Royal College of Music Outside

Know the Difference: Higher Ed Options

When it comes to options in higher education, music majors have three choices:

  • Try a university with School of Music. Schools of Music at universities offer undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate degrees. A college may have a strong music department but offer undergraduate degree only.
  • Attend a conservatory or institute. An institute is like a conservatory. They both offer the same curriculum format. An institute often requires stronger piano proficiencies and offers more conducting internships.
  • Attend a university that has a conservatory inside its school of music.

Here Are the Differences:

Universities with a School of Music: Large universities such as The University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Michigan have strong music departments with many degrees at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Undergraduates and post-graduates compete for seats in the same ensembles. Graduate students also get stronger applied instructors. There is a full general education track at these schools. This means undergraduates take math, English, and science. The university experience, including performances at Saturday football games, is usually a six-day week.

Colleges with music departments like Ithaca CollegeLuther College, and St. Olaf College are primarily private liberal arts colleges. Since this is a college, only undergraduate students are enrolled. Performance and Music Education are the primary music degrees bestowed here. Students here take general education classes to earn their degree. The students here tend to be less competitive than at a university or conservatory. The college experience is usually five days a week. Marching band (or pep band) is often offered as an elective.

By contrast, small college level conservatories/institutes such as CurtisJulliard, the Boston Conservatory, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music focus exclusively on the arts. There is a strong competitive nature among the students. In addition to general courses like music theory and music history, students take humanities and writing courses. Some conservatories offer foreign language and music business courses. If you think the college experience has to include football (or other sport), frat parties, and weekend excursions, you should not look at this type of school. The strong competitive nature and number of performances required at a conservatory make this experience a seven-day week.

And finally, there is the conservatory within the college music department or the university school of music. For example, Oberlin College and Bard College have both an undergraduate general music department and a conservatory track functioning in the same building. Others like Cincinnati University Conservatory of Music and the Shenandoah University Conservatory of Music offer courses from undergraduate to post-graduate. There are benefits to this option: students can take electives from the general curriculum. Students also have access to the traditional college experience with football and parties. On the other hand, a lot of students struggle to balance the many available options with the conservatory performance requirements. The struggle often results in a seven-day week.

Check out and compare the websites of the schools I mentioned. That will help you understand the differences. Even better, go visit the campuses and see in real life the pace and depth of their curriculums and degree requirements.

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO


Categories: Uncategorized