3. Academic Challenge
Speaking of academics, there is no secret that universities have a significantly larger breadth of academic offerings than independent conservatories.
Universities have to cater to the needs of many students, not just a few.
The course load at universities also tends to be more challenging than that of a conservatory.
At conservatory, there can be difficult academic classes, but the faculty knows that students are not at the school to become lawyers, medical professionals, engineers, etc.
But at a university, a music student normally takes the same math classes as that of a non-music major, the same English class, etc., and these can be challenging at the higher levels.
The bottom line is this: students who want to face academically challenging classes lean towards the university, and those who wish to have less stringest academic classes can lean towards the conservatory.
2. Hybrid University/Conservatory
So far, we have been weighing the merits of universities against those of independent conservatories.
That said, many schools embrace hybrid university/conservatory structures so that students get the best of both worlds.
At Johns Hopkins, students have access to classes at the parent university, however all of the music classes take place at their Peabody Institute, a conservatory on the level of other top independent music programs.
One could argue that USC and Indiana have their own conservatories on campus, though they stay away from calling their music programs conservatories so as to not confuse prospective students.
It’s important to distinguish which universities have “conservatory-like” programs, and which ones do not, as it can very much effect your curriculum.
For example, at most Ivy League schools, about 1/3 of classes for a music major are dedicated to music, and the rest are dedicated to other academics. Ivy league schools do not normally have conservatory-style music programs in their undergraduate.
On the other hand, a school like University of Michigan’s School of Music requires Bachelor’s of Music students to take 3/4 of their credits in music.
1. Visiting for Yourself
We can dissect all day long the merits of both kinds of schools, but at the end of the day, visiting schools for yourself is the most important method for discovering which one is going to be best for you.
The best time to visit is when school is in session. Although the summers seem to be the most convenient time, there is often not much going on with the students, and thus it may not be the best time to go visit a school if you want to get a true feel for the program.
It’s important to speak with people at the school too, whether it be admissions, faculty, or even other students. You’d be surprised how open students are about what they like and don’t like about the schools they visit. Students themselves tend to be experts on their own institution, making them good options for speaking with during a tour.
Which One Is Better Than the Other?
Finally, we arrive at the ultimate conclusion – which is better, the university or the conservatory.
Keep in mind that the most important thing is visiting schools. Absent of that, this is our opinion…
The independent conservatory is best for you if you:
• Want admissions standards that are not as rigorous as that of a university (from a GPA and test score perspective)
• Do not want to take and submit SAT/ACT scores
• Desire a curriculum entirely focused on the arts, surrounded by people on the exact same mission as you
• Would rather do music all day long without the desire for an academic dual major
• Prefer a smaller, more intimate learning environment
The university is best for you if:
• You want more of a “classic college experience”
• Desire a dual academic major option, or even a “fallback” option
• Would like to combine the best of a university with the rigor of a conservatory at some select schools
• You are interested in exploring music in college, but do not want to pursue it as a major
And as we mentioned earlier, there is a third category called the liberal arts college.
This one is best for you if:
• You want the smaller size of a conservatory with the academic well-roundedness of a university
• You desire a school that is primarily undergraduate in student body
• Want to maximize scholarship chances (note: you can get major scholarships from universities and conservatories. It’s just that many liberal arts colleges tend to be very generous from our experience)
• Would like to combine the rigor of a conservatory with the positives of a liberal arts college at select schools, such as Oberlin.
This is our take on the university vs. conservatory. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Featured Image by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons