Details don’t tell you everything about a school; however, a quick glance at a few key points of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music speaks volumes: Student Body: 600, Student/Faculty Ratio: 6:1, Steinway Grand Pianos: 233; Practice Rooms with a Window: 150. With a small student body, excellent student to teacher ratio, ample Steinways (along with 1,500 other musical instruments of the highest quality for student use), and well-appointed practice rooms, Oberlin is a fantastic choice.
Combine this with a program completely dedicated to undergraduates and you may want to look no further. While the lack of graduate students may seem like a disadvantage at first, you’ll face less competition for opera productions and more personalized attention towards students in classical performance and composition majors. Keep in mind, the school does offer a few select graduate programs, often full-funded, such as the Master of Music in Contemporary Chamber Music. You can find a complete list of programs on the Oberlin website.
Further, the school funds creativity and encourages students of the Conservatory of Music to apply for the Ignition Fund, which awards financial and hands-on support to explore an idea, venture, or project.
Founded in 1865, Oberlin is the nation’s oldest continuously operating conservatory and one of the only major music schools associated with a renowned liberal arts college. Along with being the oldest music conservatory, Oberlin claims many other proud “firsts.” They introduced the Suzuki method of string pedagogy to the United States (1958), pioneered a program in electronic music (1969), were awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama (2009), and opened the world’s first LEED gold certified building for the study of Jazz (2010).
Oberlin offers majors in performance, composition, music education, music theory, electronic and computer music, jazz studies, music history, and a double major in piano performance and vocal accompanying. You can find a complete list of degree programs here. The school also offers a five-year double major between Oberlin Conservatory and its progressive and leading liberal arts college for those looking for more than just an unparalleled music degree.
Oberlin is also home to some of the most beautiful and innovative performance spaces including: The Kohl Building honoring the life work of Wendell Logan (professor of African American Studies and former chair of the Jazz Studies Program), the Hall Auditorium designed with a distinctive wave-like façade, the Kulas Recital Hall located in the conservatory complex and ideal for chamber music, and the David H. Stull Recital Hall filled with ample natural light and capable of live streaming. You can read more about the facilities and performance spaces at Oberlin here.
Be warned though, the competition to attend Oberlin is steep. According to The Hollywood Reporter’s top 25 music schools (2015), Oberlin is ranked at number 5. Still those looking for a prestigious school with small class sizes nestled in a rural setting should seriously consider Oberlin a top contender. Although the school believes in devotion to technical mastery, they believe technical mastery is no longer enough and students must also focus on computer literacy, understanding repertoires beyond the classical Western idiom, and entrepreneurial know-how.
To attend Oberlin, you must be ready to highlight your musical and academic skills. With a unique association with Oberlin College, the school provides ample opportunities to grow both as a musician and liberal thinker.
The school’s acceptance rate is 25%, which is selective but a bit better than the Eastman School of Music (12.5%) and Juilliard (6.7%).
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, Oberlin’s tuition for undergraduates was $51,324, which certainly puts it at the high end of music school costs. Although for those ambitious enough to pursue a double major, the cost is off-set by receiving two degrees in five years.
Mandatory room and board for undergraduates runs $14,010. And yes, on campus living is mandatory at Oberlin. According to the Housing and Dining Agreement all Oberlin students must sign, students of Oberlin are required to live on campus for all four years (or five if you’re a double major) to continue their education at the school. There is, however, a loophole. A very small percentage of students are released from their residential obligations at Oberlin and allowed to live off campus. To quality to live off campus, you must be lucky as students are chosen by a random lottery.
Oberlin lists other expenses such as its general fees at $728, books at $930, and estimated personal expenses at $978. Although keep in mind, book expenses are dependent on the whims of your professors and personal expenses will vary based on your personal habits. Oberlin also requires all students to have health insurance, which is available through the school at $1,205 per academic year. You can find a helpful breakdown of Oberlin’s expenses here by clicking on “finances for incoming students.”
Requirements and Admissions Tips
At Oberlin, pre-screening recordings are required for Piano, Voice, Flute, Harp, and Jazz Studies; Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) are encouraged to submit a pre-screening portfolio (note: TIMARA Faculty place more value on creativity and expression above technological wizardry). Composition majors are required to submit a pre-screening portfolio consisting of three original scores (and recordings, if possible).
Unlike many other music schools, Oberlin does not require students to submit ACT or SAT scores for domestic and English as primary language applicants; however, if you have completed the tests you are encouraged to include your scores.
Also keep in mind, double majors must submit a separate application (in addition to their music school application) to the Oberlin School of Arts and Sciences.
You can find a helpful list of Oberlin Music School application requirements here and a list of Arts and Sciences application requirements here.
Those invited to audition at Oberlin will have to provide an in-person audition repertoire; composition and TIMARA applicants require an in-person interview. You can find more information on audition and interview requirements here.
If you are accepted to audition at Oberlin, I would recommend you schedule a lesson with a faculty member in the department you are interested in enrolling into at Oberlin 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.
The list of Oberlin Alumni is impressive and includes: Robert Spano (both an alumni at Oberlin and on the current faculty), gifted pianist and conductor with nine appearances at Carnegie Hall over 12 consecutive seasons; George Theophilus Walker, legendary composer and the first black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music; James McBride tenor saxophonist, composer, and writer and winner of the National Book Award for his novel The Good Lord Bird; and Denyce Graves, American operatic mezzo-soprano who debuted in 1995 at the Metropolitan Opera and went on to perform signature roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila.
The faculty at Oberlin is extensive and talented. In every department from Computer Music and Digital Arts to Jazz Studies, professors share their love of music with their students.
Oberlin faculty includes Grammy Award winners such as Stephen Hartke for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Dennis Reynolds former lead trumpet player with the Count Basie Band, and Tim Weiss an innovative composer who performed at Carnegie Hall and pioneered the incorporation of different genres. You can find a complete list of current Oberlin faculty here.
Similar Schools & Ranking
A school similar to Oberlin would have a solid musical department attached to an excellent liberal arts college. Some of these schools include the Ithaca College of Music, the Bard College-Conservatory of Music, and Lawrence University.
At Music School Central, we rank Oberlin at number 15 on our 2014 list of the top music schools. Making our top 15 list of music schools is impressive; however, music school rankings are meant to be a guide. When considering rankings for music school, the most important factor is your overall experience at the school and your involvement in the program. Attending the number one ranked school in the country won’t matter if you have a miserable experience.