Hi friends! I have been looking forward to putting some information out there that helped me in my quest for a fulfilling musical career, and I have decided to split this first post into two parts. This first part deals strictly with the application process for graduate music school (come back later to check out Part 2 – Entrance Exams). I’ve set it up as step-by-step guidelines to make this time of your life less overwhelming. I hope it helps!
1) Research possible degree programs in your field. Find what suits you.
Sometimes you may not know what you want to pursue until you see a listing of degree programs. On the other hand, you may know exactly what you want to do but are not sure what degree program will get you there. Either way, it’s useful to get a general feel of what music programs are offered and what careers can be pursued with that kind of degree. A simple web search or perusal of music schools’ websites should suffice.
2) Compile a list of schools that offer your desired program.
In this step, try not to factor in anything other than availability of the program/degree. You may end up with a big list. That’s fine. I had 17 at the beginning! The point of this is to show all of your options and give you some room to narrow down your search. Ask a mentor for school suggestions. Chances are they know more than you!
3) Narrow down the list.
Now that you have a nice list, it’s time to narrow it down. As you figure out which schools to remove from the list, make sure to factor in location, cost of tuition, the uniqueness of the school, specific teachers you may want to study with, school size, financial aid opportunities, etc. By factoring in more details, you will better understand each program and your compatibility with it.
Also, it should be noted that it is VERY DANGEROUS to narrow down your list to only one school. It’s okay to have a top choice, but apply to around 3-5 schools. That way, you’ll have other options and won’t be out of luck if you don’t get into your top choice.
4) Research Pre-Screening (if any) requirements.
Occasionally, you’ll find a school or program that invites you to audition without a pre-screening step. However, most graduate music programs have pre-screening requirements of which you need to be aware. These generally include video/audio recordings, score samples, or analytical writing samples. Start working on these as soon as possible. It would be very unfortunate if you found out you had to learn and record a difficult excerpt, write an orchestra piece, or come up with a detailed paper explaining the evolution of Mahler’s symphonic writing a week before the pre-screening deadline. Also, don’t be afraid to contact the school if you’re confused or unsure about something on their website or brochure. They are typically happy to help you with any questions you have.
5) Create a document that clearly lists the differing requirements for each school.
I just used a Microsoft Word Notebook-document for this, but use whatever software you feel comfortable with. When I compiled my information, I had a tab for each school. Within each tab, I listed the school name, program/degree name, pre-screening materials, audition materials, deadlines, and how to submit everything.
You also need to keep in mind application fees. Almost all schools require them now. When I was applying, I probably spent around $1,000 on app fees alone! They’re pretty awful, but unfortunately, you can’t really avoid them, so just know that in this situation, you have to invest before knowing the results of your application.
6) Make sure your resumé is updated and professional.
A resumé is something else that is probably required by each school that interests you. Since every applicant will be submitting one, it’s very important that yours looks clean and professional. If the committee that sees your resumé is impressed by its neatness and quality information, you stand a much better chance of getting an interview. If you have not had previous instruction from a professor or your undergraduate Career Services department, there are plenty of helpful tools online to make sure your submission is looking as good as possible.
7) If possible, apply to schools with the closest deadlines first.
Applying for graduate schooling is a long process, so prioritize your work. Using the deadlines you recorded on your Information Document (see Step 5), figure out what materials need to be submitted first and work in that order. Remember, there are other people involved in this process (accompanists, peers, references, etc.). Give them ample time to help you! If you ask a mentor for a recommendation letter the day before it’s due…that’s not good. Just don’t do that.
8) Watch your email closely for notices and school communications.
Most schools send out audition information, financial statistics, and helpful notices through email. Once you begin applying, check your email at least once per day. This is a good habit to get into anyway, and in this case, it can save you a lot of time and stress.
9) Do your best on everything!
This is probably the most important bit of advice. The application process for graduate school quite literally shapes the rest of your life. It impacts your career, future home, friends, and connections, just to name a few. That’s a lot of pressure. That being said, as long as your work during the application process represents who you really are, you’ll do fine! Complete everything to the best of your ability, and then be happy it’s done!
Hopefully, this post helps relieve some of the characteristic anxiety associated with graduate school. If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment below, and come back later for Part 2 – Entrance Exams. Good luck!