How to choose a college by Kathleen van de Graaff

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Some of you might be contemplating getting a degree in music. When you start your search, remember you are auditioning THEM just as much as they are auditioning YOU. Don’t just choose a college because of its reputation—you have to feel comfortable there and feel like their goals and your goals are the same.

Here is my list of things to think about when deciding where you want to study:


  • University vs. conservatory; advantages and disadvantages of both. A university will require general education classes and a conservatory will work specifically on your voice. You have to decide what you prefer and what you see yourself doing in the next 20 years.
  • Consider the Location: Is it a nice campus? Do you like the weather? Is it close or near family or friends and do you like that?
  • Size of School: Do you like a large school, medium size school or small school?
  • Class Size: Do you receive any personal attention?
  • Costs: What is the tuition? What is room/board, lessons, accompanist fees?
  • Facilities: What is available on campus, practice rooms, recital hall, workout room etc.?
  • Financial aid: How much is available, do they help you find all available resources?
  • Scholarships: Are there yearly scholarships, is it talent based or financial need, can it be renewed and/or increased per year?


  • The Faculty—Who are they and what have they done (performing and teaching-wise)?
    • Who is Teaching the Course—teachers vs. grad students?
  • Advisors: When are they available, are they supportive? Do they return your calls/emails? (This is a pet peeve of mine, but I have found that if they don’t respond when you are applying, then they might not respond later either.)
  • Career advising: Can they help find you a job? Are they well connected with the music and arts community?


  • Curriculum: What’s required?
  • Educational philosophy: What is their main mission? (university, conservatory vs. liberal arts)
  • Majors available: What are the Options? Performance, education, pedagogy, therapy…
  • Minors available
  • Performance opportunities: Are there opportunities each semester?
    • Solo: recitals, opera workshop, etc.
    • Ensemble: choirs, small groups etc.
    • Large staged performances: operas, musical theater etc.

Students: What are they saying? Are they happy there?

A college education gives you experience and training to help you with auditions. Yes, you can get gigs if you don’t have a major in music, but the degree will give a lot of opportunities to perfect what you need to do: singing, acting, movement and diction. Do your research before you decide on where to study; it will save you a lot of time and money.

Kathleen van de Graaff

January 20, 2015

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