Monday, October 8, 2007

Shopping for a Music School, Part IV: Putting it Together

After figuring out what you want and doing all this research, what then? Where do you apply? How do you know which factors to balance against the other? Based on my own experiences and on many discussions with students and teachers, I feel like the most important factors are:

- Private teacher. Obviously, after all is said and done, this remains a top factor. If you see a great teacher in action and make a good connection with him or her, and they have a good national reputation in your area of interest, you should do whatever you can to get into their studio. Remember, the most important factor to consider is whether you can get what you need from them to achieve your goals in music.

- Money. It’s hard for most students to look at this issue honestly - it’s not very pleasant to deal with. The reality is that music is a tough field, and unlike other professional fields like medicine and law, it may take a long time before you have a career that enables you to pay off your student loans and still survive. I generally discourage students from leaving music school with enormous debt if at all possible. If your parents don’t have the resources to cover your top school choice, it’s usually unwise for you to take on most of the debt yourself in loans. It’s much harder to truly devote yourself to music post-graduation while maintaining a full time non-music job. Try not to create a financial situation that will make a desk job essential for your financial survival after you graduate. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take on any debt, but that you should do everything possible to keep that debt from crippling you if you graduate and need time to establish a career.

- Program focus. What makes elite colleges like the Ivy League desirable is not primarily the instructors, but rather the intensity and focus of the students at these institutions. Likewise, in a conservatory you want to be surrounded by people who are working hard towards the same basic goals that you are. Not only will this help you learn from your colleagues, it will also help you stay on your practice regimen when the going gets rough. People who do things in groups generally succeed more than those who go it alone (see Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers).

- Location and atmosphere. This is a vague category, but it’s often overlooked. If you thrive in a competitive atmosphere, consider schools that have that feel. If you hate cold weather, don’t to go the Northern Maine Conservatory! You will need to work hard every day to achieve your goals and should find a school conducive to that.

Lots of things I’ve mentioned in this series may seem basic or obvious to a lot of readers, but I’ve seen students ignore many of them and not get the college experience they were hoping for. Doing some homework can help you choose among the many music programs out there. We have an excellent program at Peabody and we love to talk about it with anyone who’s interested, but we don’t want anyone going here who isn’t going to feel challenged and satisfied by what we can provide them. Thinking about these questions can help you better know the answer to that question.

That's it for this series. I hope that it's helped some of you look at the school application process in new ways. Now, it's your turn.... Offer up some comments! Did I miss anything? Have I changed your life forever? Am I a complete idiot? Let me know.


Ron Shalom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rshalom said...

Jeff, if I could add one thing, I think a very important aspect of college is getting a healthy amount of exposure to new people and ideas. This, for me, is biased towards attending a larger school over a smaller one. No one really talked to me about the benefits of attending one over the other - the opportunities I would have at a university as opposed to a conservatory are kind of shrugged off as simply, "Yeah, they're there, and that's just how university life is different."

As fate would have it, I wound up at USC and pretty much got lucky with what turned out to be a university of great academic and social scope. At least, I never thought to myself, "I want to go to USC because I'll learn about so many things I've never even thought about before" - which is what prospective students should be considering. I think you can't deny that the study of music requires the study of . . . everything else . . . and this should be a factor in college decisions, at least more so than it is now. This is not to say that a conservatory could not provide a well-rounded education, but that maybe a university with a wider range of resources would be better equipped to handle your intensive and exhaustive exploration of . . . the universe.

And somehow, most of it doesn't require a lot of effort on the student's part. Here the "exposure" is just kind of shoved in your face - Yoga class tonight! Free food! We have a biokinesiology institute? Yes, come take a class! No, I've never thought about the Asian female perspective in Los Angeles...I guess I'll go see that panel. Hip Hop America seems like an interesting lecture - and more free food! Etc. Not to mention all the music stuff too.

So, to justify this highly subjective (and slightly lengthy) comment, from an inexperienced and biased freshman: prospective students should place a higher priority on searching for a school that will offer them as much as possible. If I were at a conservatory right now, I would probably not be saying these things about studying at a university. But, I do think that I ended up in the right place, and am now pretty convinced that if I had gone to another school I would be missing out.

And just to reiterate, I am "missing out" on the conservatory experience.