Applications 101: Everything You Need to Know About Applying For Music School
Hi Fall 2020! Welcome! Now begins the stress of college applications, deadlines, and auditions. There are so many things to remember, worry about, and slight panic may be starting to sneak in. As someone who will be applying for doctoral programs this Fall, this isn’t my first ball game. I’ve been through the application process twice (more if we count summer festival applications; I’ve been through those too!) Today, we are here to talk about college. Whether this is your first year applying for undergraduate programs, or you are like me, now applying for a third degree (yikes), the stress of application season never goes away. However, I will say that after 4 years of college, the second, or even third time around in the application process is not NEARLY as bad as the first. Graduate applications are more in depth in some areas but less so in others as compared to undergraduate applications. So let's talk about undergrad Apps first, shall we?
I vividly remember being a senior in high school. I remember having my sights set on being a Music Education major. I wanted to attend a school with a great program and teacher. I remember the stress of SAT scores and transcripts and resumes, and honestly, not fully understanding what any of it really meant. Colleges want to see the best parts of you; They want to see that you’re bright, driven, talented, and willing to work. In our minds, we have it that you need the best SAT scores, and to be in the top 10% of your class, while participating in extracurriculars (that you were never that interested in to begin with). Lets face it, did I really know anything my senior year? Maybe a little, but I also made a lot of errors, and wasn’t always that A+ student with a long list of extracurriculars.
There’s typically a lot of pressure to get into a good school. It could be pressure from family, teachers, or even just personal high standards you have set for yourself. The reality is that the college application process for a 17-18 year old is OVERWHELMING. SAT’s or ACT’s are OVERWHELMING. Auditions are OVERWHELMING. So how do you get through it? What are the things that I know now that I didn’t know when I was 17?
The good news is, many schools are now SAT/ACT optional! This went into effect the year I began applying for undergraduate programs, and at that time it was incredibly confusing for both the students applying and for the schools trying to make that SAT optional route work for them. That process is probably much smoother now, but I’ll let you in on a secret. If you’re applying to a conservatory, chances are they don’t care that much about your SAT scores. Now I’m not saying they don’t care at all, they do want to be sure that you are well-educated, but they are more interested in your talent and ability as a musician over anything else.
On the other hand, if you’re applying to state schools or other universities that happen to have a music program, they probably want to see your SAT scores or perhaps they will offer the SAT optional route. SAT scores don’t define you or your intellect. As someone who is generally very smart and does well in school, I never did well on standardized tests. At some point I let the stress over my SAT scores go and relied on my grades and talent to carry me through.
Another secret… If the music school wants you in their program badly enough, they will work with the admissions department to accept you to the school and the program, especially if something like SAT scores are holding you back from general admission. However, it is up to you to make a great impression on the faculty of the music school, specifically the faculty and department head of the program to which you are applying. Okay... but how do I do that?
For any program you’re applying to, whether it be Bachelors, Masters, Doctoral, a Diploma or Certificate, you 100% absolutely need to take a lesson with every teacher with whom you may be interested in studying. If you want the hard honest truth, this is absolutely NOT a suggestion for a handful of reasons. Let's talk about them:
Ultimately, you want to see if you and that teacher will be a good fit together. Now I’ve applied to 4 Undergrad Programs, considered 5 Graduate Programs and then officially applied to 4, and I am currently going through my list of 7 (!!!!) Doctoral programs. I took a lesson with every single teacher from every school I considered and/or applied to.
I’ll tell you a bit about when I was applying for my Masters. When I was applying I looked at 5 schools, and eventually only applied to 4, because I did not feel that the teacher/school would be a good fit for me. It was far, I had a good lesson, and the school was a top notch school, but after visiting and weighing my options against other schools, I just was not that interested and I did not apply.
After my auditions were over in March, I was contacted by a school I hadn’t applied to and was asked to audition last minute by their faculty. So for my Masters, I took a lesson with 6 different people, and for some of these lessons, I drove 3+ hours, I took trains, and I flew halfway across the country. I looked at and applied to 4 schools for my Undergrad, took lessons with 4 teachers, one from each school, and now I am currently working through my list of 7 teachers that I may potentially like to study with for my Doctorate. Eventually I will only apply to 4-5, but you need to take lessons to sort out the people you believe are not a good fit for you. Not everyone you cross paths with will be your cup of tea, and I promise you that music teachers understand that more than anyone. Just take the lessons, no matter what level of your degree, and make good choices for yourself. You do not want to be stuck at a school with a teacher which is not a good pairing for you.
Not only is it important to find out if you’ll like the teacher and if you’ll be a good fit, but it’s great to get your foot in the door and stay in contact with these people throughout your application process. This makes you more memorable and recognizable when you go in for an audition and helps them to remember you when they come across your application. Making a good impression, reaching out, and maintaining contact are three great ways to really help propel yourself into the door of a school. Now sometimes competition is tough and schools cannot always take you, but it is absolutely worth it to keep in touch with these teachers because you never know when your paths will cross again!
Okay, SATs, lessons, and now extra materials. Again, regardless of your degree level/program, you will be asked to submit transcripts, a resume, probably some essays and more. We’re going to break it down by degree level:
Undergrads: You’ll be asked to submit your transcripts. Don’t know what those are? No worries! Go to your guidance counselor and ask them for help. They are the people who will typically submit these to schools for you, but you’ll need to communicate with them about it! Do not forget. Your transcripts show things like grades from previous years, electives you may have taken, and ultimately your GPA. This is important for schools to be able to see your overall progress. You’ll also need to submit a resume and probably some short answer essays. The essays are typically a general topic or question about an experience you have had or maybe why you would like to attend a particular school. They are meant to help the school get to know you better. So write away. They are meant to be more informal, but still write them well. They tend to ask for 1-2 pages, but no more than that.
Letters of recommendation. This is a great time to ask your school teachers or someone you know outside of school, perhaps a person who you worked for or studied with (not a family member) to write a letter on your behalf stating why they think you’d be a great addition to the college program. The people you ask will write very nice things about your character, work ethic, and more to validate your character to a committee who is looking at your completed file. Sometimes you’ll have to waive your “right” to see the letter. Just do it. As long as you know you’re asking people who will vouch for your character, integrity, and ability there’s no reason you need to see the letter.
Finally, your resume. You might be asking, “I’m in high school. A resume? I haven’t done anything!” But wait! Look at all the things you have done. This is the opportunity to list your goals, where you went to school and your GPA, any electives or extracurriculars you did through school, awards you may have received such as student of the month, or honor roll, anything you did outside of school such as teaching a summer music camp, or being a girl scout, and then any jobs you might have held. They just want to know you and what you’ve done. Best part? There are so many templates on the internet that you can use to help you with the structure and lay out of your resume. Keep in mind that the resume you submit will not be the same one you’ll use past Undergrad applications. It is also important to keep it updated! It should not be longer than one page.
Graduate( Masters, Doctoral, Diploma, Certificate, etc.): Transcripts. You should already know the deal. Contact the registrar and they will help you submit them. Most times you can request them through your school portal and have them directly sent from your current school, to the one(s) you’re applying too. Pretty easy! Again just make sure you watch deadlines because they will request your official transcripts eventually.
Grad students of any kind are usually required to write both the same kind of short answer essays that Undergrads do, but on top of that, some schools want to see scholarly work. They’ll ask you to submit substantial papers that meet the guidelines they put forth such as a page minimum, bibliography, etc. Doctoral students may need to submit more than one, and may also be requested to submit things such as a dossier or folder of work you’ve done.
In addition to these writing samples, you’ll also be asked for an Artistic Resume. At this point, the resume you used that has your previous jobs and high school extracurriculars is invalid. Schools on the graduate level want to see the work you’ve done that is related to your field of expertise. For example, symphony jobs held, pre-professional experiences, schooling, summer institutes, masterclasses given, etc. Anything relevant to your field. Time to change and update your resume if you have not already done so!
You should know the deal with letters of recommendations by now. You’ve probably asked for a handful at this point for other things such as festival applications. Something you may not have done is a repertoire list. Some schools will require a repertoire list that shows materials you have worked through or performed such as solos, etude books, orchestral works and more. This usually takes some long and hard thinking to put together.
Keep in mind there may be extra requirements I may not have mentioned here. It all depends on the school. However, these materials are the ones most commonly asked for and required as part of the application process.
Auditions. I suggest getting a binder with some dividers dedicating a section to each school where you would like to apply. Write down application deadlines, passwords, application fees, admission requirements, and audition requirements. This is really important and I strongly suggest that you do this.
Audition requirements vary from school to school, and program to program, so it’s really important to take the time to do the research. If something is unclear, contact admissions, or that teacher you took a lesson with and clarify. For some schools, requirements can be pretty vague such as, “Select a solo piece, or movement from the classical period”, or “Select two contrasting solo pieces, or movements”. This gives you a bit more freedom. Other schools will give you options and lists to pick from. Commonly seen for French horn players is, “Please pick 1 from the following: Exposition of Mozart 2 or 4, OR the first page of Strauss 1, or Strauss 2”. The same goes for excerpts. Some may give you a list to pick from or just tell you to pick 5-10 standard orchestral excerpts. *Some undergrad programs may not ask for excerpts. If you have to choose your own audition rep, make a list of everything you know well; etudes, solos, and excerpts. Come up with a list that is representative of yourself as a player and meets all the requirements listed. Print the music and pop it in the binder. A trick is that I like to keep all of my audition rep almost the same. I know that some schools have different requirements and it’s not always possible to play the same thing for each audition, but make it as easy for yourself as you can! Also, I know IPads are all the rage, I have one too, but it’s always important to have everything on paper as a backup.
Be careful to also identify the schools’ other requirements such as pre-screenings and accompaniments. Pre-screenings, for those who don’t know, is a tape of you playing the school’s specific requirements that you must submit. Following your submission, you will either be dismissed from the auditions/program or you will be passed on to the live auditions round. Take a careful look if you need an accompanist for pre-screenings and/or live auditions. Some schools will provide one and some may not, but will say you must have an accompanist. Read every detail on the page regarding audition requirements!
So key things to remember… SAT’s aren’t everything, taking lessons with the teachers is SUPER important, other materials like transcripts, resumes, papers, recommendations, etc. cannot be forgotten, and taking note of all audition requirements is also extremely important! Remember to organize yourself. Get binder and dividers. Have a section for each school and designate an area for admissions requirements and audition requirements. Be sure to write down any questions you may have, and make sure you’re not only in touch with lesson teachers, but department heads and admissions counselors as well. They’ll be able to give you great general information on the school and programs. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to get your name in their ear!
Interested in getting your stuff sorted out? Have any lingering questions or concerns? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a message on instagram @mindoverpractice.
See you next week! For now, have a productive week of positive practicing!