Music is one of the most enjoyable forms of art that anyone can participate in, whether they sing, play an instrument, or just listen. It takes a truly dedicated and talented individual to pursue a music degree in higher education. Most programs are relatively small, highly selective, and require many prerequisites. However, if you enjoy it, a degree in music can be both enjoyable and rewarding.
It is important to look into the variety of degrees that music programs offer before you decide to study music in the US. Most schools will offer one or two of the following degree options:
- Bachelor of Music, B.M.
- Bachelor of Fine Arts, B.F.A.
- Bachelor of Arts, B.A.
- Bachelor of Science, B.S.
- Bachelor of Music Education, B.M.E.
A Bachelor of Music (BM) is the most common degree and usually takes four years to complete. It can include specializations in performance, composition, history, theory, jazz studies, music production, church music, and music technology. Most of the curriculum revolves around music theory, history, and performance. A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree can take four years or more to complete and usually offers specialization in musical theatre and dance. Some schools will offer a BFA in performing music, but BM degrees are usually preferable.
The Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree usually takes four years to complete and includes courses of music combined with core liberal arts courses such as math, science, literature, and history. International students can also pursue specializations in music business and music administration with this degree. The difference between a BA degree and a BM/BFA degree is that BA is not audition based, there is no sophomore evaluation, and no recital requirement to continue the program. BM/BFA degree programs are more musical theory based and require ensemble participation. A Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is also offered to those students who want to receive a degree in Music and in another field outside of the music program. The Bachelor of Music Education (BME) degree is for those students who wish to teach music from the elementary to high school level and combines music with education classes.
Most of the top music schools in the US offer students the chance to further their education. A Master of Music (MM) degree, Master of Education (MME) degree, and Master of Arts (MA) degree can be pursued directly after you receive your undergraduate degree. You can choose to specialize in musicology, ethnomusicology, accompanying, arranging, or conducting. If you want to become a college or university music professor, you must have a PhD or Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree.
There are over 100 university musical programs in various locations throughout the United States. As always, international students should consider where they would like to live, what programs are offered in their field of study, and what professors they would like to study under, before choosing a school. With so many choices, the selection process can seem overwhelming. Following is a list of the top music schools in the US from 2010 to help you get a feel for which school to choose:
- University of Rochester (Eastman School of Music), NY
- Indiana University (Jacobs School of Music), IN
- University of Michigan (School of Music, Theatre, and Dance), MI
- Juilliard School, NY
- Curtis Institute of Music, PA
The University of Rochester (UR) is a private university that was founded in 1850 and is located in Rochester, New York. It is home to six schools including the Eastman School of Music which has 130 faculty members, some of whom are Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winners. The program offers a BM, BA, and BS degree. Like most top music schools in the US, the Eastman School requires students to audition before they can be accepted for admission. Each instrument has their own performance audition dates that are usually done at the school. Since the Eastman School is so well known, they offer scheduled dates across cities in the US and even certain cities in China. The audition dates range from late October to early February.
Applicants should expect to be tested on general convocation, theory, and musicianship. Students will also have a group interview with staff members, and will be asked to perform several difficult pieces from memory. Competition will most likely be tough with students arriving from all over the country and world to participate. 25% of the Eastman student body is composed of international students, ranging from South Korea to Canada. In addition to the audition and application, international students will usually have to provide a TOEFL score and write a non-native English essay if English is not their first language.
Indiana University (IU) was founded in 1820 and is located in Bloomington, Indiana. 70% of the student body is from Indiana while the rest is from 49 of the 50 states and 165 foreign nations. The Jacobs School of Music has 1600 students and 180 faculty members. The program is unique in that you are given the opportunity to express which faculty members you would like to work with individually. The BM, BME, and BS degrees are offered with auditions ranging from January to March. There are 200 practice rooms, 4 performance halls, 7 recording studios, and a music library with a half-million cataloged items for student use.
Lastly, the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Music, Theatre, and Dance was founded in 1880 and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The program has 1100 students and 150 faculty members. 21% of the student body is from Michigan and 3% are international students. The BM, BFA, and BS degrees are offered. You can get a BFA degree in Jazz Studies, musical theatre, dance, and performing arts technology. A highly selective and intense BS degree in sound engineering is also offered. Auditions usually take place from December to March and the school offers 12 performance venues.
Keep in mind that many other schools have programs that may not be offered at these specific universities, or they may have less strict requirements for applying. If you are truly set to study music in the US, be sure to meet all the deadlines and remember to prepare the pieces that the university specifically asks you to for auditions. Let your enjoyment of music shine through in your application, and admissions will surely take notice.