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Musical Arts Colleges and Schools: How to Choose

The musical arts field encompasses music theory, education, history, composition, performance and other subjects. Programs are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels in many different areas in this field of study.

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Music programs are available widely at colleges and universities throughout the country. Admission to most music performance programs, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, requires an audition; this is also true even of some music education and composition programs.

Schools with Music Programs

The following public and private schools offer music programs:

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Undergraduate Tuition (2015-2016)*
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Doctorate $49,116
Yale University New Haven, CT 4-year, Private not-for-profit Diploma, Undergrad Certificate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate $47,600
Syracuse University Syracuse, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's $43,318
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Doctorate $15,192 (In-state) $44,365 (Out-of-state)
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Diploma, Bachelor's, Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctorate $50,277
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate $8,591 (In-state) $33,673 (Out-of-state)
Northwestern University Evanston, IL 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate $49,047
Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's $47,442
University of Maryland - College Park College Park, MD 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate $9,996 (In-state) $31,144 (Out-of-state)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's $46,704

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

College Selection Criteria

Students should consider the following when looking for a music program:

  • Look for a school that offers options in different specialties to best match your individual interests and career goals.
  • Search for a school with a renowned faculty to receive quality training and expertise in particular areas of the field.
  • Consider schools that are committed to their standards of education and have accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music to be more competitive when searching for a job.
  • Consider the size of school you would like to attend. Larger schools and conservatories offer several degree programs of different levels and types, allowing students to build their particular musical strengths and prepare for a career. Other schools encourage this success by offering small class sizes and access to one-on-one lessons.

Bachelor's Degrees

A Bachelor of Music degree program is composed almost entirely of music courses and gives students the option of several majors, including composition, performance, world music and jazz studies. The Bachelor of Arts in Music degree program focuses on a musical concentration as one part of a liberal arts curriculum, with the available concentrations being similar to the Bachelor of Music degree's majors. Students may also pursue a Bachelor of Science in Music, which offers programs of study in the technical and business side of the music industry. Courses differ according to program and major.

Master's Degrees

Students prepare for a performance career with a Master of Music degree or a career in education with a Master of Music Education degree. Students who wish to study the music field broadly may enter a Master of Arts in Music degree program. No matter which program students choose, they must demonstrate proficiency through a culminating project of a research or performance nature.

Doctoral Degrees

Students entering a doctoral program can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA). Ph.D. programs are research-based, explore a wide music curriculum and culminate in a dissertation, whereas DMA students study composition or performance and finish their degree by performing a full-length work.

Available at many 4-year institutions across the country, undergraduate and graduate programs in music prepare students for performance, education, business or technical careers in music. Students looking into these programs should consider things like preferred class size, program specialization options and school/faculty reputation.

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