Rice University Shepherd School of Music: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, Tuition, and More


Considered one of the leading music schools in the US, the Rice University Shepherd School of Music has a distinguished legacy of accepting the most talented musicians in the world.

The faculty includes William VerMeulen, widely regarded as one of the greatest French horn teachers of all time, and violinist James Dunham known for collaborating with renowned artists such as Emmanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, and Lynn Harrell.

The Shepherd School of Music is housed in Alice Pratt Brown Hall, a state-of-the-art facility designed by renowned Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, which holds four performance venues, 54 teaching studios, 55 practice rooms, seven classrooms, an orchestra rehearsal hall, an electronic music studio, and production and rehearsal spaces.

Rice University Shepherd School of Music – Image by Musician555 via Wikimedia Commons

The Shepherd School offers numerous scholarship opportunities for exceptionally talented musicians such as the Endowment Merit Scholarship awarding $100,000 and above, scholarships for Principal Orchestra Chairs, Endowed Graduate Fellowships, and funding for the Ensemble Touring Program & a Career Development Endowment. You can find instructions for applying for financial aid and merit-based scholarships here.

Relatively young, the Shepherd School of Music was founded in 1975 at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

That said, in just slightly over 40 years, the school has become one of the most prominent music schools in the country and attracts an international student body.

Further, the Shepherd School presents over 400 concerts per year and commissioned Diller Scofidio & Renfro to create a 600-seat opera theater to be completed in 2018.

If you are looking for a top-notch classical music school, the Shepherd School could be at the top of your list to explore.

Acceptance Rate

The Shepard School is highly selective and receives more than 300 undergraduate applications per year and the acceptance rate is typically around 15%.

The school offers the following programs and departments: Brass, Composition & Theory (including the nation’s top electronic and computer music facilities), Conducting, Musicology, Opera Studies, Organ, Percussion & Harp, Piano, Strings, Voice, and Woodwinds.

You can find more information about each department and ensembles offered here.

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

The estimated cost for undergraduates (as of 2017-2018 – this will likely change each year) at the Shepherd School is as follows: tuition and fees $43,220, books $800, room & board $13,750, health insurance $2,500, and typical personal expenses $2,050, which comes to an approximate total of $62,320 per academic year.

For graduate students, most of the fees are similar except for tuition and fees, which is lower at $28,030 per year. Like all estimates, keep in mind your total cost will vary depending on your living situation and lifestyle. That said, the cost of attending the Shepherd School of Music is certainly on the high end.

You can find a helpful breakdown of expenses along with all the forms you need to apply for financial aid (including the FAFSA application) here.

Requirements and Admissions Tips

The Shepherd School of Music requires the following undergraduate application materials by December 1st of any given academic year: your application (the Common Application or the Universal College Application or the Coalition Application; all applications must also include the Rice Writing Supplement), your official high school transcript, academic teacher evaluation, SAT or ACT scores, school counselor recommendation, music teacher recommendation, Shepherd School Financial Assistance Application, and Audition Profile (including your preliminary recording or portfolio for composition and music history majors).

You must also submit a Midyear Grade report if you’re a current senior by 2/1, and your completed Financial Aid Forms (FAFSA, CSS Profile, and tax returns) by 3/1.

You can find a helpful checklist of undergraduate application requirements here. If you are applying to the graduate program, you can find the graduate application requirements here. Graduate degrees offered by Shepherd include Master of Music, Artist Diploma, and Doctor of Musical Arts.

You can find specific preliminary recording requirements and audition repertoire for each instrument here. Areas of study include: Bassoon, Cello, Clarinet, Composition, Double Bass, Flute, Harp, Horn, Music History, Oboe, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Trombone, Trumpet, Tuba, Viola, Violin, and Voice. Please note, Shepherd is not accepting any application for Tuba in 2017.

If you are accepted to audition at the Shepherd School of Music, I would recommend you schedule a lesson with a faculty member in the department you are interested in enrolling into at Shepherd 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

The accomplishments of Shepherd Alumni are extremely impressive. They include Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winners, debuts at Carnegie Hall, members of the Metropolitan Opera, and positions with prestigious orchestras such as the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Graduates of the Shepherd School of Music also include Caroline Shaw, violinist, singer, composer, and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices; and Russian-American pianist Lola Astanova, winner of the 2016 Emmy Award for her performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Gerard Schwarz and the All-Star Orchestra.

You can find a great list of recent Shepherd alumni appointments and accomplishments here.


The Shepherd School of Music takes its faculty very seriously and believe music students, rightly, make a decision to attend a music school based on its faculty members; for that reason, Shepherd created the Endowed Professorship and awards between $2.5 – $4 million to help attract top faculty members and guest artists.

Shepherd faculty include French hornist William VerMeulen, a member of the Houston Orchestra since 1990, and regarded as one of the best French horn teachers of all time; trumpet player Barbara Butler previous co-principal trumpet of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, principal trumpet of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, and acting associate/assistant principal trumpet of the Houston and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras; and violinist James Dunham, an advocate of new music who recently premiered and recorded two works by Libby Larsen: her Viola Sonata and Sifting Through the Ruins (2005) for viola, mezzo soprano (Susanne Mentzer), and piano.

You can find a helpful list and directory of Shepherd’s faculty here.

Similar Schools & Ranking

Similar schools to Shepherd would be a music school with a proven record placing its students in prestigious profession music positions, a renowned group of artist-teachers, an extraordinary student body, and a well-rounded curriculum.

For similar schools in the region, I would recommend the University of North Texas College of Music or the Butler School of Music (University of Texas at Austin).

Outside of Texas, a good comparison would be Northwestern – a school that is renowned both for academic excellence as well as top-tier music instruction.

We rank the Shepherd School of Music at number 8 on our top 15 music school list. As with all rankings, only you can decide the best school for you and your talents, which can be a daunting task and we here at Music School Central can certainly help navigate the complexities of applying to music school and, ultimately, making the right decision.

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