top labels, Pulitzer-prize winning composers…

At music school, you are given the unparalleled opportunity to study with some of the greatest minds in the world of music.

Additionally, you can surround yourself with peers on the same mission as you, build your future contacts, and begin an amazing career in music.

Regardless, one of the most common problems students have interested in attending college for music is trying to find the very best schools for them.

What goes into a great music school?

We look at the following when making this list:

  • Quality of faculty at the school; at music school, students often study with the same individual faculty instructor, or group of faculty, for all 4 years of education.
  • Alumni accomplishment
  • Level of student ability at the school – some schools have far more advanced musicians than others
  • Overall prestige
  • Resources and performance opportunities provided for students

Before we get started, it’s important to realize that this list, just like any other informed list, is based on opinion.

The best school for any individual student is going to be the school that fits them best.

That is what I do in my own practice everyday with my clients and their families.

This particular list is a great place to get started on your search for the top schools.

And of course, for some specialty niches, such as popular music performance, songwriting, and musical theatre, many other schools come into play for the top names besides some of the ones in this list.

Finally, only undergraduate music programs were considered for this particular list (so that excludes Yale School of Music and Academy of Vocal Arts, two top-tier programs for older students).

Without further ado, listed alphabetically, here are our picks for the top 20 music schools in the country.

Bard College-Conservatory of Music (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)

Bard’s music hall has world-famous architecture; photo by bobistraveling via Flickr Creative Commons

We start our list in a remote New York town housing one of the most important music programs worldwide.

Noted for top-tier performance faculty, incredibly talented students, and an administration headed by a legendary President, Bard is an intriguing option for an aspiring music major.

Bard is unique; all undergraduate students in the program must hold a dual major with a program outside the Conservatory.

For the student desiring both music and a rigorous academic major, this represents the ultimate option to immerse yourself in a culture where every single student is encouraged to pursue a well-rounded, individualistic path.

Faculty at the school are among the best in the world. In fact, many hold dual appointments with other top schools on this list such as Juilliard and Curtis.

The culture of Bard is best described as liberal. Nearly the entire student population is leans left on the political spectrum, and historically the school has been noted as a haven for the non-traditional student.

The embodiment of the non-traditional student is well-represented by Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College and a maverick in the world of academia who himself is an accomplished musical artist.


Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA)

photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons

The Berklee College of Music is perhaps the most innovative music program in the country.

While other schools have been focused on the “traditional” classical performance of music, Berklee has always had a taste for the contemporary,  placing itself at the forefront of modern music styles.

People at Berklee often refer to the school as a “microcosm of the music industry,” and it is easy to see why…

First of all, the contemporary performance program is one of a kind. The school’s steadfast dedication to popular music, jazz, and even global music styles make it the breeding ground for some of the world’s most famous performers.

Ever heard of Imagine Dragons, the chart-topping modern rock band? They formed at Berklee. Or perhaps Dream Theater, one of history’s greatest heavy metal band? They also formed at Berklee. Or perhaps you have heard of one of these 120 Grammy winners before, who are all alumni of Berklee.

These are the kinds of people who come out of Berklee every single year.

On top of the performance program, the music production & recording programs are second-to-none. The school has over 25 recording studios, which is about 24 more than most music schools in the US.

On top of this, the school’s business program offers real-world music business training to students who want to take their music degrees into marketing, booking, entrepreneurship, and representation.

In 2016, Boston Conservatory, once an independent institution, merged with Berklee. Since then, these two institutions have combined to create one of the most impressive programs spanning classical, jazz, and contemporary styles.

At Boston Conservatory, the most noted program is perhaps musical theatre, which has sent countless students to Broadway as well as other top theatres and commercial venues throughout the entire world.

The deep connection Boston Conservatory has with the greater Boston music scene is deep. Students, alumni, and faculty are affiliated with the dozens of orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, jazz clubs, and more that Boston has to offer.

The city of Boston is also one of the best places to study music in the US. There are five colleges of music in the greater Boston area – Berklee, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Boston University’s School of Music, and the Longy School of Music – all of which are among the best in the country.