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College Search 101

September 17, 2008 at 1:52 PM

The Opera is over, and was a big success...in fact, we all now want to quit our day jobs and become opera singers. Alas, it's time for real life to elbow itself in and insist on having attention lavished on it.

In addition to the real world duties of the season, it's time to begin the dreaded 'search' in earnest.
The college search, that is. My 17-yr. old violinist daughter is beginning her senior year, and it has sneaked up on us. It's time to begin submitting college applications, and looking ahead at audition dates for various schools.

I am realizing that the college search is a very different process when looking at music programs than it was for my older children. With my older daughter, she decided that wanted a good political science program, found a school she liked, and that was it! There was no need for me to research her poli. sci. profs, no 'sample classrooms' to visit, no major projects for her to submit to gain acceptance.

This, however, is a very different animal. I didn't realize just how different until we made a visit last spring to one of the state schools (in Michigan) with a reputation for excellence as a music ed. school. I sat in on the orchestra rehearsal at this school, and was horrified--- there were only 9 violins in the entire orchestra, and of those, it was obvious that only about 4 were in any music programs. One was a performance major, a couple more must have been music ed. majors and the rest were students of other disciplines. And it was pretty obvious that there was no real audition process to get into that orchestra....I saw 1 student in the back of the 1st violin section who literally didn't know how to hold the bow. She 'air-bowed' the entire rehearsal, and the bow never left the top 3 inches at that. This school is probably a really good choice for anything in music EXCEPT strings, but I left pretty shocked. My daughter would have gone into the first stand of 1st violins as an incoming freshman at that school, which seems to me to be not very productive from an educational standpoint.

So---now the search feels distressingly ponderous, as I realize that I need to personally visit every school we are looking at, and meet every teacher we are considering. What a lot of work!

My daughter is looking for a program that is fairly small. We come from a tiny area, and I think she really likes the personal feel in a smaller setting, where the students all get to know one another and the teacher is highly invested in the students. This rules out the bigger schools in MI (UofM, MSU, etc.) and leaves us looking for an excellent teacher in a smaller program that is known for excellence. Her plan is Performance major; however, we tend to vascillate depending on whom are talking to. (i.e. "You really should have that teacher's certification. You'll have work for sure that way".)


As a musician/teacher/parent it feels risky in a different way to me. I have invested 13 years of time, energy, cheerleading, nurturing and $$$$ in this kid, and have seen her arrive at a very neat place. She has had only 2 teachers thus far. I don't want to hand her over to a teacher who will be harsh with her, or who will, by temperament or personality, dismantle what we have built.

I know of a girl who was denied graduation because in her senior year, she had a falling-out with her teacher, who then refused to sign off on her senior recital. The falling out was personality and not based on her playing/performances. This was 2 years ago. This girl still doesn't have a degree (she was double-majoring in violin and viola) and is in limbo. This freaks me out....
this one-on-one relationship with a teacher that can either make the college experience a time of growth or a nightmare. One bad fit with a teacher can destroy what it has taken most of a lifetime to grow.

So....I plan to attend every initial meeting, go to rehearsals, sit in on sample lessons. It's all I can do. We live at least 5 hours away from any school with a music program, which makes visits, sample lessons and auditions etc. a bit challenging.

Money IS a consideration....we need her to earn some scholarship assistance. All in all, it sounds like a weighty endeavor. I'm trying to look at it in it's most positive light though....the search, as an experience that I can have with my daughter as we explore her future, looking with excitement to what is ahead. Still, it feels weighty.

One encouragment in this all is that I know that the market for employment is tight enough that there are some truly outstanding teachers in some smaller schools. I hope that we can find a perfect fit of teacher/school/program and student.

We begin in earnest next week as she is attending a masterclass by the Merling Trio (from WMU) who are visiting our area. She will be playing parts of the Schubert Sonata Duo and the Lalo. This will be our first one-on-one contact with a university violin professor, and should give us information.

From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on September 17, 2008 at 4:42 PM
If you're looking for scholarship money and a place with a good performance and education program, and you're not set on staying in Michigan, you might consider checking out my alma mater, Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. If your daughter has good grades and a strong SAT score, you're likely to get a huge academic scholarship (which is why I was able to go when I went there from 2003-07). It's not the most well-known school, but you can do music education with a performer's certificate, or you could double major in performance and ed.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 17, 2008 at 9:09 PM
I think parents would do very well to screen the poli-sci professors. Is one's child to get an education or an indoctrination?
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 17, 2008 at 9:11 PM
Back to music. My wife majored in music at a school that would not accept students fully as performance majors until the beginning of the junior year (with exceptions based on demonstrated ability). Of course students could enter with the intention of majoring in music and take the necessary lower division courses, private lessons and juries but the faculty didn't want anyone to hold the illusion that they could complete a performance major until they had had time to carefully assess the students capacity.

I too know a man who was denied a performance degree based on his senior recital. I knew his playing and he should never have gotten that far. It was unconscionable to hold out the expectation of a performance degree based on his capacity. He has recovered and is doing well in his alternative profession.

From Ryan Silvestri
Posted on September 17, 2008 at 10:04 PM
If going out of state is not an issue, take a look at Florida State. I am a student at FSU (originally from Ohio) now and have had nothing but great experiences. I am a mus. ed. major, and the string ed program here is one of the best in the country (check out the faculty). Plus, what I really enjoy is that I have the same performance opportunities as all of the performance majors here. We all play in the same orchestras, study with professors, and get to play chamber music. Sure, I go here, so I am biased, but its definitely worth a look. www.music.fsu.edu
From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 2:22 AM
I have heard good things about FSU from a previous teacher. He recommended Beth Newdome. However, FSU is a big school, and I think you said your daughter would feel more comfortable at a small institution.
From Dottie Case
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 3:13 AM
Not totally tied to staying in MI., depending on the $$ aspects of it, but I probably need to have her close enough to get home easily and visit her mom (or vice versa:). I think she may apply to one school in IN. at least. We live just on the Canadian border, so even schools IN MI are a distance.
From Bruce Berg
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 3:20 PM
You might look at Butler Univ. Indianapolis In. or Depauw Univ. in Greencastle In.Butler poured a lot of money into their program a few years back and were getting on the map, but I haven't heard much about them recently.
From Dottie Case
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 3:56 PM
Bruce, interestingly enough, DePauw is the IN school that she is applying to. Her voice teacher is an alumni, and seems to think that she'd do well in scholarship monies there...
From Sean Sullivan
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 4:14 PM
I hope you realized that UM's campus symphony orchestra is NOT intended for music majors... the University Symphony Orchestra is actually intensely competitive, and the Music program is well known to be of high quality.

Clearly you picked the wrong group to go see on your visit...

From Dottie Case
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 4:24 PM
Sean...I didn't mean that we went to U of M....I said that we went to a State University in Mi. I was deliberately not identifying which school it was. We know that U of M is large and highly competitive...the size is why we have ruled it out.
I guess my attempt to be discrete caused some lack of clarity...
From Dottie Case
Posted on September 18, 2008 at 9:49 PM
I edited for clarification.
From Lisa Sailer
Posted on September 21, 2008 at 3:12 AM
I am a freshman at SUNY (State University of New York) at Purchase. I really like it so far and the music program is really intense. One big plus is that there is a conservatory within the school, but it is relatively inexpensive compared to private conservatories because it's part of a state university. There are only about 4,000 people in the whole school but probably about 200 in the conservatory of music. Plus, it's close to NYC so students get to study with a lot of really big names. It's a good school to look at.

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