It’s hard not to be impressed by Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music.

Here is a school that, located far and away from the east coast “mecca” of music schools that are Boston and New York, has carved a name for itself in perhaps the nations’s most important music city, Nashville.

Four years ago, Vanderbilt University became famously known as a “no-loan” institution, meaning the school will pay for any unmet financial need of families accepted.

Over the last several years, Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music has additionally partnered with some of the most renowned musical institutions, including the Berlin Philharmonic.

Since then, their music school has achieved an acceptance rate of 20%.

Wanting to get to know Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music on an intimate level, I recently sat down with their Director of Admissions, Thomas Crespo.

In our conversation, I asked Thomas how is Blair different?

Why should students choose Vanderbilt over other schools?

What are the advantages of being in Nashville, of all places?

The following is my interview with Thomas about Blair…

BILL: You recently talked to me about very interesting going-ons at Vanderbilt. What initiatives has Vanderbilt taken to improve its education?

Ingram Hall, part of the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music

THOMAS: Both the music school and the university have started to put an emphasis on the overall student experience rather than only the classroom experience.

Our campus has been historically a residential campus, but over the past 6 years, we have been developing living-learning communities within the campus.

In one example, we have all the freshmen live in one area of the campus. We do this to introduce the students to the university, rather than sending them straight into the overall experience.

We want to approach all the different angles of the student’s experience, rather than just the classroom.

For instance, there are faculty members that live among students on the freshmen campus as heads of houses. This allows students to develop a mentorship with the faculty right away, rather than waiting until their sophomore or junior year to create close relationships, which helps to create intellectual conversations outside of the classroom.

BILL: How would you say this is different from faculty’s relationships with students in other music schools?

THOMAS: Within the music school, faculty go above and beyond with extra lessons, more time spent in rehearsal settings, being both performance & academic advisors to the music students.

It is a small school in terms of number of students, but for the number of students, there is a large number of faculty.

Due to this favorable student-teacher ratio, there are a number of unique ways our faculty interact with our students

Four years ago, Vanderbilt committed itself to becoming a “no-loan institution.” How is this impacting student life?

 This is something continuing to evolve.

In general, when a student applies for financial aid, there are student loans that are a part of the financial aid package they receive.

At Vanderbilt, we meet any demonstrated need that a family has and match it dollar-for-dollar in grants funding – no loans.

This makes our financial aid program unique since students receiving aid would never have to pay anything back to the university for the assistance they receive.

How do you think your no-loan approach will affect students choosing schools best for them?

I think music students and their families are becoming more and more conscience of the financial aid factors, especially for undergraduate programs.

This is often a top issue or consideration a student and family has.

Our school is trying to make a commitment to be as affordable as possible – it can only be a positive in the end.

You have a very interesting ranking that is unconventional. The Princeton Review says Vanderbilt has the “happiest” students for four out of five years. What do you think makes Vanderbilt the happiest school?

It’s partially the residential component, that everyone has to live on campus. The faculty also play a role; they are so invested into the students and ensuring their experience is a great one.

The student life itself – the extracurriculars in and out of the music school – EVERYONE participates in them.

They do not have to travel off-campus to go to a sporting event, a chamber rehearsal, a student organization meeting, or to even practice.

Yes, we are trying to find a talented student.

Yes, we are trying to find an academically motivated student.

But we are also looking for a student that adds to our campus culture.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have one single “ideal model” of a student…

We are looking for students that can bring something to the campus that we do not have yet, or an idea that is engaging and new.

Another unique thing about our music school is that our audition process showcases what the students and student life in our school are like.

Literally, everyone in the student body volunteers.

Our students walk prospective students to their auditions, talk to them about our programs.

It is a testament to how invested the students are into their school, and a reflection of how invested our school is to our students.

On the next page, we talk about what kind of student Vanderbilt is best suited for…