Was graduate school a mistake?

March 5, 2013 at 06:01 PM · Hello, all. I'm an infrequent poster, so I hope you all can bear with me through this.

I'm a violist and graduated last May with my BM in Performance degree and decided to wait before continuing to graduate school. I wanted to make sure I was doing what I wanted. By November I was itching to get back in school and continue my formal studies (I had switched teachers and continued lessons after graduation on the side). My current teacher, the same one I had switched to, was hired as another viola teacher at my old school, so I decided to return and start working on a masters degree. It's been about two months, give or take, and I am terribly unhappy. I dislike being at the same school and I'm finding my lessons more and more frustrating. I dread going to them every week. I still love playing music and viola as much as I ever have, but my teacher makes me feel a little incompetent and it's beginning to affect other areas of my life. I have voiced my concerns to her a couple of times and she always seems to listen well, but nothing changes. I feel like she isn't listening to me.

I'm nearly at the point where I want to quit school entirely and work on my playing on my own. I would love to transfer and start school somewhere else, but I have missed all the application deadlines and audition dates, making fall acceptance impossible. I'm also not audition ready because my teacher refuses to help me prepare for regional orchestral auditions, not to mention auditions for another school. I adore my teacher as a friend, and other students seem to benefit from her teaching, but I feel like she isn't a good fit for me...

I'm open to listen to any advice any of you have. I will say this: I get a hefty financial aid package from my school (scholarship and stipend for GA work) and if I were to transfer, I would need the same amount of assistance. I come from an incredibly low-income family.

Replies (22)

March 5, 2013 at 06:24 PM · Caveat - I am not an expert on your issue, but what you are saying in your post is coming through fairly clearly. Your problem seems to be the teacher more than anything else. So, it seems to me that your issue is how to switch teachers without screwing up everything else. I can't help you with that one, because it probably depends on your school, and how you would feel with another teacher but staying at the same school, assuming that is possible. There may not be a low-cost (to you) solution to this problem, and you may have to do something that you will chalk up as an important experience for which you have to pay a certain price. Good luck! I hope others on this site will have useful advice for you.

March 5, 2013 at 06:42 PM · If you feel like you are not progressing with your current teacher, then you must switch teachers as soon as possible, no matter how much respect you have for them, or how well you get along with him or her outside of lessons. It doesn't mean that he or she is a bad teacher - it just means that they are not the right teacher for you.

March 5, 2013 at 06:57 PM · Get a degree in engineering and read a bunch of books on the physics of sound and music. Study on your own. You'll save money and you'll get a good paying job.

March 5, 2013 at 09:10 PM · What you are most likely dealing with is grad school shock - going from a formal education undergrad (which is really a continuation of schooling from kindergarten up) to self-driven learning, which is really what grad school is - and that can be worse than whiplash because suddenly you are responsible for your own success.

I'm sorry, but its called growing up and its something you have to do once you get into grad school. I know of what I speak as I have supervised tens of grad students over the years.

The solution? I think it is quite simple: meet with your teacher and talk to her honestly about where you are, what you feel and then ask her for advice how to move on. The changing schools option is really running away and I'll predict that once you do that exactly the same thing will happen because you have not dealt with the root cause. But be prepared to hear some critisism of yourself - infact that is what you should be looking for how YOU can change to fully take advantage of the amazing opportunity that you have been given (not only getting in but, you say, your hefty schollarships).

Bit of tough love perhaps - but it would be awful if you quit your current situation when the problem may be easily fixable.

March 5, 2013 at 10:52 PM · There's nothing "running away" about switching schools. Let's face it: some schools have better programs than others.

One thing I'm wondering about is the audition preparation. A graduate teacher should definitely be helping you with audition material. Many schools will have a teacher running a weekly audition-repertoire class. If your school doesn't, and your teacher won't (or can't), then you need another school that is interested in helping you to be competitive.

Most college teachers will know some of the core audition repertoire, but some may not, and may not be able to coach the details and intricacies of what is very demanding music.

March 6, 2013 at 03:08 AM · So Scott, you recommend changing schools before you've really talked about your problems with a teacher that you really like and went to the school to study under? Oh, and loose your schollarships that yo have to have to stay in school?

Kinda reminds me of the girl that changed schools in california because she had to drive into the morning sunshine.

March 6, 2013 at 05:00 AM · Elise, I don't understand. He has voiced his concerns a number of times, and apparently wasted his breath.

I can really only give my existential thoughts - Life is too short to live in self-imposed exile. If something is not right and you can fix it (By finding another teacher), then every moment spent simply enduring is a sort of small torture.

And Marty, that's just mean. I wouldn't wish an engineering degree on my worst enemy.

It sounds like you should talk to some other teachers and maybe have some trial lessons. If switching causes problems with your current teacher, then that may or may not reflect on certain institutional politics which may be worth considering.

-Take my heavy editorializing with some salt

March 6, 2013 at 05:38 AM · William - it may not be the right school and especially not the right teacher for you. But don't quit till, as you say, you can find another program that gives you financial support. And don't give up on graduate school, generally. You may want to teach someday in a school system or college, and will need at least a Masters.

It took me 3 schools and 6 years to get my Bachelors. At that point I was so sick of school that I never went back. It was a big mistake. The longer you wait, the harder it is to go back to school.

March 6, 2013 at 07:09 AM · Excellent advice. I think I have heard what I need (although more advice is always welcome). Thank you all very much. :)

March 6, 2013 at 11:03 AM · William - I hope you let us know what you decided to do and how it worked out.

Whichever way, best of luck!

March 6, 2013 at 12:52 PM · I know that many search committees like to see candidates for teaching positions have experience with more than one institution--wider basis of experience, proof they can accept changes--so changing programs could be an excellent career move. You'll look better to any other grad program if you leave the one you are in now in good standing, so I hope you finish your year, at least. Then you can, while taking a year off, examine other options--teachers, locations, etc.

Beyond that, changing is personal. Kind of like the way a quick infatuation (in this case with a teacher, program, whatever, not a potential romantic partner) may not develop into a positive long relationship. Best thing to do in that case is shift.

I do hope you talk with your teacher first, however. Part of what I suggested above--leaving a program in good standing--you want the teacher's good will, if possible, for recommendations and contacts.

March 6, 2013 at 04:17 PM · If you are interested, try Dr. Kathyrn Steely, Prof. of viola at Baylor University. We often keep accepting grad applications until all the slots are filled. http://www.baylor.edu/music/strings/index.php?id=41603

March 6, 2013 at 08:37 PM · "I know that many search committees like to see candidates for teaching positions have experience with more than one institution--wider basis of experience, proof they can accept changes--so changing programs could be an excellent career move."

Attending different institutions for different programs (like BM at one place, MM at a second and DM at a third) is one thing, but switching DURING a program is another thing entirely.

March 8, 2013 at 03:19 PM · I guess since I'm working on my second masters degree in music, I'll try to weigh in.

Honestly, the first semester of graduate work is the hardest and I can't tell you the number of times I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing both at the first masters and the second. This semester I couldn't be happier; however, my teacher is more than happy to help me with things I want to work on for auditions and is quite responsive to my concerns. Is it perfect here? No, but the teacher is what keeps me going. Honestly, the teacher is the most important part of the masters degree and if that relationship isn't working or what you're hoping for, then I would strongly consider a change either of schools or at the very least,mteacher.

I go to Kent State and I know they would still consider an application at this point. Auditions are still occurring and others here didn't audition until May and were still given full consideration. I would email schools you're interested in to see if they would still give full consideration to an application submitted this late in the semester.

Hope this helps!

March 8, 2013 at 03:57 PM · Oddly, Scott's two posts seem mutually contradictory...of course, that's neither here nor there, ultimately.

If you can't do good work, make good progress, or feel confident that you are developing in the ways you want, then where you are is not good for you. You say your teacher is making you feel 'incompetent'...is that because you are being challenged to take a step forward/upward that you aren't ready for or don't understand?

Whether you need time off or another program, only you can say. While financial aid is very helpful, people do manage with less (or none) if they are truly committed to a course of action that isn't funded. Again--that's up to you.

March 8, 2013 at 05:22 PM · "Attending different institutions for different programs (like BM at one place, MM at a second and DM at a third) is one thing, but switching DURING a program is another thing entirely."

Thats my opinion too Scott. Sure sometimes you have to do it - but there should be a very good reason else the new place may look at you as a questionable investment - and each time you move you really go back to square one.

What I wrote above was to give you a contrary point of view - like Scott hinted, to try as much as you can to make it work before throwing in the towel. From your account I did not get the impression that you had really exhausted the possibility - the most telling thing was that you had not actually discussed your issues with your primary supervisor. If a student left without at the very least having an open discussion with everything on the table I would be hurt and a bit angry I suppose but I would also have to question that students committment and resolve.

By the way, I've never had a student leave during a degree program (MSc or PhD) - there have been issues but we've always worked through them - although I did ask one to look for more suitable 'fit'.

[EDIT: just to be clear, I am not a music teacher but a physiologist!]

March 8, 2013 at 08:48 PM · "Oddly, Scott's two posts seem mutually contradictory...of course, that's neither here nor there, ultimately."


If my posts seem contradictory, it's only because I was responding to two different issues. The first is that the poster doesn't like his school or teacher. I myself left a conservatory due to my teacher. As long as one doesn't make it a habit

(I call that "goin' Palin"...)

However, your claim that jumping a program is seen as a desirable qualification by an academic hiring committee is unsupportable.


March 9, 2013 at 12:43 AM · Like any other life-phenomenon, changing programs mid-degree can be presented in different ways to anyone who asks; and it seems to me that staying where one is unhappy and not growing well simply to avoid the possible stigma attached to leaving seems the worse alternative.

March 9, 2013 at 11:32 AM · I do agree Marjory - but its the threshold for that change that is all too important. You can make two mistakes - that I'm sure we've all done - stay in a bad situation too long, or change your life before you gave something a real chance.

I think in this case my threshold for change would be rather high.

March 9, 2013 at 02:13 PM · That's a fair point, Elise. My personal tendency has been to stay in bad circs. too long, but I'm really stubborn! Learning to let go is a challenge for some; learning to stay and grow an equal challenge for others, and we each speak out of our own experience.

March 20, 2013 at 03:45 AM · So I have decided to finish this semester at my current university and then resign (is that the word?) from school. I'm going to take the fall off and prepare for auditions for the spring.

Any advice on how to handle this situation? Like, how to tell my private teacher, my class teachers, my orchestra professor? How to prepare for the shift from being a student to working more and still practicing?

July 11, 2013 at 05:20 AM · Hi William,

This is now many months after your last post and I hope that your situation was resolved in a good way! Switching teachers and schools is always tricky.

In dealing with sticky diplomatic situations, I've found one phrase to be magical: "I want to do the right thing." Somehow this manages to get everyone to the same goal of figuring out how to get the highest good for the situation and putting people in a more constructive frame of mind.

Hope everything turned out well - please do update us if you get a chance.




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