Choosing the Right School - A Checklist

The below is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Beyond the Practice Room: Making Music in the Modern Age. If you wish to read the entire chapter, just click here, and I'll send if to you as soon as the Kickstarter goes live on August 11th. Please consider supporting the project as soon as it starts funding.

This should be done during the summer before your senior year, or as it’s starting as it takes some time. I’m going to walk you through, step by step, what you need to do in order to choose the right music school for you.

1.) Make a list Make a list right now of all the schools and teachers you think might be, even remotely, a good fit for you. If you're not sure, ask around. Ask your private instructor, your director, and other students that are also applying to music school for suggestions. Write everything down! We're not making decisions at this point, so don’t feel bad writing down everything that was suggested to you or piques your interest even a little bit.

2.) Find the teacher

For the schools you have on your list, go online and find out who is teaching in your discipline. Write those names down next to the school. Do the opposite for the names on your list. Find out where the names teach, and write down the schools next to them.

3.) How much does it cost?

Go to the the main website of the school or university and find the finance section. Write down the total it costs to go to school every year. On some websites, this is tricky. You'll have numbers split into tuition, cost of living (things like rent/food/etc), books, etc per year. Add those numbers up and write down total cost per year next to the school.

4.) Talk to your family

Are they willing to help you out with some of the cost of attendance? Are they going to pay for the entire thing? If so, you're a lucky bastard, and you better be thanking them. Finances can be tricky to talk about, but this is an incredibly important step. Try approaching the conversation by saying something along the lines of

"Hi Mom/Dad. I've put together a list of places I might want to study music, and I've found the costs for each. I'd like to discuss with you about kind of support I can expect from you, if any. I'm trying to make a sound financial choice in choosing my school."

Something along these lines will get the ball rolling. At the end of this conversation, you should have a better idea, or even a dollar figure, of what you can expect from those that are supporting you.

5.) Evaluate Cost

Take any financial support that you think you’ll have from step 4 above, and subtract it from the cost of attendance per year in step 3. This is what you need to either pay for yourself by working, or take student loans out to make ends meet. Cross out any names you think you will not be able to afford. Taking some loans out isn’t the worst thing in the world, but that number should be minimized wherever possible. We need a balance of solid financials, and free time to actually invest in our studies to get the most out of a music education. If you’re working all the time to pay for school, that’s less time to practice. Try to find a balance that makes sense to you.

6.) Get in contact

Send an email to the teachers that are still on your list. I suggest using a format similar to this:

Mr/Ms (last name),

My name is xxxx, and I'm looking at possibly applying and auditioning at xxxx university/college/conservatory to study in your studio after narrowing down my choices. If possible, could you brag a little bit about your students? I'm really interested in what they have been achieving, where they're attending graduate school, and the like. Additionally, could you put me in contact with one of your current students? I'd love to speak to them about life at the school and what to expect if I decide to audition and am admitted.

Thank You,

(your name)

(optional phone number)

The goal here is to be short, sweet, and respectful. When the teacher gets back to you in a week or two, find the ones you're most impressed with and speak to the students they put you in contact with! Ask questions about the school and their experience with it. Based on the responses you get, narrow down the list even further. Cross out names and schools you're no longer interested in.

7.) Whittle it down

If you still have more than 8 or so names on the list, consider some of the other criteria we spoke about earlier in the chapter. Do you want to go to a conservatory or Liberal Arts university? What's the music scene like in the area? Keep crossing out names and schools until you have 5-8. These are the schools you'll apply to.

8.) Choose your schools After this, you probably can figure it out on your own. Find the application deadlines for these schools and don't miss them! Easy! Ideally, based on the criteria we selected above, any of these schools will suit your needs and you should be relatively happy with attending them. See where you get in, see who offers you scholarship, and make a decision on where you want to go. Done.

If you wish to read the entire chapter, just click here, and I'll send if to you as soon as the Kickstarter goes live on August 11th. Please consider supporting the project as soon as it starts funding.

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