Harvard/NEC Double Major?

January 8, 2006 at 10:36 PM · I was just accepted into Harvard early action, and they offer a joint 5-year double degree program with the New England Conservatory. I haven't applied to NEC, and they say I have until my junior year to decide whether I want to enter the program or not, but I was just wondering about your thoughts on NEC - how is the violin faculty? (I've played violin for about 8 years; I recorded the Bach Chaconne and Dvorak concerto mvt. 1 as a supplement to my college application.) How hardcore is the program there? Also, do any of you have experience with double majoring? Is it worth it? Any thoughts?

Replies (39)

January 8, 2006 at 11:58 PM · Cindy,

NEC is a great school and has stellar violin faculty, but the double degree program is extremely selective (maybe 5-7 students per year or so?) so there is a chance that you might end up at Harvard without getting into NEC.

Are you definitely going to concentrate in music? Or do you want to play and get your A.D. but concentrate in something else at Harvard?

There are a lot of students who are great musicians (but not Music concentrators) and a lot of opportunities to play at a high level, but as you probably know, the Music Department is solely theory/composition/analysis/history and not performance. You can't take lessons from the faculty, for example.

If you want to seriously pursue violin performance during college, I would say go to a conservatory. If you want to be in an academic setting where you can be involved in music with lots of other talented people, with the possibility of this joint NEC thing, then I would say go to Harvard.

I hope this helps.



January 9, 2006 at 12:33 AM · what grade are you in now, saying you have until your junior year to decide...

January 9, 2006 at 12:50 AM · Cindy, wow, congratulations on getting into Harvard! James Buswell is one of the great teachers at NEC. Not sure, but I suspect if you contacted NEC or maybe one of the violinists there directly, told them you were just accepted at Harvard and could you meet with them and play for them, they would agree. My understanding is you apply to the NEC program right away and then take privately with the faculty member at NEC and participate some in the NEC things like chamber or orchestra while you are at Harvard. Then, in your junior year, you apply for the Master's degree at NEC. It's a new program so it might shape up differently than that, but this was my understanding. So if you can make the connection now to the NEC faculty member you want to work with, I am sure they can give you the feedback you need about being in the program. Good luck!

January 9, 2006 at 01:22 AM · Cindy,

Congrats on being accepted. It depends on what you want. Harvard will keep you very busy, and so will NEC. If you are prepared to get little sleep (so you can do both well), then you should consider it.

January 9, 2006 at 04:31 AM · I did a double program of sorts. I went to Juilliard for two years, and then transferred to Columbia. I got both a conservatory experience and an academic education as an undergrad, and then decided to go academic for grad school.

NEC is one of the top conservatories in the world, if you can deal with the pressure. It isn't for everybody--if you cannot deal with criticism, it isn't for you. If you can, you'd turn out to be a well-prepared professional.

January 9, 2006 at 05:20 AM · Cindy, I just checked the website and you still have time to apply to and audition for NEC. The auditions are in Feb and March. Good luck!

January 9, 2006 at 06:45 AM · Cindy,

I know ALOT of people at NEC (including my own sister) and thought about going there myself. One of the most prestigious teachers in the country teaches there right now- Donald Weilerstein. Unfortunately getting in with him is harder than getting into curtis institute. The other amazing teacher there is Nicolas Kitchen. Again NEC is not a bad school, so none of they're teachers are going to be BAD. But those are the two more saught after.

January 9, 2006 at 06:42 AM · Nick, the deadline is December 1. It's too late to apply this year.

Cindy, this program could be extremely rewarding, no doubt. Congratulations! If I were you, I'd contact the NEC teachers you're interested in now to find out both if they would take you as a private student before you enroll at NEC, and whether they think it likely that you'd be admitted to the joint program.

Don't take that last part lightly. As others have said, the double-degree is highly selective; how many of us are capable of earning an accelerated NEC MM while studying at Harvard? I know several people who were admitted to both schools last year, but were rejected from the joint program.

I certainly don't mean to discourage you. But if I were you, if your heart is set on a double degree, I would be cautious enrolling at Harvard without having secured a place in the joint program. If you're ok with the chance of "only" receving the Harvard BA, then go for it. Whether or not you get in to the double degree program, you'll still get a great education, and could certainly have a great violin teacher.

January 9, 2006 at 01:24 PM · Keuna is right, the program is very tough to get into. Two violinists made it in this year, and both of them are studying with Weilerstein. (Perhaps getting into the program guarantees you a spot in his studio? I don't think that's explicitly stated anywhere, though.)

I also applied for the joint program last year, thinking it was perfect for someone like me. However, I've since decided that I'm better off not having made it in. This isn't just sour grapes; I've actually thought this through. The joint program offers to clear advantages: the financial (you end up paying for five years instead of six) and what currently appears to be a spot in Weilerstein's studio. As to the former, there's always Advanced Standing, which means you can earn your AB degree in three years instead of four if you have enough credits from APs. As to the latter--there's really no substitute for Weilerstein. However, Boston is full of great music teachers. I currently study with Lynn Chang, who takes a lot of students from MIT and Harvard. James Buswell also takes non-NEC students; a friend of mine very nearly chose to study with him but changed her mind when he mentioned how much he expected her to practice.

Which is another thing to worry about in college. To be brutally honest, most of my friends have stopped practicing, though they still do orchestra or chamber here. Unless you're very certain you want to do music, it would behoove you to put off applying until next year (which seems to be the case.)

The last question I would pose to you is, do you really want to shorten your college education? I'm fine with waiting until grad school to pursue a Masters, hopefully at NEC.

Congratulations on getting into Harvard. I'd be happy to talk further with you about the various musical opportunities here.

January 9, 2006 at 01:58 PM · Hi,

I think Keuna is right. One has to choose early on. Double-degrees are difficult. Most people that I know who did them found the workload just too much to play the violin well.

That said, NEC is a fantastic school with a stellar faculty. Of that, there is no doubt.

I know that decisions like this are difficult these days because of the current state of affairs in the music world. But in the end you need to be a first rate violinist to get a job. If your ambition is to be a musician, then ask yourself what situation will best enable you to meet that goal.


January 9, 2006 at 02:22 PM · Hi there,

As an NEC grad who was in your shoes a few years ago, I'd like to give you some thoughts...

When I was applying to schools, I was not yet sure if music was right for me. I looked at both engineering, pre-med, and music programs alike. I could have gone to Univ. of Michigan engineering school, but chose NEC in the hope that I would be able to do their double degree with Tufts in pre-med.

What I didn't realize at the beginning, was that since NEC is a top-notch conservatory, I would have to put aside some 4-5 hours for practice each day. Since music was (and is) definitely more of my passion than the other subjects, this wasn't a problem for me. Many music history, harmony, and solfege courses, coupled with the 45 minute commute to Tufts made it impossible for me to even THINK about doing two degrees.

I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to be top-notch, one day, it would take my complete dedication. I also realized that medicine (or anything else) cannot be a back-up. Either I do one thing and do it well, or I do two (or more) things and do them both half well.

I hope this helps!


January 9, 2006 at 04:51 PM · To disagree slightly with Daniel, the Harvard-NEC and NEC-Tufts programs are very different. Undertaking two bachelor's degrees is definitely easier than doing an accelerated graduate degree on the tail end of college, without holding a BM to begin with. In the NEC-Tufts, you have five years to bring your playing to the necessary level to earn the BM (a silly way to think of it, but it's true); in the NEC-Harvard, you only have three years to be ready to start an MM AND don't have the benefit of a conservatory environment in which to do it.

January 9, 2006 at 06:41 PM · Cindy,

I have had many friends who have gone that route.

Go For It...........!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our second violinist in my quartet (www.odeonquartet.org) graduated from Harvard not too long ago. She did just that.....(double major etc.)..just visit our website and read her bio.

She has done lots of interesting things and along the way, she realized what is most important in her life: MUSIC!!!

January 10, 2006 at 05:35 AM · Alex, so are you saying it is harder to get into NEC as an applicant for the joint program than to get into NEC just as a conservatory student?

January 10, 2006 at 04:32 PM · Yes, by a whole lot. (Sorry, I'm not Alex...)

January 10, 2006 at 05:09 PM · Yes, by a whole lot. By the way, don't make the mistake of thinking the NEC/Harvard program is like a double major at Harvard. Harvard in fact doesn't offer a double major program. What you can do is a joint concentration, which is one degree in the overlap between two fields.

January 10, 2006 at 07:30 PM · Jude and Alex, So, if I understand you, a Harvard student is at a disadvantage getting into the NEC program? So someone who wants to go to NEC should just apply to NEC and forget about Harvard?

January 10, 2006 at 09:12 PM · Well, that's one way to say it, yes. If you want two bachelor's degrees, NEC-Tufts is easier to get in to than the Harvard program, though still more competitive than regular NEC admission.

January 10, 2006 at 11:15 PM · I really don't see the purpose of a double degree, unless you really don't know which of two very different professions you will end up in (e.g. music or medicine) and want a bachelor's in both so you have your bases covered. (I would also argue that if you are still that uncertain about music, you're better off going to a liberal arts school than a conversatory.) It's not worth it for the "impress people" factor. I'm several years out of school and I've never known anyone for whom the double degree made a difference in getting a job when the fields were closely linked (e.g. math and physics.) And if you end up getting an advanced degree, your bachelor's will hardly matter. Pick the field that interests you more, then take courses from the other one to suit your interests.

January 10, 2006 at 11:24 PM · Karin, consider the possibility that one might want to complete both degrees!

If you know you want a career in music, and you are not good enough to forgo a conservatory education, but also want a broad liberal arts education, the double-degree can make a lot of sense. It may not help win an orchestra job, but a liberal arts degree has value other than helping you win a job.

January 10, 2006 at 11:53 PM · Well, to me the primary, if not only, purpose of a degree (and I have three) is to get a job. This is not the only purpose of an EDUCATION, however. I certainly think that any music major should take a variety of classes in other fields (this is one reason I admire Hilary Hahn so much, she stayed at Curtis extra years to study languages and literature), but that's different from actually getting a second degree.

Of course, this view is probably colored by my own experience...I started out as a double physics/computer science major, then realized that if I did all the requirements for both, I would hardly have any time to take, say, music classes. So I got the physics degree and took several CS classes in the areas that most interested me. I think it was the right decision, as I doubt an additional BSCS would have helped me at all in life.

January 11, 2006 at 12:04 AM · Well, since they're offering this program, it's obviously do-able - it isn't something she's trying to throw together herself. Any degree from Harvard will get you anywhere you want to go by itself. Get ready for the good life. Um...I look forward to working for you, sir.

January 11, 2006 at 12:10 AM · I think Cindy is a ma'am. :)

January 11, 2006 at 12:19 AM · Gee thanks a lot. That doesn't help ;)

January 11, 2006 at 12:15 AM · Hehe. A degree from Harvard is most definitely not a ticket to paradise! :)

(Unless you consider i-banking or consulting "the good life".)

By the way Gennady, Jennifer did not do the double degree with NEC thing (that program didn't exist back when she was there), and as you probably know very well, she did a masters in music after she graduated from college, which just goes to show, you need another degree after you get your liberal arts education if you want to actually enter the music profession!

January 11, 2006 at 12:42 AM · Keuna that's because you're in Boston. Go anyplace else and watch what happens. (re:H)

January 11, 2006 at 01:18 AM · I dunno, here in Silicon Valley it's almost a point of pride that I left Harvard after a year to attend MIT. :)

January 11, 2006 at 01:28 AM · If y'all had gone to a nice two year college in Iowa where they teach you some common sense you wouldn't have melted the country down ;P

January 11, 2006 at 05:37 AM · What I am not understanding is this: is it harder to get in because it's hard to get into Harvard as well as NEC? It sounds like that's what you mean since you're saying it's easier to get into the Tufts/NEC joint program.

It's not necessary to get a liberal arts degree, however, by the time I take as many courses as I might want to take outside my music career, it's almost likely to add up to another degree anyway, so I might as well consider going in for one of those cardboard hats.

January 11, 2006 at 06:07 AM · No, in addition to Harvard being more selective than Tufts (though obviously, Tufts is no chopped liver), the standard of playing for H-NEC is higher than for T-NEC. It's tougher both musically and academically.

January 11, 2006 at 06:34 AM · Hey everyone,

Thanks so much for the great discussion! I am primarily more interested in science than I am music, but I suppose for me music's been so big in my life that it's hard for me to let go. The program says that I have until my junior year at Harvard to apply, so if I'm unsure at this point, do you think it's probably best just to wait? Or will my chances of getting in be lower? Do you know if it'd be harder to get a good private teacher if I'm not involved in the program?

And speaking of that last part, for you non-music majors, did you all still take private lessons through college? And does anyone have any good Boston-area violin teachers they would like to recommend?

Thanks so much!

January 11, 2006 at 03:05 PM · Guess I'll be the voice of dissent by saying if you are interested in a science major (though you don't specify which science), there are much better schools than Harvard to attend for it.

January 11, 2006 at 03:15 PM · Eric,

That depends! I do agree with people who think that class sizes are too big at Harvard, especially the beginning level science courses, and you can end up in a section with a less than satisfactory TF. However, it's amazing once you get to be a junior or senior and you can work directly with some Nobel prizeworthy faculty and have them advise you one on one on your thesis and be on a first name basis with them. The thing that makes Harvard a good place to study science is the resources, not necessarily the teaching.

Cindy, as for keeping up the music, there will be SO many opportunities to do so even if you don't end up getting into the NEC double degree program. As others have suggested, I'd start taking private lessons with someone at NEC (or other nearby conservatory) right away. There are at least four orchestras you could play in- these are great places to meet chamber music partners. There's Music 180 or 93r (chamber music classes for credit). There are concerto competitions for some of the orchestras. There is a student group called "Brattle Street Chamber Players" which is the cream of the crop (Many former members of this ensemble are now professionals)- see if you can get involved in these. If nothing else, you can form your own group! There is an event called "ArtsFirst" every May where anyone/group can perform.

For someone who wants to be studying science but deeply involved in music, there is no better place!

My two cents. :)

January 11, 2006 at 04:07 PM · And here are my two cents:

If you're thinking of doing the dual-degree program because music is "hard... to let go," I'd advise against it. My impression--which may be wrong, I didn't create the program--is that the dual degree program is for people who are very serious about music but would rather not forgo a liberal arts education. I should mention that one of the two violinists who made it in already performs with professional orchestras. That being said, waiting would help you decide what you really want to do.

Personally, I think Lynn Chang is a great teacher. A lot of Harvard/MIT students take lessons from him. You should ask your current private teacher for his or her opinion, too.

When you get here, definitely apply for all the orchestras: Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Bach Society Orchestra, Mozart Society Orchestra, and the Brattle Street Chamber Players. If you want, you can also audition for the Pops Orchestra and/or the Baroque Chamber Orchestra. If you get into all, feel free to join more than one. I highly recommend BachSoc, which I am a member of.

By the way, I am a non-music concentrator.

January 11, 2006 at 07:38 PM · Alex, glad the BachSoc is still around. While I was at Harvard in 91-92 (not a member of the orchestra), the conductor was Edwin Outwater, who is now Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. So it's definitely a fine place to study music.

Keuna, your comments on Harvard's value being in their resources rather than the quality of teaching are ones I've heard before. My response is that it does not have to be, and should not be, an either-or thing. I'm only familiar with physics since that's what I studied, but I found the quality of undergraduate courses at MIT to be much higher than at Harvard---Alan Guth, the inventor of the inflationary theory of the universe, was one of the best teachers I ever had---and both universities have very renowned researchers. It's simply a matter of the school making it a priority, and I didn't feel that Harvard did that in the hard sciences. For the social sciences and liberal arts, it may well be much better. (Incidentally, I *did* apply to Harvard for graduate school, and probably would have gone there if I'd gotten in)

Cindy, what second field are you considering? That will definitely affect whether a double-degree program in general and Harvard in specific is a good choice.

EDIT: sorry, I missed Cindy's response a few posts back. Having read it, I agree with Alex. If you don't have your heart set on a musical career, and music is simply a very very important hobby, there are plenty of excellent opportunities at Harvard to indulge. The joint NEC program sounds more demanding than you may want, particularly if you're going to study science.

January 11, 2006 at 07:17 PM · People rip on good schools all the time, mostly because they are jealous or angry about not getting in.

January 11, 2006 at 07:24 PM · Shrug, some people offer irrelevant commentary every single chance they get. Life goes on.

January 11, 2006 at 09:43 PM · True. But irrelevant commentary is pretty much on the same level as complete bull.

January 12, 2006 at 01:30 AM · So I think I understand now.

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