Deciding to pursue studies in music is definitely a noteworthy achievement! However, with the huge array of higher education institutions offering music degrees, choosing the right college program is a lot easier if you know the tools to use, while keeping them in proper perspective. Correctly applied, college rankings can play an important role in your research.
Each year, education industry mainstays such as US News and World Report publish college rankings that look at a wide range of criteria like graduation rates, average freshmen scores on college placement tests, and campus life. While these may not seem very helpful when choosing a music program, they will help you narrow your selections, particularly if other factors are important to you (e.g., campus size, student life, and/or location).
“When I was searching for a college to major in music, I used the rankings as a guideline for narrowing my initial choices,” said Mike Murillo, a student at the University of Central Florida. “It allowed me to short list the colleges I wanted to apply to and helped me choose a program that matched my own interests, which included the production side of the business.”
It's best to use college-ranking resources along with additional online research and college catalogs to narrow your list of candidates. If the schools are near you or you can arrange travel to them, you may want to consider a campus visit to further narrow your choices.
Rankings may give you a sense of things like the overall academic performance of a school, but would they inform you about a school's specialties or areas of concentration in its music degrees? You may find that one college is stronger in musical theater or orchestral performance while others are better with theory, composition and conducting. Some colleges offer an extensive education all the way through post-graduate degrees while others offer a two-year Associates of Arts or Associate of Science degree. The key is that these are differences between institutions, so rankings won't necessarily tell you that either is better or worse. It comes down to what interests you personally.
For example, if you're more interested in a career in production or the business side, you may want to be sure that the school you're thinking of applying to has the latest technology, understands the evolving dynamics of the recording industry and has a good sense of where the music business is going in the foreseeable future. It also helps if they have solid connections with the music industry and can provide some direction as you near graduation. Or if you're interested in music performance, you should review online information, call departments, or even visit the schools to find out things like how much of your education at the school would be academic versus hands-on performance, and what kind of performance options are available within the department. In addition, you should consider what sort of opportunities the surrounding community might have to offer in terms of volunteer orchestras, bands, singing groups, and more. For a student majoring in music, a vibrant musical community can be a far more compelling argument for attending a school than statistics regarding how many of your peers aced a college entrance exam.
Who knows? Once you've culled the rankings and gone that extra mile (or two, or three) of school-specific research to come up with the college and music program that best suits you, you could just be a few steps away from your accepting your first Grammy.
Music School Resources
- Young Money - Schools That Rock
- Directory of U.S. College Music Schools
- College Music Programs & Camps
- America's Best Colleges 2007: Majors Music
- Music Colleges and Universities Search
- The Princeton Review – Best 361 Colleges Rankings
- College Guide for Performing Arts Majors 2007
- The Big Book of Colleges - 2007
- Fiske Guide to Colleges – 2007