Best Music Schools

Updated on January 4, 2024

Music schools provide aspiring musicians, composers, conductors and other music professionals with the education and training needed to succeed in the music industry. With many excellent music schools across the country, choosing the right one is an important decision. Here are 10 of the top-rated music schools based on academics, faculty, facilities and career outcomes for graduates.

The Juilliard School

Location: New York, NY

Rating: 10/10

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $48,244

Website: juilliard.edu

The Juilliard School in New York City is widely regarded as one of the world’s premier music schools. Founded in 1905, Juilliard offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, dance and drama. The music division features programs in classical music, jazz and historical performance. Juilliard is highly selective with a 6% acceptance rate. Prominent alumni include composer Philip Glass, conductor James Levine and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Sarah Chang. With its location at the heart of New York’s performing arts scene, students have ample opportunities to attend concerts and performances.

Berklee College of Music

Location: Boston, MA

Rating: 9.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 58%

Avg SAT Score: 1250-1410

Tuition: $46,620

Website: berklee.edu

Established in 1945, Berklee College of Music in Boston enjoys an outstanding reputation for contemporary music education. Berklee offers a comprehensive curriculum encompassing rock, pop, jazz and film scoring. There are over a dozen music majors to choose from, including songwriting, music production and music business. Dual degree programs are also available through partnerships with Harvard and other Boston-area schools. Berklee boasts many famous alumni such as producer Quincy Jones, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge and pop artist Charlie Puth. With excellent music technology labs and performance venues, Berklee provides students diverse opportunities to develop their talents.

Manhattan School of Music

Location: New York, NY

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 34%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $48,710

Website: msmnyc.edu

The Manhattan School of Music is a music conservatory located on the Upper West Side of New York City. Founded in 1917, the school offers classical, jazz and musical theatre training for aspiring musicians. All students pursue a rigorous curriculum centered around individual lessons, music theory, and solo and ensemble performance. Areas of study include piano, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, guitar and voice. The school also provides musicianship classes to develop essential skills like ear training, sight reading and improvisation. Master’s and doctoral level programs are also available. Prominent Manhattan School of Music alumni include composer Aaron Copland and singer-actress Audra McDonald.

Colburn School

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 3.8%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $39,000

Website: colburnschool.edu

The Colburn School has earned an outstanding reputation as a top destination for aspiring professional musicians. Originally founded as a performing arts academy in 1950, it later evolved into the music school of today offering programs in instrumental performance, composition and conducting. There is a dominant focus on Western classical traditions, faculty are world-class performers, and many are members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Colburn School uniquely offers a Bachelor of Music Degree, Master of Music Degree and Performance Diploma as options for students, allowing a flexible approach to higher music education. Performance opportunities abound in the L.A. area for students seeking exposure. Competition for acceptance is high with a select class of just 26 new students admitted each year.

New England Conservatory

Location: Boston, MA

Rating: 8.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 55%

Avg SAT Score: 1310-1500

Tuition: $48,898

Website: necmusic.edu

First established in 1867, the New England Conservatory is one of the oldest independent music schools in the United States. It is best known for excellence in classical, jazz and contemporary musical training. Students work with an accomplished faculty including a number of principal chairs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Musicians can choose from undergraduate majors encompassing brass, percussion, strings, piano, woodwinds and voice. There is also a prestigious and highly competitive graduate program that accepts just 18 new students per year. New England Conservatory alumni have gone on to perform in major orchestras and institutions around the world. Located in Boston’s historic Back Bay, students have access to a thriving arts community.

Curtis Institute of Music

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Rating: 9.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 4%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: Full scholarship for all students

Website: curtis.edu

The Curtis Institute of Music is not only tuition-free, but also one of the most selective conservatories in the country. Just 4% of applicants are admitted each year to study classical music. All students receive merit-based scholarships covering their full tuition costs. Programs are tailored to string, keyboard, vocal and composition majors aspiring towards professional music careers. Guest conductors from prominent orchestras lead weekly orchestra rehearsals as part of the training. Renowned alumni from Curtis include singers Marian Anderson and Rise Stevens, and violin greats Hilary Hahn and Jennifer Koh. Philadelphia’s rich artistic culture provides a backdrop for students’ musical growth through attending performances, operas, ballets and more.

Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Location: Oberlin, OH

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 32%

Avg SAT Score: 1350-1530

Tuition: $55,976

Website: oberlin.edu/con

Founded in 1865, Oberlin’s conservatory is the oldest continually operating conservatory in the country. It is known for its dual emphasis on musical artistry and liberal arts education. Students receive world-class musical training combined with a flexible B.A. or B.M. degree. Areas of study include brass, strings, woodwinds, percussion, jazz, composition, musical studies and more. The program boasts an impressive 8:1 student to faculty ratio. Oberlin’s 2,900 acre arboretum campus provides a tranquil setting to focus on music. Graduates have gone on to play in major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony.

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

Location: Bloomington, IN

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 40-60%

Avg SAT Score: 1160-1370

Tuition: $11,010 (in-state), $35,474 (out-of-state)

Website: music.indiana.edu

With traditions reaching back to the late 19th century, Jacobs School of Music delivers elite training for musicians on the picturesque Indiana University campus. It holds the special distinction of being one of America’s first schools for music. Over 1,600 students are currently enrolled studying areas like voice, opera, jazz, strings and piano performance. Undergraduate and graduate level programs aim to propel students towards professional music careers via one-on-one lessons, master classes and frequent performance opportunities. There are eight separate orchestras plus dozens of chamber groups and ensembles. Campus facilities include 170 practice rooms and superb recording studios.

Mannes School of Music

Location: New York, NY

Rating: 8.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $48,220

Website: newschool.edu/mannes

In the heart of New York City, Mannes School of Music boasts a world-class faculty and prime location for aspiring musicians. It was founded in 1916 as one of America’s first music schools dedicated to professional performer training, a heritage that continues today. Mannes has since merged with The New School to offer conservatory-style music education combined with a liberal arts curriculum. Areas of study include composition, classical guitar, piano and voice as well as orchestral training and conducting. Students take part in over 500 concerts annually with venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to indie rock clubs. They also benefit from The New School’s College of Performing Arts shared courses and cross-disciplinary opportunities.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Location: San Francisco, CA

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 23%

Avg SAT Score: N/A

Tuition: $46,245

Website: sfcm.edu

With a campus situated alongside the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall, SFCM lies at the heart of the city’s thriving classical music culture. It was founded in 1917 and offers degrees in composition, instrumental and vocal performance. A partnership with the San Francisco Symphony provides students opportunities to work directly with the orchestra. SFCM is relatively small with just 250 enrolled each year, allowing personalized attention. Students also benefit from the cultural resources of San Francisco including museums, festivals and vibrant performing arts scene. Successful alumni include violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and two-time Grammy Award winning soprano Deborah Voigt.

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Frequently Asked Questions on Best Music Schools

What are the best music schools in the US?

The top-rated music schools in the US are Juilliard School, Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Colburn School, New England Conservatory, Curtis Institute of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Mannes School of Music and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. They offer elite education and training for aspiring professional musicians.

Is Juilliard the best music school?

The Juilliard School is widely regarded as not just the best music school in the US but one of the finest in the world. Its rigorous programs, world-renowned faculty, extremely talented students and location in NYC have earned it an outstanding reputation for excellence in performing arts education.

How hard is it to get into music school?

Getting into top music schools is highly competitive. Acceptance rates can be as low as 3-6% at elite conservatories like Curtis Institute and Juilliard. Applicants need exceptional musical talent and accomplishments to be admitted. Auditions and exams are used to assess skills in addition to academic qualifications.

What SAT score is needed for music school?

While auditions carry more weight, average SAT scores provide insight into academic competitiveness. Berklee specifies 1250-1410, Oberlin 1350-1530 and Indiana University 1160-1370. However, schools like Juilliard and Colburn School do not require SAT scores.

How much does it cost to go to music school?

Music school tuition varies but averages $35,000 to $55,000 annually for top institutions, not counting living expenses. However, schools like Curtis Institute of Music provide full scholarships. State music programs like Indiana University offer much lower in-state tuition around $11,000 per year.

What can you do with a music degree?

A music degree prepares graduates for diverse careers as performers, composers, educators, music therapists and more. Performance degrees specifically ready musicians for employment in orchestras, bands, opera houses, churches and recording studios. Music business, songwriting and production programs lead to careers in the commercial music industry.

Is studying music worth it?

For the small percentage who succeed professionally as musicians, the hard work and commitment is worth it. However, music degrees generally yield lower median salaries compared to fields like engineering or computer science. Success requires passion, dedication and either innate musical genius or tireless practice to set yourself apart.

How important are auditions for music school admission?

Auditions and music exams carry the most weight in admissions decisions for conservatories. Academic grades and test scores come second. Auditions assess musical talent, skills mastery, potential for improvement and readiness to undertake rigorous training. Competitiveness varies by instrument.

Should I get a music performance or music education degree?

Music performance degrees focus entirely on training towards professional instrumental, vocal or conducting careers. Music education combines teaching pedagogy with applied skills to become a school music teacher or band director. While performance degrees are more competitive, education offers easier job prospects and higher salaries on average.

What instruments are least competitive for music programs?

Comparatively, bassoon, tuba, viola, oboe, bass, clarinet, trombone and French horn see lower audition competition rates for music programs. Flute and percussion are moderately competitive. More students apply for highly popular instruments like violin, cello, trumpet and piano making them much more selective. Vocal auditions also tend to be highly competitive regardless of voice type.

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