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How to Pursue a Music Degree in the United States

The U.S. is home to more than 600 music programs.
December 9, 2022
6 Minute Read

Want to study music in the United States? Learn about the best music schools, types of degrees, and how to pursue a music degree in the United States.

Female musician playing the violin in a music hall

The United States is home to some of the best music schools in the world. College Gazette compiled The 30 Best Music Schools & Conservatories in the U.S. You no doubt have heard of some of the schools on the list, like the Berklee College of Music, the Julliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Jacobs School of Music. But did you know that there are more than 600 music programs in the U.S.?

You can find a listing of music schools on The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) website. They are an organization of schools, conservatories, colleges, and universities with approximately 637 accredited institutional members. It establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials for music and music-related disciplines and provides assistance to institutions and individuals engaged in artistic, scholarly, educational, and other music-related endeavors. 

On the NASM website you can browse schools by city, state, or school name. You’ll find the types of degrees the music program offers and the contact information for the chair of the music department at each school. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them. They are eager to help you and are happy to provide information about the music program, the school, and the city.    

Just because Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, or Gisele Ben-Dor went to school there doesn’t mean it’s right for you. 

Types of Music Degrees

The type of degree you’ll earn will largely depend on your goals. Do you aspire to be a performer, conductor, or a composer? Do you want to teach? 
Carefully consider your options. Here is a list of the most common music degrees. 

  • Bachelor of Music (BM)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)
  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Music (MM)
  • Doctorate Degree (PhD)
  • Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA)
  • Artist Degree (AD) 

To learn more about music degrees, read The 10 Different Types of Music Degrees by Inside Music Schools. 

What Do You Want?

The degree you want to obtain is probably dependent on your career goals. Pick the program that fits you and what you want to accomplish. To clarify, answer these questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • Who are the teachers you will study with?
  • What is the reputation of the program? 
  • How many students are in the program?
  • How many international students are in the music school or on campus in general?
  • What does the program specialize in?
  • What music groups will you have the opportunity to participate in?
  • What is required to enroll in the program?
  • Must you audition in person, or can you send in a video or perform virtually?
  • What is the graduation rate?
  • What careers do graduates find after school?
  • What is the student/teacher ratio?
  • What are the music facilities like?
  • Do they provide scholarships? 

Narrow Your List

Which programs answered the questions to your liking? Narrow your list to the programs that give you the best chance to grow as a performer and as a person.   
Next, put in the time to prepare for your audition. Apply to the school/s of your choice and be ready to audition. 

Be authentic and let your personality shine through during your audition. Remember that no one else can do what you do with your instrument. Like any artist, your uniqueness is a strength. Use it to your advantage.  

Order a Credential Evaluation

Don’t forget to include a credential evaluation with your application if you studied outside of the United States. Schools like the Berklee College of Music accept ECE® Reports for international students. Order a report to be sent to the music school/s of your choosing. A Course by Course Report is our most popular report and will be suitable for your application.   

A Musical Life

Once on campus, embrace every opportunity to perform and grow. Make friends with others in the music program. Though some of your peers may be your competition, you can go through the journey together and learn from each other.

Your professors are professional musicians. Learn from their experience. They can help guide you and provide an understanding of the type of life awaiting you upon graduation. Life as a musician is competitive. It will mean countless hours of practice. Rejections at auditions are commonplace. Be resilient. Eventually, you’ll get your moment to shine.   

Best of luck in your musical pursuits in the United States! We can’t wait to see and hear you perform!