The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) prides itself on “educating the whole person, with an  interconnected curriculum that breaks down barriers between the intellectual, artistic, professional, and individual.”

Located at 50 Oak Street, the conservatory boasts some serious facilities with acoustics designed by Kirkegaard Associates featuring “floating rooms” with adjustable absorption systems, more than 100 Steinways and Yamaha pianos (with a combined value of over $1 million), and beautiful performance halls including the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall (a renovated historic grand ballroom), and the Osher Salon designed for student recitals, classes and lectures.

photo by Carlin Ma via Wikimedia Commons

The conservatory traces its roots to 1917, when Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead opened the Ada Clement Piano School. In 1923, the school incorporated as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. By 1925, the school had hired composer Ernest Bloch as the artistic director. For music students looking to develop their craft in chamber music, SFCM has deep roots and hired its first faculty chamber ensemble, the California String Quartet, in 1926.

Finally, in 2006, the conservatory relocated to the revitalized Civic Center campus, ushering in a era of teaching and training successful artists with a transformative educational experience.

From its beginnings, the conservatory has always remained, first and foremost, committed to its students by ensuring its graduates achieve a lifetime of success.

Acceptance Rate

 While the school’s acceptance rate varies from year to year, the acceptance rate is typically around 40%, which certainly puts the conservatory in reach compared to more selective schools like Juilliard. That said, SFCM is still an excellent choice and boast a respectable 6:1 student-teacher ratio.

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

 The cost of attending SFCM for full-time undergraduates and graduates is $45,000 per academic year. Other expenses include room and board, which starts at $10,560 per year for a shared room and goes up to $14,680 for a single room with a suite. Other expenses include the health services fee, food, personal expenses and so on. The school estimates the total cost of

attending the program at a significant $65,045 per academic year.

You can find a helpful breakdown of the cost of attending SFCM here.

If you do need financial help to pay for additional costs at SFCM, we recommend you apply for support through FAFSA, which can also be used to cover expenses above and beyond tuition costs.

Requirements and Admissions Tips 

SFCM offers the following programs: Brass, Composition, Conducting, Guitar, Historical Performance, Keyboard, Opera and Musical Theatre, Percussion, Roots, Jazz, and American Music, Strings, String and Piano Chamber, Technology and Applied Composition, Voice, and Woodwinds.

To apply to SFCM, you must submit a prescreening recording. Note only select areas have openings each term and you are encouraged to check if your desired program has opening before applying by contacting: [email protected].

Further, to apply to SFCM, you must submit an online application, supporting materials, and perform an audition. You are encouraged to audition on campus in San Francisco, but the school also allows for local and regional auditions.

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

Notable Alumni

SFCM boast some extremely impressive alumni, including: jazz trumpeter and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson who came to prominence as the pianist for Herbie Hancock’s Band (Henderson then went on to earn his medical degree and pursued a parallel career as a psychiatrist and a musician!); another SFCM alum is the American soprano singer Catherine Naglestad who has performed leading roles at the Royal Opera House, Berlin State Opera, and Suntory Hall; and Matt Vander Ende, an American drummer and percussionist performing with the heavy metal band Defiance (he currently works as the drummer for the NYC Broadway show Wicked).

You can find news and events, including current alumni achievements, here.


SFCM prides itself on being one of the boldest and most forward-thinking conservatories. All faculty are dedicated to teaching, instruction, and a keen awareness of the state of the arts. There are far too many faculty members to list in full, but here are a few.

Stephen Paulson is the Principal Bassoon of the San Francisco Symphony, he advises his students to ask: “How does technique relate to musical communication?” There is also Jacob Nissly. He teaches applied percussion and served as the Principal for the San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, Jon Nakamatsu teaches private piano lessons at SFCM and is the Gold Medal winner of both the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and the 1995 United States National Chopin Piano Competition. The question he’d like his students to ask sooner rather than later: “What is the performer’s life REALLY like?”

You can find a great list of SFCM faculty and insightful thoughts from the faculty themselves here.

Similar Schools & Ranking

If you’re interested in studying music in California, similar schools to SFCM include USC Thornton as well as Colburn.

At Music School Central, we rank SFCM among the top west coast schools in the country.

What I particularly like about SFCM is its deep, close relationship to the San Francisco Symphony – this partnership provides students at the school a firsthand opportunity to work alongside some of the top professional musicians in the country.

I also like the budding Jazz, Roots, and American Music division. Some of the faculty members in the school, such as guitarist Julian Lage, are among the most important jazz musicians in the country.

Keep in mind, our rankings are only meant as a guide and finding the right music school for you can often be a complex and challenging task; of course, we can help make the complexities of applying to music school easier here at Music School Central.


There is great news here! Nearly all SFCM students (98% actually) receive some kind of scholarship assistance. For both merit and need-based scholarships, you need to submit a FAFSA application and a financial aid profile. The conservatory awards scholarships based on musical talent, financial need, and the overall needs of the school.

For a great list of scholarships outside of SFCM (or for any school you’re applying to), the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has put together a great guide with links here.

If you need additional support to help fund other expenses, you can apply through FAFSA to maximize opportunities for receiving financial aid. Grants and loans from FAFSA can help pay for additional costs at SFCM.

Is the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Right for Me?

If you want to study and live in a city, you really can’t go wrong with San Francisco. From agreeable year-round weather, to a vibrant music, cultural, and arts scene, SF has you covered. The major downside of the city is the cost of living. It’s seriously expensive. If you are fortunate enough to already live in San Francisco and can handle another four years at home, you’ll make the cost of living much easier.

Further, the school is a good size at roughly 400 currently enrolled students, which is hard to find for a city music school. Another factor to consider is your ultimate goals. While SFCM can help launch your career as a musician, keep in mind conservatories tend to put less emphasis on the academic side of things. So if you want to graduate with a solid liberal arts degree or a dual-degree, we strongly urge you to look elsewhere.


For SFCM 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 process.

At Music School Central, all of our students work closely with Bill Zuckerman, President of Music School Central, as well as his team of talented associates.

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 SFCM 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.