Grad School/Conservatory choices...help!

May 30, 2007 at 05:12 AM · Hi there. So I'm a rising senior at a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, and I'm a violin major (to give you an idea of the size of this college, I'm the first violin major they've ever had - my teacher's amazing though). I hope to eventually have a career in violin performance so I'm starting to look for grad schools/conservatories that I can hopefully audition for this year and ultimately go to right after I graduate. I desperately need help deciding which grad schools or conservatories to look at and/or apply to. I know I should mostly choose depending on the teacher but my parents and I are both pretty poor and I can't really afford any travel expenses, plus I'd like to go somewhere far away-ish (as in away from the North Carolina area and the New Jersey area - my parents are from New Jersey and I grew up here.)

What I know I want in a grad school/conservatory:

In or close to a city (an artsy city would be perfect)

Friendly, relatively non-competitive atmosphere

Teacher who I connect with (once I narrow the choices down I plan on emailing the teachers and getting to know them that way)

Does anyone have any recommendations/suggestions/anything that might help me in this process? Thank you so much!

Replies (23)

June 1, 2007 at 01:41 AM · hmm...'friendly, non-competitive' may be hard! You can find friendly people almost anywhere, but in any serious music school there will be an element of competition.

Are you looking for a 'free-standing' Conservatory or would you also consider a University with a good Music School?

If you want to avoid the East Coast you might think about Oberlin, Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Rice.

I also grew up in NJ and spent 2 years at Manhattan, which was great...it was competitive but not cut-throat, and the faculty were pretty supportive and constructive. Of course that was a few years ago...but from what I hear it has only gotten better.

If New England is far enough away from home, you could think about Hartt, NEC or Eastman...

You will, of course, have to prepare very seriously for auditions wherever you go, and this means real planning ahead...I think most schools have finished their auditions by now (usually they are in fall/winter or March at the latest)...but I may be wrong on that, you should check individual schools. Good luck!

June 1, 2007 at 02:25 AM · One of my best friends has been at Boston Conservatory for the last 2 years and loves it there--he was talking about how the friendly atmosphere of the place felt like they were all a big family, he gets along really well with his teacher, etc., plus Boston is about as artsy a city as you can get. If someplace intense like NEC is out of your league, someplace like Boston Conservatory might be worth looking into.

June 1, 2007 at 06:10 AM · Hi again,

I was just reading the next thread below ("Music School Panic Attack") and realized some of the suggestions given there (although written in response to someone applying for undergrad schools) are appropriate for your question too...guess you've seen those by now. Certainly the teacher you choose matters as much as or more than the school...so if you can audition for particular teachers in advance that will be well worth your time.

Also keep in mind the cost factor...!

And yes, Boston is such a great city, culturally rich, diverse, full of students...you couldn't go wrong there. I actually just returned today from 4 days in Boston and feel completely energized and inspired!

June 1, 2007 at 11:53 AM · if you can do it... yale... free tuition

June 1, 2007 at 04:06 PM · I was going to respond "since when is Yale free?!", then checked their website and it is true...Yale School of Music received a $100 million gift in 2005 and is now subsidizing tuition for all students. (if only I were 18 again...!)

Of course this may now mean that it will be as competitive for admission as CIM...but it is certainly worth looking into.

June 1, 2007 at 05:47 PM · San Francisco Conservatory? Small school, great chamber music, friendly, supportive faculty. Not cheap, unfortunately, but there is some financial aid available.

June 1, 2007 at 05:53 PM · to Barbara

A minor (or perhaps major) correction. I believe the free tuition at Yale music applies to graduate study only.

But that is still perhaps good news for Miranda.

June 2, 2007 at 12:31 AM · if finances are tight (this coming from someone who just applied for a bunch of master's programs and couldn't afford to pay a ton of money) and you don't want to break the bank (or go 60,000 in debt for two years of a master's degree), you should check out some state schools. there are lots of very good large state universities with awesome music programs that fit most of your criteria: close to big cities, scholarship money, and a competitive yet nurturing atmosphere. here are some schools that pop into mind:

University of Maryland, College Park (where I'm going for my master's in violin: great facilities and teachers, right next to DC, and within 2 hours of Philadelphia and Baltimore)

University of Texas

Oklahoma University

Jacksonville University

NYU (although that one is pretty expensive, but they do offer on-campus housing for grad students)

There are some other private schools that I think are pretty good, too (albeit a lot more expensive, usually):

Catholic University

Temple University

Boston University

San Francisco Conservatory

University of Miami

That's all I can think of for now, but there are a TON of great schools in the US. Basically, anywhere you go you'll get a great education. I recommend applying to a bunch of schools and seeing where you get in. Then you'll have bargaining power to get scholarship money out of them.

Also, financially speaking, as a graduate student, you're eligible for $20,500 in Stafford loans per year as long as you fill out your FAFSA. So, as long as living expenses and tuition come to less than that, you should basically be fine (that is, until you have to pay them back...)

Hope this helps a little bit at least! Good luck!

June 2, 2007 at 01:13 AM · Brooklyn College has a conservatory with aome distinguished faculty members who also teach at Juilliard. I believe the tuition there is only $3200 per semester.

June 2, 2007 at 02:48 AM · thank you guys so much! this definitely helps give me an idea where to start looking. i don't really care, conservatory or school of music connected with university. and by 'non-competitive' i guess i mean not supersupercompetitive. i know the whole music world is competitive to begin with - i'm just looking for something not *ridiculously* cut-throat.

i didn't think auditions were until spring semester - i was planning on narrowing it down and talking to individual schools this summer, sending out applications/preliminary audition cds (if needed) in the fall semester and then going out to live auditions in the spring semester. i might need to speed up the process though if auditions are earlier than i thought.

anyway, thank you all so much for your help!

June 2, 2007 at 07:19 PM · "Also, financially speaking, as a graduate student, you're eligible for $20,500 in Stafford loans per year as long as you fill out your FAFSA. So, as long as living expenses and tuition come to less than that, you should basically be fine (that is, until you have to pay them back...)"

I cannot disagree more. Do not--DO NOT--borrow money to attend music school. Law? Medicine? Perhaps. But not something as dicey as music. Also, you should never have to pay to go to grad school as a string player. If you are good enough to be somewhere, they will pay you. If you are one of the few actually paying, it means the school does not value your abilities highly and are just willing to take your money. In other words, the market is already making a judgement on your worth even before you enter the job market.

This is especially true at the state schools--EVERYONE else will be on assistantship and if you pay there is something wrong.

Do not borrow. This much I know.

June 3, 2007 at 12:54 AM · I wouldn't overlook loans entirely, especially if it allows you to spend your time *practicing* as opposed to working at a near-minimum wage job to make rent, eat food, buy sheet music, etc. while you are in school. They are not the horrible thing many people make them out to be, and you don't need to borrow the full amount you qualify for, just get what you need to survive. I've seen too many students struggling to keep their playing up while putting in 20+ hour weeks in food service in order to make their tuition and books, and not filling out a FAFSA or even considering loans because someone told them that "loans are bad." It is all about doing the right research and planning out a budget!

Teaching Assistantships, fellowships, and other financial breaks can only defray the cost of being in grad school so much...certain regions of the US have a much higher cost of living even if the tuition isn't that high at the school you select (for example, where I am in Orange County, state schools in the region are a great bargain tuition-wise, but housing and gas costs are killer).

While I understand there are reservations about having loans to pay back once you complete school, to be honest, if you're going into a degree program and a profession where you don't expect to be earning a living doing it after you've spent all those years in school, is it wise to even go down that career route? Of course, if you are committed to your choice of major, I would hope that upon graduation from your program in music, you would then seek employment that uses the skills you've developed in school, AND give you the financial ability to repay the loans that allowed you acquire those skills, whether that job is in performing, teaching, marketing, publishing, etc. Your earning potential as a graduate is significantly higher than the jobs you qualify for before that time.

Furthermore, having a student loan and then paying it back on time helps you to further establish a good credit rating, which will be helpful in the future when you wish to qualify for a loan to say, buy a car, and secure a low interest rate for repayment.

All college/university programs have a financial aid office, and I would highly recommend you consult one of their advisors so that you can be as informed as possible before making major financial decisions that will affect your studies and career! :)

June 3, 2007 at 02:56 AM · I'm going to respectfully disagree with the assertion that you shouldn't borrow any money to go to school. Obviously, it's not an ideal situation to borrow a ton of money in student loans every year, but if it comes down to going to school on some borrowed money vs. not going at all, I definitely say go, especially when you basically need a graduate degree to go far in the music world. If you need to borrow money, then do it. You can also use student loans to do things other than pay for tuition, too. Like, buying a new instrument, traveling to visit other schools, taking far away auditions, etc.

Obviously, it's ideal to get a bunch of scholar/assistant-ships, but that's not always going to happen, especially depending on where you're going and what the individual school needs that year, instrumentation-wise. I was mainly pointing out that one can always go to school if one desires to, and financially speaking, there are always ways to pay your way through.

June 4, 2007 at 03:53 AM · It's not that I'm against all student loans, period, but I just think that music is particularly risky. A couple of thousand to get by? Probably ok. Just don't get sucked in.

I do stand by my original assertion that you should almost never pay for music grad school (unless you're independently wealthy and it doesn't matter).

One idea is to look at schools in a place that have lots of gigs. For example, I did my masters near Cleveland, and was able to play in Akron, Canton, Mansfield, Erie, and Wheeling symphonies.

June 8, 2007 at 01:27 AM · I'd *love* to be able to go to grad school without having to get loans - I'm already heavily in debt because of my undergrad school and I'd hate to add onto that, especially when I'm going into a field as financially unsure as violin performance. But I didn't think there would be any other way for me to get to grad school without taking out loans - I don't think I'm good enough for the school to want to pay my way completely. But I guess that'll be up to them, and not to me.

Also, I have a question about degrees - it seems like there's a variety of degrees (and non-degrees( you can get in performance, like masters, doctorate, certificate of performance, and others. Does anyone have any advice as to what degree I should work towards if my goal in life is to freelance as as a violinist and eventually play in a full-time orchestra?

Thank you all so much for your help!!

June 8, 2007 at 02:32 AM · I would suggest a Master's in Music if you're just finishing your BM or BFA or whatever. A Master's degree will not only include lessons and stuff, but also more music theory and history classes, which will make you more marketable as both a performer and a teacher.

June 8, 2007 at 03:05 AM · I would also disagree about the loans. Even with a fellowship or with a stipend you will probably have to cover some costs for living. I'm in that situation right now- I am up to my ears in debt from four years at CIM (love the school, but unfortunately my parents couldn't pay so I had to take out loads of loans). Taking out a little bit of money for graduate school is not a major deal, especially if it's just for living expenses. Most schools, minus most of the conservatories, will pay a lot for graduate school so most people get their tuition covered.

I would also highly suggest U of Maryland- it was one of the schools I almost went to for graduate school. It's a great area (I've grown up in DC my whole life), the campus is beautiful, and the facilities are fantastic. That's not even mentioning the students and the faculty.

June 8, 2007 at 06:39 AM · Consider McGill... look up Times Higher Education Supplement if you care about rankings.

There's a good music faculty and pretty much non-existent competition. I went there for 4 years and never sensed any competitiveness. It's in Montreal, so it definately isn't Jersey.

June 8, 2007 at 07:02 AM · I'd second looking into Canada - even with a 95-cent dollar and international student prices, you're not looking at anything like the tuition fees in the US. Montreal was really cheap to live in when I was there (is it still like that, Pieter?), and there are definitely lots of possibilities to gig or do work study to make money. Not to mention a pretty respectable string school...

June 8, 2007 at 10:39 AM · Orchestras don't care what degree (or lack of degree) you hold, so don't let that be a deciding factor in where you choose to study. Most auditions are blind anyway; resumes don't come out until the final round, when the committee already has a good idea of who they're interested in hiring.

On those occasions when resumes are screened before auditions (i.e., the orchestra can only invite a limited number of candidates), the committee is most interested in your principal teachers and orchestral/chamber music experience than in the name of the school or what degree you hold.

Getting your foot in the door for freelance work depends mainly on personal recommendations, and on how well you come through on those first few jobs. I don't think any of the contractors here know or care what kind of degrees (or not) the musicians hold.

June 9, 2007 at 12:15 AM · Posted in error.

June 9, 2007 at 06:14 PM · Here's a 'third' on the Canada idea...you will also pick up French if you make an effort (even though McGill is anglophone, the Universite de Montreal is francophone). Montreal is a great city and definitely not New Jersey...;-)

June 9, 2007 at 07:35 PM · The city is gorgeous as well and the University is right in the city. I've never seen such a clean downtown. I loved the few hours I spent there this winter. Just be prepared for some cold weather!

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