The college search process can seem overwhelming - but don't worry, we're here to help! Below are our tips to help guide you through the process and find the best fit for your continued musical studies.
Tips for the year before you apply...
Connect who you are with what you want from your college journey.
A great starting point for your college search process is to develop an idea of the types of schools and environments that will set you up for success.
Consider things like:
- Are you a big-city or small town person? What is best for you?
- Would you thrive in a more focused program in a conservatory/school of music? Or, a university/college music department?
- What's the undergraduate versus graduate student population of a school? How much attention do I need?
- How much performance and academics do you want to do? There are many paths to study music and different degrees are available: you can pursue a Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts, both through a BM/BA double degree program, as well as several others. Knowing what each degree program entails will help guide you.
Think about the kind of person you are, your best learning environment, and where you want to be musically. College can help you become your best adult (and artistic) self. Think hard, so you can choose wisely. Cast a wide net!
Find the opportunities to propel yourself forward.
The year before you apply is a great chance to ready yourself for the next chapter of your educational journey. It can feel kind of daunting… but, it doesn’t have to be!
Make this year about the fun and the serious by finding opportunities to propel your development as a musician forward:
- Private lessons: Continue to study privately or secure a private teacher if you don’t already have one. Not only will this teacher guide you musically, but they will give you advice about which music schools to consider, assist you in picking the correct audition repertory and keep you motivated and improving as you move toward your goal.
- Community Music Schools or Music Prep programs: Engage as much as you can beyond your high school music programs. These outside organizations can get you working with like-minded, talented musicians who share your artistic goals. There will be the opportunity to be part of more competitive ensembles, as well as explore chamber music, theory classes and other musical outlets.
- Youth ensembles: Audition for and participate in a high level musical experience in the form of a Youth Orchestra, Community Choir or All City Jazz ensemble.
- Solo and ensemble competitions: Experiences like All-State ensemble and solo contests can be an essential part of your musical development. Even if you don’t place, you can learn a lot from just taking the audition.
- Summer programs: Summer before your senior year is the perfect time to participate in a meaningful musical experience. These programs/camps/festivals give you the opportunity to work with a different teacher, meet new musicians who perform at your same high level and network.
It’s never too early to engage in these options and many programs have deadlines earlier than you’d expect. Planning musically enriching moments throughout this year will only serve you well for the time to come. Speaking of which, have you looked at Oberlin’s summer programs?
EXTRA TIP: In addition to focusing on your music, continue to work hard on your academics. Practice hard and study hard - both music and academics have an impact on admission to competitive music programs, so aim to have a banner year with both!
Fill out inquiry forms, connect over social media, and join the mailing list.
What’s so great about that school, anyway? Let the schools tell you what they think is most interesting and compelling about what they offer students - fill out inquiry forms, connect over social media, and join the mailing list for each school you’re interested in now. Doing this will get you a lot of things:
- Printed materials that will arrive in the mail. Expect postcards that highlight visit programs and other events, “viewbooks” that are pretty publications with pictures and tons of information, and glossy magazines with current stories about the schools’ faculty and students’ musical pursuits.
- Email communications that include invitations to tune in to streamed concerts, updates on the application or audition deadlines, and communications from faculty in your area.
- A chance to be part of the Obie family!
These print and email communications will allow you to see what schools say about themselves and what they feel are their greatest advantages. This should get you thinking about the things that are important to you. What exactly is that space? Where do these students hang out? Who is performing in that ensemble? Can I perform in that ensemble?
It may also be a good idea to connect with schools that are not on your radar – perhaps, adding a contrasting school into the mix will allow you to learn more about differences in access to faculty or other paces of life.
EXTRA TIP: Bookmark web pages of the schools that look interesting so you can access them easily and frequently. Also, you will start to receive a lot of printed material in the mail, so get a big box to keep it all in. You can always go back and sort it later and you’ll have it all in one place!
Ask questions...a lot of questions.
Who are the faculty?
Will I be able to perform frequently?
What have the graduates of this school done?
Maybe you’ve asked these questions – maybe you are asking different questions. As you consider the schools you will apply to next year and determine what you want out of your college experience, you’ll need the answers to the questions you have now and the many more to follow.
How will you get the answers? One way is to use the resources around you; ask your private teacher about school reputations, if you can, talk to friends in your music programs, make an appointment with your guidance or post-secondary counselor. It’s not a bad idea to get input from those who may have already done some of the research.
Another way to get answers is to use the resources at the school. Attending information sessions and tours provides you with the opportunity to speak with admissions staff. Ask how you can get connected with current students - they are a great resource for what it really feels like to be a student at that school. And if at all possible, connect with individual faculty in your area of study. Studying music is, in many ways, starting an apprenticeship with a master teacher; you’ll want to have a good sense of who will be teaching you your art for the next several years.
Sure, it will be a lot of information. But your goal is to determine the list of schools that are a good fit for you, and you’ll appreciate it all when it comes down to deciding which schools make the list.
Take time to reflect...then put it on paper.
Ask yourself: What are your high school accomplishments? Were there any competitions you’ve won or participated in? What about performances you got to play, or sing, or showcase your work in? Did you participate in programs or ensembles outside of school? How long have you been studying privately and with whom?
Put the answers down on paper and you have a music resume!
You can also include a repertory list - of pieces performed in large and small ensembles but more importantly pieces, etudes and books studied in private lessons. This may seem like a tedious process (it is), but, creating or revising your resume now will make later updates easier and gives you time to really craft a great review of your musical experiences and training.
Having a musical resume is a great tool - it provides a quick snapshot of who you are as a musician. Attach it when emailing faculty for conversations or lessons. Use it to help bolster your application next year. Admissions offices DO look at these documents, so be sure to give it some attention.
The best way to know if it’s the right fit...try it on.
You want to know if a school is a good fit for you. What makes a good fit is different for every student, but the best way to figure it out is by trying to experience it for yourself. Arrange to visit campus to see what a day in the life of a student at the school would be like. Meet with faculty, take a private lesson if possible, attend classes, have a meal, talk to other students, check out the town/city - just do the things that a current student would do.
How does it feel to you? Is there good energy in the community? Are classes interesting? Are ensembles good? Did you learn something from that lesson? Do you feel at home?
When scheduling this visit, make sure to reach out to faculty (attach your music resume) and review the admissions office webpages to plan your day’s activities in advance of your visit. Many schools are now trying to provide these experiences through virtual visit opportunities. If you’re trying to accomplish a virtual visit and can’t figure out how, be sure to reach out to the school’s admissions staff.
EXTRA TIP: You’re going to be writing emails and introducing yourself to faculty, so now is a good time to create a more professional email account that you can use throughout your college search and application process. Maybe say goodbye to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time to (begin to) refine!
Based on all the information you’ve learned about the schools, it’s probably a good time to start organizing and refining your list. The end goal is a “shortlist” - the 6-9 schools to which you’ll actually apply. We recommend having schools in each of three categories:
- Safety schools - you know you will be accepted, a school in your back pocket usually with a significant scholarship or lower price tag (1 or 2)
- Target/match schools - a great fit and you’re a competitive candidate (4 to 7)
- Reach schools - the dream schools, hyper competitive for everyone (1 or 2)
Usually students base the categories on their perception of being accepted, but a variety of other factors can also be used – audition requirements, your musical ability (something your current music instructor can help gauge), the campus environment, performance level of current students at the school, cost, etc.
Of course, don’t get too obsessed now with thinking about what schools will accept you – some of that is out of your control! You may also find that it doesn’t work for you to try and categorize schools in this way. Just keep in mind that you don’t want to overwhelm yourself senior year with 10+ auditions all over the country. Be strategic and intentional about where you apply.
Don’t get sticker-shocked!
Finances definitely play a big part in choosing which college to attend, and the cost of attendance (sticker price) at some schools is very high. Don’t let that sticker price alone determine where you plan to apply.
It’s easy to feel like attending a school won’t be possible because of its cost, but there are many ways to help finance your education. Many schools offer merit scholarships - in 2019-2020, merit scholarships offered by Oberlin Conservatory totaled more than $11.7 million in recognition of the students' outstanding musical talent and academic ability. This included the $10,000 Commitment Scholarship offered to every admitted student. Oberlin also meets 100% of demonstrated financial need, so there is often need-based aid offered in addition to merit scholarship.
Not all the money to finance your education needs to come from the school or your parents. Start looking into external scholarships through online databases, such as fastweb.com, local community-based organizations and nonprofits, a religious institution you frequent, or music competitions. Even small amounts can really help in making what may seem to be an out of reach school more financially feasible.
The bottom line - don’t determine a school costs too much for your family before you’ve even applied. If the school is a good fit for you, take the audition, get the offer, and then you will know the actual cost of attendance for you. You may be pleasantly surprised. That said, it still doesn’t always work out, so go into the process ready to have open conversation with your family about what’s possible.
EXTRA TIP: The entire financial aid application process can be quite taxing (no pun intended) with all the forms, documents, and questions about family financial situations and education history. Start preparing for this now. Go ahead and create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID for the FAFSA (having one expedites the process) and take a look at our financial aid basics.
What does next year hold for you?
Most of our advice for the year before you apply is about getting to know yourself and the schools. That’s the fun stuff - performance opportunities, special academic programs, student life, etc. Now start making plans to ensure you’re competitive in those admissions reviews. What's the level of repertoire you’ll have to play and are audition screenings required? Are there classes you'll want to take before college to help bolster your G.P.A. or academic profile? Starting to plan this now means you’ll be better prepared and less stressed later on!
It can be very helpful to speak with admissions staff to get an overview of the application and audition process that will be the big focus of the year you apply. You won’t need to remember all the details just yet, but knowing what’s around the corner will help make sure you’re on track for a less stressful year.
Keep it going!
When summer’s here, the time is right – to keep making music and connecting with schools!
If you’re heading to a summer festival or program, enjoy and make the most of that time and connection!
Not attending a summer program? That’s okay! - You can still make the most of your summer music opportunities:
- Continue taking lessons, even if it’s only once per month. It helps keep you motivated and inspired.
- Find a work/practice balance: If you are trying to work and save money for school, try to arrange a schedule that allows for enough practice time.
- Plan a recital: This is the perfect time to secure a venue and run through all your audition repertoire. Invite your friends, family and neighbors and run your program - the experience will help you work through the nerves.
Everybody should start working on audition rep for next year. Be sure to check on that information in late summer for any updates. If you haven’t been to the campus (or even if you have), schedule a visit over the summer or in the fall. Oftentimes there are visit programs or open houses you can use to gain a better insight of the school and campus. You can also spend time prepping college essays and re-evaluating your shortlist.
The time to apply is just around the corner and the steps you’ve taken this year are going to save you many hours of thinking and planning. Of course, there are specific considerations that next year will bring, but you’re ready!
Tips for even earlier...
Congratulations on starting early! You are doing the right thing by looking around the website. Take a look at the above tips to stay ahead of the college search process and get some ideas about what's to come.