Applying to university or conservatory music programs is stressful and overwhelming, whether you’re in high school and applying to schools for the first time, or you’re a college senior and planning on auditioning for graduate schools in music. I’ve gone through the process of applying and auditioning for music programs myself, and I’ve also helped many of my students do the same, which is why I’ve created this timeline and checklist. There are hundreds of checklists and timelines for non-music students, but these don’t include the auditions and other components which are unique to prospective music students.
My checklist and timeline centers around junior and senior year (of high school or undergraduate degrees), but I will also offer suggestions to keep in mind throughout the rest of your high school/undergraduate studies as well.
(Want this information in a one-page PDF? Download my FREE visual timeline here.)
- Make a list of potential teachers. The main difference between music students and other degrees is that music students often choose a program based on its teacher, not the entire program. (In fact, I moved to France specifically to study with my teacher at the Versailles Conservatory). Write down anyone whose pedagogy, performances, or other attributes you admire – don’t worry if some seem out of reach for now.
- Make a list of potential schools. Teachers are one of the most important criteria for music students, but you should also create a list of potential music schools. Consider the school’s teacher-to-student ratio, resources, performance opportunities, ensembles, freelance opportunities in the area, and other factors which will influence your decision.
- Compare and narrow your lists. Although there is no “right” number of schools you should apply to, I would avoid more than 10 on your preliminary list. Decide what factors are most important to you, and streamline your list to reflect this. Try to maintain a balance between realistic and “dream” schools.
- Email potential schools and professors to introduce yourself and schedule a lesson. Keep your emails short and professional (now’s also the time to create a professional email address if you’re still using firstname.lastname@example.org). Ask about the professor’s availability to teach a lesson at a mutually convenient time.
- Tip: If they are unavailable to meet, search the Internet for any articles, blogs, or videos they’ve published to get an idea of their teaching and performing philosophies.
- Red flag: It’s never a good sign when a professor doesn’t respond to your emails. Recruiting is part of their job, so unanswered emails (plural, not singular) send a strong message to prospective students.
- Visit as many schools as possible to take lessons. Spring and summer breaks are perfect opportunities to visit schools and take lessons. Practice adequately to make a good first impression, but remember – this isn’t the audition. These lessons are to discover if a teacher and/or school would be a good fit for you. Remember: Although you are auditioning for the professor, you are also holding your own “auditions” to discover the best teacher and school for you.
- Tip: Participate in honor bands, conferences, or other interactive events at prospective schools. When I was in high school, I attended several college honor bands, where I was able to meet clarinet professors, band directors, and current music students while visiting the school.
- Finalize your list of schools. Your list should contain at least one safety school and one dream school. Most music students apply to 4-6 schools so that they can adequately prepare for every audition. Remember that each school will probably require a live audition, not to mention application fees, so only apply for programs that you are serious about.
- Choose your audition repertoire. Most schools post their program’s audition requirements in August or September. Write down the requirements for every school on your list and discuss with your teacher possible options. Use the same music as much as possible to avoid having to learn a completely different program for each school.
- Plan for any pre-screening recordings. Some competitive schools such as Yale or Eastman require pre-screened recordings to advance to the live round, so check with each school to see where this is required. Look up the deadlines for the pre-screen rounds and leave yourself plenty of time to re-record if necessary. Reserve a venue, date, audio/video engineer, and anything else necessary for a fantastic recording.
- Get started on applications. Most applications are online, so create an account for each school and begin the lengthy application processes. Find out any additional documents you will need, such as letters of recommendation, curriculum vitae, repertoire lists, audio recordings, headshots, and personal statements.
- Tip: Organize all application and audition documents in a notebook or folder to streamline the application process. Create separate sections for each school.
- Research scholarships. See if any scholarships are offered at your schools and if they require a separate audition and/or application. Complete the necessary paperwork for these. Also be sure to check out non-music scholarships offered through local businesses, your place of employment, or other places. Don’t forget to look into work-study opportunities for musicians, such as working in an orchestra library or overseeing the music technology lab.
- Ask for letters of recommendation. Once you know how many letters of recommendation you will need, find people who are willing to provide these. Before you approach them, be prepared with any pertinent information – name of school, name of program, how long the letter must be, is it submitted online or through post, and most importantly, the deadline. Approach your recommenders at least a month before the deadline so they have enough time to write a quality letter.
- Submit applications. Most have a deadline in mid-October to early November, so leave yourself plenty of time to revise and proofread each application.
- Finalize dates and repertoire for live round auditions. Purchase any music (never audition or perform off of photocopies), and find accompanists, if necessary.
- Book flights, trains, lodging, and other amenities for all auditions. Now’s an excellent time to create accounts with popular airline and hotel chains to start accruing points for your upcoming travel.
- Practice, practice, practice! After all the stress of applying for schools, the last thing you probably want to do is practice during winter break. Resist the siren call of Netflix and your family’s undoubtedly delicious cooking to make sure you don’t lose momentum during the holidays.
- Auditions! Planning the logistics of each individual audition can be complicated. You can read my article here to make sure that you don’t forget anything (including what to pack for each audition).
- Review acceptances and scholarship offers to make the big decision. Make a pro/con list for all the schools to which you are accepted. Include tuition costs, scholarship offers, performing opportunities, and any other information which might influence your decision.
- Send your confirmation of acceptance. Make sure you submit any official documents or paperwork to confirm your acceptance into the school. It’s also a good idea to email the other professors and schools to let them know your decision so they can offer your spot to others on a waiting list.
- Send thank you notes to everyone who has helped you throughout the process. Don’t forget: private music teachers, professors, school counselors, parents, friends,
your local Starbucks barista, etc.
- Start practicing the placement audition repertoire for your school. Just when you finally thought all the stress was behind you, placement auditions are right around the corner! Ask your professor when placement auditions will be and what repertoire you should prepare.
Choosing a music program is a major decision, so I hope that this timeline and checklist helps you during the application and audition process.