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College & Conservatory Admissions 101 for Music and Drama Majors

Apps, Resumes, Auditions and How-Tos


You may think you know everything there is to know about college applications, but applying as a music or drama major is a whole different ballgame. Here's a practical how-to guide for parents of prospective college students on the unique timelines, requirements, auditions and performance resumes required.

1. Top 10 Music Conservatories in the Nation

Photo by Jackie Burrell
Marching bands are fine. But teens and 20somethings (and 30somethings) with an eye on the concertmaster chair - or an aria at the Met - are in the market for something very different. So here's the scoop on the 10 best music conservatories in the U.S., the Juilliards of the West and East Coasts. Among them, a school that offers a full ride to every student and a conservatory with a hip hop major and an endless stream of Grammy- and Oscar-winning alumni.

2. College vs. Conservatory

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When it comes to higher education, prospective music and theater arts majors have three choices. They can attend a conservatory, try a large university with a strong performing arts department - or opt for that happy medium, a university with a conservatory. It's a decision that will impact not just a student's artistic development, but the kinds of friends he makes, the non-arts subjects he studies - and whether that music degree will be a bachelor of music, of arts or of science - and the way he spends every moment of every day for the next four years. This breakout on the differences between types of schools, conservatory vs. university can help you decide.

3. Top Music Schools in the West

Photo by Jackie Burrell
For some musicians, the better fit is a conservatory within a college, or a university with a stellar music department, and the West Coast and its neighboring states have much to offer, from the glories of USC's Thornton School, which easily ranks among the country's best, to a South Dakota university whose colossal instrument museum is a treasure trove for music historians.

4. Top Music Schools in the East

Photo by Jackie Burrell
The East Coast also is home to some terrific music programs on university campuses, including Peabody, which is part of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins, as well as Eastman, on the snowy University of Rochester campus. Need 207 pianos? Oberlin's a perfect choice, with its vast musical instrument collection and five concert halls. And the list goes on, with options for ethnomusicologists, jazz mavens and more.

5. Performing Arts College Fairs

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You've chosen the genre - conservatory or college. Now all you have to do is find a few and attending a performing arts college fair, such as the free events hosted by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, can help that process along. Representatives from nearly every major university with a strong performing arts department attend, along with reps from many of the big conservatories. These fairs are held in major U.S. cities each fall and spring, and are particularly helpful for high school sophomores and juniors. Browse our college fair survival tips before you go, especially the part about bringing pre-printed mailing labels. (Think of it as carpal tunnel prevention.)

6. Audition Survival Kit - For Parents

Audition Survival Kit
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Auditions are stressful, but as any parent who has ever sat outside that high stakes try-out room knows, waiting while your child tries to secure a spot at the conservatory of his dreams is totally agonizing too. Your young artist has spent months preparing for this, and you are chewing your nails to the quick. Here are six tips on how to survive the audition waiting room - what to pack, what to wear (it's chilly in there) and how to stay calm. Or at least calm-ish.

7. Resume Building Advice for Music and Arts Majors

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In addition to the regular admissions application, most college and conservatory programs require a supplemental application and recommendations - and the all-important performance resume. There are four crucial areas to concentrate on in building an impressive conservatory application - great teachers, extra-curricular ensembles or theater productions, masterclasses and summer workshops, and record keeping. But it's not just about resumes. These resume-building tips for music and theater majors will enhance your child's arts education too.

8. 8 Audition Survival Tips for Musicians

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Would-be music and drama majors are easy to spot at this time of year. They’re the ones chewing their nails down to the quick and nervously consulting their day planners to make sure they haven’t scheduled auditions in Nome and Miami on the same day. Here are 8 well-tested tips from parents, musicians and experts, including former Juilliard admissions director Carole Everett.

9. Big Differences: College vs. High School Music

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Your young musician may have loved his high school music program, but the transition to a college or conservatory music program carries huge differences for music majors. Between the insane music course loads and intensity levels, well, let's just say it's not your high school band. Here's the lowdown on the differences.

10. Sample Performance Resume

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Here's a peek at what a sample performance resume looks like. Or, what it would have looked like if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had had to apply to the Mozarteum ... using a keyboard, instead of a quill. The basic performance resume includes contact information and field of emphasis - Wolfgang would have probably jotted down harpsichord, violin and music composition - as well as music education, ensembles, workshops and master classes, awards and repertoire.

11. Common Application for Music Conservatories

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There's no doubt that college applications are a pain, but several conservatories use the same unified application, including the Manhattan School of Music, Mannes Conservatory, New England Conservatory and Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Don't get too excited, though. Most have supplementary applications unique to their school, and the deadlines are different for every school.

12. Nine Top Drama Schools in the U.S.

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When it comes to professional chops - and getting jobs - who you know and who you trained with play a big part in the acting world. So students who are serious about the acting profession don't look for just any college or grad school. They look at conservatories with top-ranked drama programs in cities known for their theater scenes. Here are some of the top schools - plus tips on how the theater application process works.
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