The Best Music Schools in the U.S.

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Students who want to devote their lives to music have many options, including hundreds of schools across the United States that offer music as a major. But which are the best music schools in the U.S. for truly dedicated musicians?

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of some of the best schools for students who wish to pursue a career in music. We’ve listed them alphabetically because here at Transizion we know that there’s more to the college selection process than rankings. In the end, it’s about finding prospective schools that are the right fit for each unique student.

What can students do with a music degree?

Those unfamiliar with modern college music programs might equate a music degree with a career playing classical music in symphonies. And that’s certainly one option! But music degrees are far more varied than you might realize. 

Here are some potential majors for students who attend these colleges:

  • Arts Management
  • Chamber Music
  • Commercial Music
  • Composition
  • Conducting and Ensembles
  • Contemporary Writing and Production
  • Early Music / Historical Performance
  • Electronic Music
  • Electronic Production and Design
  • Ethnomusicology 
  • Film Scoring
  • Game and Interactive Media Scoring
  • Independent Recording and Production
  • Jazz Composition
  • Music Business/ Management
  • Music Education
  • Music Production and Engineering
  • Music Technology
  • Music Theory and Cognition
  • Music Therapy
  • Recording and Production 
  • Performance
  • Professional Music
  • Songwriting
  • Voice and Opera

What do music schools look for?

Wondering what younger students can do to work towards a career in music? Students will generally need to submit audio and video recordings – no surprise there. But there are other things that colleges may look at as well. 

Yale School of Music, for example, recommends that prospective students include information regarding “schools, private teachers, musical experience (solo, chamber, orchestral), music festivals attended, and teaching experience.”

And of course, they’ll want to see your academic transcripts

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The Twelve Best Music Schools in the U.S.

There’s much to consider when researching the best colleges for any particular student. This list will give you a summary of each school so that you’ll have a jumping-off point as you begin your college admissions journey.

Bard College

Founded in 1860, Bard was originally called St. Stephen’s college. Its beautiful campus is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Bard is a small college with under two thousand students and a student-faculty ratio of nine to one. 

Undergraduate students at Bard can earn a four-year degree through the Bard Music Program, which is one of the largest programs on campus. The Bard Music Program offers the following tracks:

  • Classical Performance
  • Composition
  • Voice
  • Jazz
  • Electronic
  • Experimental
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music History
  • Music Theory

Prospective students can also apply to the Bard Conservatory if they’re interested in Bard’s five-year program. These students will earn two degrees: one in music performance and another in a field other than music.

Bienen School of Music

Established in 1895, The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music is a part of Northwestern University. It’s located in Evanston, Illinois – not far from downtown Chicago – and only has around four hundred undergraduates enrolled at any given time.

The Bienen School of Music offers Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts in Music, and Bachelor of Science in Music degrees. Dual degree programs are also an option. Music students have the opportunity to study abroad in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Vienna, or London.

Graduate students can earn a Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, or Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Berklee College of Music

No, that’s not a typo! Most people have heard of The University of California at Berkeley, but did you know that Berklee is one of the most respected musical colleges in the world?

Berklee College of Music is a private college located in Boston, Massachusetts. Established in 1945, Berklee is known for jazz and modern music. Students have the opportunity to study a wide range of musical genres, including bluegrass, salsa, and even heavy metal.

With over seven thousand students, Berklee College of Music is the largest contemporary music college in the world. Undergraduate students have their choice of twelve majors (eight of these are available online) and thirty-six principal instruments. They also have the opportunity to study abroad at Berklee’s satellite campus in Valencia, Spain. 

Cleveland Institute of Music

The Cleveland Institute of Music, or CIM, is an independent school of music located in Cleveland, Ohio. It focuses solely on classical music performance and accepts 325 students each year.

CIM is dedicated to music, but its students have the opportunity to take other courses and even earn dual degrees through CIM’s partnership with Case Western Reserve University. CIM also offers a Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

Colburn Conservatory of Music

Since its inception in 2003, every student at the Colburn Conservatory of Music has been granted free tuition plus room and board. Located in Los Angeles, California, this conservatory attracts students from all around the world. Just over half of its students come from outside of the United States. 

In their four years at Colburn, undergraduate students earn a Bachelor of Music degree. Academic courses include ear training, music theory, and music history. Solo recitals are also a requirement. Colburn also offers a two-year Master of Music degree.

Application requirements include a video recording, letters of recommendation (one from a music teacher and one from another musician), a resume (including competitions and community involvement), and two short essays.

Curtis Institute of Music

Founded in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the Curtis Institute of Music is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like Colburn, Curtis provides full scholarships to all of its students and has since 1928. Curtis has 155 students and an acceptance rate of four percent, making it the nation’s most selective conservatory. Its student-faculty ratio is three to two.

Curtis offers both Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees. Required courses for undergraduates include Foundations in Reading, Writing, and Speaking; Ethics, Citizenship, and the Creative Life; and Elements of Conducting. In addition to various instrumental majors, Curtis also offers voice and composition majors.

The Juilliard School

Founded in 1905 and located at Lincoln Center in New York City, The Julliard School is easily the most well-known conservatory in the United States. Juilliard teaches approximately 850 college students each year.

There are seven specializations available to music students at Julliard: instrumental, vocal arts, jazz studies, historical performance, composition, orchestral conducting, and string quartet studies. Students are required to take a number of liberal arts classes as well. Options include art history, creative writing, philosophy, and modern foreign languages. 

Manhattan School of Music

Also located in New York City, the Manhattan School of Music was established in 1917. Its campus is located in Manhattan. Most students live on campus, with six hundred undergraduates in a twenty-story residence hall; the building also houses 79 practice rooms.

Close to one thousand students attend each year, but less than half of these are undergraduate students. Undergraduate options include Composition, Instrumental Performance, Jazz, Musical Theatre, and Voice.

New England Conservatory of Music

The New England Conservatory of Music (or NEC) is located in Boston, Massachusetts just one block away from Symphony Hall. It was established in 1867, making it the oldest independent music school in the United States. Roughly 750 college students attend NEC each year (many more attend its prep school).

NEC undergraduate students begin their first year with a Liberal Arts Seminar and a College Writing course. They then have the opportunity to take a wide range of electives, with options ranging from Greek Drama to Forest Ecology.

The New England Conservatory of Music offers courses in social and environmental sciences, literature, philosophy, history, cultural studies, and languages. Students even have the opportunity to cross-register with other schools in Boston to expand the courses that are available to them.

University of Southern California – Thornton School of Music

Located in Los Angeles, the USC Thornton School of Music has been a part of the University of Southern California since 1884. Opened just four years after USC itself, Thornton was its first professional school. 

Undergraduates at Thornton can choose from a wide range of studies, from early music (which covers baroque, renaissance, and medieval) to musical theater. Thornton also offers a comprehensive degree in Screen Scoring (for television and film). Undergraduates have the opportunity to study abroad with institutional partners all over the world; options include London, Bali, France, Singapore, and Italy.

Thornton School of Music offers a wide range of graduate programs, including professional degrees such as the Master of Music in Screen Scoring degree. It was also one of the first music schools to offer a degree in the music industry, which is now available as both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science. 

Yale School of Music 

Established in 1894, the Yale School of Music doesn’t offer as many focused majors as many of the other schools on this list, but it does offer a joint Bachelor of Arts program in conjunction with Yale College. It’s the only Ivy-league school of music and an excellent choice for students who wish to pursue a more well-rounded Bachelor’s degree

This school accepts only about one hundred students each year, but students who do make the cut are given a full ride. Graduate students have the opportunity to become a Master or even a Doctor of Musical Arts.

More Music Schools

If none of these colleges is a good fit, remember that there are hundreds of other schools in the United States that offer majors and minors in music. Here are some other schools well worth looking into.

  • Arizona State University School of Music, Dance and Theatre
  • Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University
  • Boston University School of Music
  • Butler University School of Music
  • CalArts Herb Alpert School of Music
  • Carnegie Mellon University School of Music
  • Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University
  • Coastal Carolina University Department of Music
  • Colorado State University School of Music, Theatre and Dance
  • Concordia University Irvine
  • East Carolina University School of Music
  • Florida State University College of Music
  • Gettysburg College Sunderman Conservatory of Music
  • Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
  • Ithaca College School of Music
  • Kutztown University Department of Music
  • Lawrence University Conservatory of Music
  • Loyola Marymount University Department of Music
  • Mannes School of Music at The New School
  • Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers
  • McGill University Schulich School of Music
  • Metropolitan State University of Denver
  • Oklahoma City University Wanda L. Bass School of Music
  • Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University
  • Penn State School of Music
  • San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)
  • University of Colorado Boulder College of Music
  • University of Colorado Denver Music & Entertainment Industry Studies
  • University of Denver Lamont School of Music
  • University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
  • University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Music
  • University of North Carolina School of the Arts
  • University of Redlands School of Music
  • University of South Carolina School of Music

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