20 Best Colleges for Music in the US - 2024 List

Top music colleges
Updated:
May 9, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/9/24

Get ready to make some noise! Read on if you're a music major looking for the best colleges for music in the United States.

Studying music can be an expensive pursuit, especially considering how competitive the industry is once you’re out of school. However, if you’re passionate about studying music, there are many incredible programs to choose from in the US. That's why we've compiled this list of colleges for music majors across the country.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, from classical to jazz, from performance to production, these music schools have it all. So, whether you're a budding cellist or a future music producer, keep reading to find the perfect school for you.

Let’s get started!

Top 20 Colleges for Music in the US

Here is our list of the 20 best colleges for music in the US. We’ve compiled our list based on the average opinions of several publications, news outlets, and voices within the music industry today. Read on to find music schools in your area!

Music School Location Acceptance Rate Tuition Fee
Berklee College of Music Boston, MA 54% $50,540
Juilliard School New York, NY 5% $54,400
Curtis Institute of Music Philadelphia, PA 3% N/A
Jacobs School of Music Bloomington, IN 25% $10,125
Manhattan School of Music New York, NY 49% $55,750
Yale School of Music New Haven, CT 6.7% N/A
Bard College Conservatory of Music Annandale-On-Hudson, NY 15% $65,614
New England Conservatory Boston, MA 43% $58,910
Eastman School of Music Rochester, NY 43% $65,870
Peabody Conservatory Baltimore, MD 52% $64,730
Oberlin Conservatory of Music Oberlin, OH 35% $63,700
University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance Ann Arbor, MI 26% $17,228
Shepherd School of Music Houston, TX 15% $58,128
Thornton School of Music Los Angeles, CA 20% $69,904
UNT College of Music Denton, TX N/A $12,092
Mannes College of Music New York, NY 33% $28,013
Cleveland Institute of Music Cleveland, OH 43% $50,000
San Francisco Conservatory of Music San Francisco, CA 44% $54,400
Bienen School of Music Evanston, IL 10% $67,158
Colburn Conservatory of Music Los Angeles, CA 7% $57,500

1. Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA)

At the top of our list is the Berklee College of Music, located in Boston, MA. The college was founded in 1945 and was the first music school in the United States to integrate jazz into its curriculum. This college is distinctive among many of the conservatories on our list because of its strong focus on contemporary music as opposed to classical music. 

Berklee consistently ranks among the top 10 US conservatories and is also one of the largest schools on our list. The college offers a range of programs, including certificates, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Popular program options include music therapy, composition, film and media scoring, music teacher education, songwriting, music management, and general music performance. 

Known as the "world's premiere learning lab for the music of today—and tomorrow," Berklee has a long list of successful alumni, including numerous Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winners. From industry legends such as Howard Shore, Quincy Jones, and Diana Krall to today’s heavy hitters like Charlie Puth, John Mayer, and Kenny Beats, Berklee alumni have dominated the industry for decades.

Here’s some more admissions information about Berklee College of Music!

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 54%
Tuition Cost $50,540
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $78,389.94

2. Juilliard School (New York, NY)

The Juilliard School, established in 1905, is widely regarded as the most prestigious music conservatory in the US, and with good reason. Situated in New York City's Lincoln Center and renowned for its rigorous standards, Juilliard has produced numerous household-name musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and Miles Davis. 

The school is one of the best music colleges in New York and offers a variety of music degrees, such as Bachelor of Music, Master's of Music, and Doctorate of Music Arts, as well as combination degrees. Admission to Juilliard is highly competitive and requires an in-person audition. 

Although Juilliard is also widely known for dance and dramatic arts, nearly all of Juilliard's students are music majors. Juilliard's first-year students must live in student housing, which is mainly located in the vicinity of Lincoln Center. If you like on-campus living and small class sizes with top-notch talent, Juilliard might be the place for you.

Take a look at some additional Juilliard info!

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 5%
Tuition Cost $54,400
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $86,582

3. Curtis Institute of Music – Philadelphia, PA

Third on our list of the best colleges for music is the impressive Curtis Institute of Music. Founded in 1924, the school has maintained a global reputation for producing top-tier talent and many distinguished alumni, such as composers Gian Carlo Menotti, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, and Nino Rota. 

Curtis is widely recognized as the most selective conservatory in the United States, with applicants required to attend live auditions. The total number of undergraduate students is typically around 150, all of whom receive a full-tuition scholarship without housing costs covered.

The intensive musical education provided by Curtis has been successful in launching students into successful musical careers. The elite faculty leads all four campus ensembles in which students can participate. If you’re looking for a reputable music college to launch your music career, you should certainly consider applying to Curtis

Check out this table for more admissions info:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 3%
Tuition Cost Curtis does not charge tuition; however, student fees may total up to $30,000
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance See Curtis’s net price calculator for an estimated COA

Source: Curtis Institute of Music, Curtis Institute Student Fees

4. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (Bloomington, IN)

The Jacobs School of Music is currently the largest accredited music school in the United States and boasts an impressive reputation. The conservatory is part of Indiana University Bloomington and was founded in 1921. 

Like most prestigious music schools, a live audition is required as a part of the application process. Students are required to participate in at least one ensemble each semester, with a wide variety of choir, band, and orchestra options available. Jacobs also offers a range of music degrees, including Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, Master of Arts, and more. 

Jacobs has consistently ranked among the best colleges for music education majors due to its incredible staff (which includes several internationally renowned performers), programs, and successful alumni. Notable alumni include the esteemed violinist Joshua Bell, conductor Leonard Slatkin, and songwriter/producer Booker T. Jones, among many others.

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 25%
Tuition Cost $10,125 for Indiana residents
$38,075 for non-residents
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $31,405 for Indiana residents
$59,455 for non-residents

Source: Indiana University Bloomington

5. Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY)

The Manhattan School of Music is another excellent choice for music education, especially if you’re a jazz musician. Established in 1917, the school is particularly known for its prestigious jazz department, which has produced many noteworthy alumni, including Herbie Hancock, Harry Connick Jr., Hugh Masakela, and Herbie Mann. 

Nonetheless, the conservatory offers exceptional programs across the board, all of which are run by a top-notch faculty consisting of members from the New York City Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

All students at the Manhattan School of Music are required to take courses in music theory, music history, and a variety of performance arts to build a solid foundation across disciplines. The school provides various degree options, including a Doctorate of Music Arts, Master of Music in Jazz Arts, Classical Studies, Orchestra Performance, and other popular fields.

First-year students are mandated to reside in on-campus student housing, and most students receive some form of financial aid.

Find more information about the Manhattan School of Music below:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 49%
Tuition Cost $55,750
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $78,800

Source: US News, Manhattan School of Music

6. Yale School of Music (New Haven, CT)

The Yale School of Music is one of the best graduate music programs that is highly competitive to get into, and admitted students can attend tuition-free thanks to a recent $100,000,000.00 endowment. The program is considered one of the best in the country, with acclaimed faculty members such as composer Martin Bresnick, clarinetist David Shifrin, and cellist Aldo Parisot. 

While Yale University offers music courses for undergraduates, the curriculum at the Yale School of Music is mainly intended for graduate students only. The school is known for offering top-tier programs in several fields, including music composition, percussion, strings, winds, and brass performance.

Many of Yale's students go on to achieve professional success in the music industry and are well-connected due to the school's proximity to New York. In fact, Yale has a significant number of active alumni in professional music positions worldwide. If you're considering graduate school in music, the Yale School of Music is worth checking out.

More information about applying to Yale School of Music can be found below:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 6.7%
Tuition Cost No tuition costs
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance Varies depending on program

7. Bard College-Conservatory of Music (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)

The Bard College Conservatory of Music is situated in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and was established in 2005. The school's undergraduate program is five years in length, during which students can earn both a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in a non-musical subject. 

The faculty at Bard is renowned, and many members teach at other prestigious music schools like Juilliard and Curtis Institute. Bard’s programs are rigorous but are known for providing ample opportunities for performances. 

The school offers undergraduate programs in standard orchestral and chamber instruments and composition, and popular graduate programs include conducting, collaborative piano, and vocal arts.

If you’re curious about further info regarding Bard Conservatory, take a look at the table below: 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 15%
Tuition Cost $65,614
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance See Bard’s Net Price Calculator

Source: Bard Conservatory

8. New England Conservatory (Boston, MA)

The New England Conservatory of Music is located in Boston and has been considered one of the largest conservatories situated in an urban setting since its establishment in 1867. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has close ties with the Conservatory, and Boston has a thriving music community with many regional orchestras and performance ensembles. 

Admissions into the Conservatory is moderately competitive. The most popular programs include composition, jazz, and strings. The Conservatory is renowned for its massive Jordan Hall, a National Historic Landmark that is considered one of the world's most acoustically perfect performance spaces. 

The Conservatory is also known for its mentorship opportunity. It recently received favorable reviews for its Entrepreneurial Musicianship program, which helps students establish successful careers in the music industry. 

Below, you’ll find acceptance rates and estimated costs of attending the New England Conservatory:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 43%
Tuition Cost $58,910
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $83,432

Source: US News, NEC Admissions

9. Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)

The University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, although a pure conservatory, offers students the opportunity to take academic courses or a minor through the University of Rochester. The institution consistently ranks as one of the top-rated conservatories in the country.

Eastman is also one of the most expensive conservatories in the US. However, almost all students receive a scholarship to attend. Eastman is well-known for its demanding program, especially its graduate program, which attracts many prospective students from other conservatories. 

If your ambitions are to play in a major orchestra, Eastman may be the place for you. The school has produced numerous successful alumni, and its former students are present in every major orchestra in the country.

For more Eastman admissions information, check out this table:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 43%
Tuition Cost $65,870
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $87,418

Source: College Board, Eastman School of Music

10. Peabody Conservatory-Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)

The Peabody Conservatory is part of the Peabody Institute, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and shares the institution's esteemed reputation. Located in Baltimore, Peabody has been providing professional music education for over 150 years and has nurtured many accomplished musicians. 

The school emphasizes community involvement and leadership skills in addition to music education. Unlike other elite conservatories, Peabody values collaboration over competition among its students. 

Degrees offered at Peabody include Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, Master of Art, and performance diplomas. Popular programs include performance, jazz performance, computer music, music education, music theory, and recording arts and sciences.

For further information about the Peabody Institute, consult this table: 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 52%
Tuition Cost $64,730
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $92,349

Source: Peabody Institute

11. Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Oberlin, OH)

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music is the oldest conservatory in the United States and is a unique school associated with Oberlin College. The Conservatory offers two degree programs: the traditional, four-year Bachelor of Music and a rigorous five-year dual-degree program in conjunction with Oberlin College. 

Upon completion of the five-year program, students receive both a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College and a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory. Oberlin is well known for its programs in contemporary and baroque music, as well as its unique TIMARA program

Located in rural Ohio, about an hour southwest of Cleveland, the Conservatory has fewer than 600 students. Oberlin has graduates in every major ensemble in the United States, and it maintains an excellent reputation in the world of music.

Take a look below for further information about Oberlin Conservatory! 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 35%
Tuition Cost $63,700
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $83,588

Source: US News, Oberlin Conservatory

12. University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (Ann Arbor, MI)

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance is located in Ann Arbor, MI, and is renowned for its musical theatre programs. Its notable alumni include Madonna, Iggy Pop, and Aaron Dworkin, as well as established actors like Luci Liu, James Earl Jones, and more. Graduates are also known for their success on Broadway and in symphonies around the world. 

The institution’s high program ratings are complemented by an incredible roster of accomplished staff. Some notable teachers include cellist Richard Aaron and violinist Matt Albert, who both have a long list of awards and acclamations.

Another draw to the school is its state-of-the-art music production facility, which is available to students. All-in-all, the school is considered to be one of the best state-sponsored music schools in the country. If you're interested in musical theatre, you should certainly apply to UMichigan

Here is a table with some further information about UMichigan’s music school:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 26%
Tuition Cost For lower division tuition:
$17,228 for Michigan residents
$58,072 for non-residents
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $35,450 for Michigan residents
$76,294 for non-residents

Source: Michigan School of Music, UMichigan

13. Rice University Shepherd School of Music (Houston, TX)

Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has a global reputation for its world-class music program and has a long-standing tradition of admitting talented international students. As one of the leading music colleges in the south, Rice is in the company of other prestigious institutions, such as the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Austin. 

The faculty at Rice includes some of the most distinguished music teachers in the world, such as renowned French hornist William VerMuelen, trumpet pedagogues Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, violist James Dunham, and bassoonist Benjamin Kamins, among many others. 

Rice also offers tons of performance opportunities as it presents over 400 concerts annually, including two large-scale opera productions. Graduates from Rice's music program regularly secure top positions in world-class orchestras and college professorships.

Take a look below for some more admissions information concerning Rice’s Shepherd School of Music:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 15%
Tuition Cost $58,128
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $81,417

Source: Shepherd School of Music FAQs, Shepherd School of Music

14. University of Southern California – Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

USC-Thornton is one of the top music schools in California, and boasts impressive statistics and alumni. The school is especially well known for its exceptional programs in composition, cello, and classical guitar. 

When it comes to staff, USC has assembled a true dream team. Notable faculty members include Grammy Award-winning artists Amy Andersson and Andrae Alexander, legendary film music composer Pete Anthony, and many more. USC is widely regarded as one of the best schools in the world for film music composition, alongside NYU and Berklee.

USC-Thornton is located in Los Angeles and offers students an ideal environment for music study and practice. Students interested in performance, and specifically film composition, should consider USC as a top choice. It’s no wonder why it’s one of the best California schools for music. 

Take a look at this table for some further information about USC-Thornton School of Music:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 20%
Tuition Cost $69,904
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $95,225

Source: Thornton School of Music, USC

15. University of North Texas College of Music (Denton, TX)

The University of North Texas (UNT) is one of the largest accredited music conservatories in the world. It boasts a wide range of outstanding programs, and it was the first institution on earth to offer a degree in jazz performance. 

Today, UNT’s jazz program is highly regarded. Its premier ensemble, the One O'Clock Lab Band, has earned seven Grammy nominations since its inception in the 1970s. UNT presents over 1,000 performances annually, giving students more opportunities for performance than any other school on our list. 

Graduates of UNT have gone on to play in many of the world's major professional ensembles and hold highly sought-after teaching positions across the globe. If you’re a jazz musician, UNT might be the perfect place for you. 

If you’re still curious about UNT College of Music, check out this table:

Info Value
Acceptance Rate Unavailable
Tuition Cost $12,092 for Texas residents
$24,392 for non-residents
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $28,494 for Texas residents
Non-residents can use the Tuition Estimator

Source: UNT College of Music

16. Mannes College - The New School for Music (New York, NY)

The Mannes School of Music at the New School, located in New York, combines classical training with forward thinking. Mannes is characterized by its desire to push boundaries and maintain an innovative outlook. 

At Mannes, you’ll be able to learn from world-class faculty and join the ranks of successful alumni. Through their university partnerships, you can experience the life of a working musician at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall in NYC. 

Mannes is also home to many special performance programs, including the Schneider Concerts, New York String Orchestra Seminar, New York Guitar Seminar, and the Sandbox Percussion Summer Seminar. 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 33%
Tuition Cost $28,013
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $42,730

17. Cleveland Institute of Music (Cleveland, OH)

You can find your home at Cleveland Institute of Music, a renowned music school with a close-knit community of about 350 enrolled students. CIM was established in April 1920 by a small group of founders from the Fortnightly Musical Club, and opened its doors on December 8, 1920. 

At CIM, students are equipped to display high musical distinction and make impact in their communities. Leadership, compassion, perseverance, drive, and creativity are core values for the faculty and students at CIM. 

In addition to their numerous programs of study, CIM also offers a variety of specialty programming and fellowship opportunities to help young musicians hone their skills. You can also take advantage of teh CIM Tuition Promise, which guarantees that your base tuition rate will not increase for the expected length of your program. 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 43%
Tuition Cost $50,000
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $73,658

Source: Cleveland Institute of Music

18. San Francisco Conservatory of Music (San Francisco, CA)

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is yet another incredible music school in the US! The core mission of the faculty at SFCM is to transform their students in a variety of ways and prepare graduates for achievement and success. 

Students can choose between numerous unique majors, including Historical Performance and Roots, Jazz, & American Music. Students will also have the opportunity to collaborate with professoinals in Silicon Valley (Sony, Dolby, Apple, and Google) on composing and music-related projects such as the Sony Project.

SFCM also offers a variety of workshops through their Summer@SFCM program, providing opportunities for pre-college and current students to further their education.

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 44%
Tuition Cost $54,400
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $85,262

Source: SFCM

19. Northwestern University Bienen School of Music (Evanston, IL)

The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University is one of the oldest degree-granting music schools in the US, with its roots going all the way back to 1873 and its founding date in 1895. Its acceptance rate is also one of the most selective on this list, accepting only 200 students out of about 2000 applicants each year. 

Alongside top-notch musical education, the Bienen School offers various enrichment opportunities, such as study abroad opportunities in countries like Italy, Austria, France, and the Netherlands. They also host many festivals and series, like the Segovia Classical Guitar Series or the Winter Chamber Music Festival. 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 10%
Tuition Cost $67,158
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $94,878

Source: Northwestern University

20. Colburn Conservatory of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

The Colburn Conservatory of Music helps students refine their skills and sets them up for success for careers as classical musicians. Through their undergraduate programs as well as their Colburn Artists program, Colburn ensures that their students are well-prepared for professional careers. 

Students and alumni of the Colburn Conservatory have accomplished extraordinary achievements and won numerous awards for their musical skills. They play in orchestras around the world and hold many national and international prizes from various competitions. 

In an effort to remove financial barriers from education, Colburn offers full scholarships for tuition as well as grants for housing costs and meal plans. 

Info Value
Acceptance Rate 7%
Tuition Cost $57,500
Total Estimated Cost of Attendance $10,900 (with grants & scholarships)

Source: Colburn School

Factors We Took Into Consideration to Rank Music Colleges

There are several important factors that make a high-quality music college. We took into consideration a variety of elements when compiling this list. Here are our criteria for the best music schools in the US: 

  • Variety of programming: Each of the schools listed above provides a diverse set of programs, allowing students to specialize in the instrument of their choice. 
  • Faculty: Your instructors can make an enormous difference in the quality of your education. The above schools boast world-class faculty who can provide top-notch musical instruction.
  • Alumni success: The quality of a school can often be measured by how successful its graduates become. The schools ranked above continually turn out graduates who find great success as professional musicians or in music-related careers. 
  • Career preparation: Many of the schools listed above place a strong emphasis on preparing for a future career as a musician. The music industry can be difficult to break into, so it’s important that students are educated on future possibilities and career etiquettes as well as technical musical skills. 
  • Education enrichment: Many of these schools also provide enrichment activities within their curriculum, not just lessons or recitals. You can participate in study-abroad programs, summer programs, or other workshops to hone your skills. 
  • Reputation: Reputation isn’t everything, but it does matter. Each of the above schools is reputable and have solid track records. 

Tips on How to Choose a Music College That’s Right For You

Deciding on a music college can be incredibly difficult, especially when there are so many amazing options available in the US! But don’t worry; here are some tips to help make the decision easier for you. 

Consider the Location 

This is perhaps the first thing you should do when building your school list. You need to think about the cities or states in which you want to go to school and then look into schools in that area. If you research a school that excites you, only to discover it’s across the country in a state you aren’t willing to move to, it’ll be a waste of your time.

Explore the Curriculum & Programs Offered

You’ll likely have an idea of the instrument or specialty you want to major in, so make sure to thoroughly research each school’s curriculum to make sure they have programs that you’re interested in. Not all music schools offer the same programs, so be careful not to make any assumptions! 

Look Into Performance Opportunities 

Performance is an important aspect of your music degree. You’ll need to get comfortable playing on stage before an audience. So, check out the performance opportunities that are available at each school you’re interested in. 

Pay Attention to Available Resources & Facilities 

Different schools offer different resources. Look into the summer programs, study abroad programs, festivals, or workshops that each school offers. Some might appeal to you more than others! 

Look Up Class Sizes 

Do you prefer a large class with plenty of peers, or would you rather have more one-on-one time with your professors? Class size can make a big difference when it comes to deciding between music schools. 

FAQs: Best Colleges for Music Majors

Still have questions about the best colleges for music? Take a look at these frequently asked questions for your answers.

1. What US College Has the Best Music Program?

It's difficult to determine the "best" music program in the US, as each school has its own unique strengths and special programs. However, the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Berklee College of Music are often considered to be the best music schools in the US due to their high rankings, student resources, and star-studded staff. 

2. What Is the Best University to Go to for Music?

The best school for a music major will depend on your area of focus. For example, Juilliard is widely known for its orchestral programs, while Berklee is known for its music production programs.

It's also important to research each school to learn about its faculty, performance opportunities, facilities, and the overall culture and community of the school before making a decision.

3. Are Music Majors Worth It?

The music industry is competitive and highly individualistic. Whether a music major is worth it depends on your goals and aspirations. Pursuing music can provide a wealth of personal and professional benefits but may seem like a waste of money to some people who have heard how competitive the field is. The answer here is, do YOU think it’s worth it? 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to music, so a music major is only worth as much as you put into it. If you are extremely passionate, devoted to improvement, and a self-starter, a music major may be a good investment. Attending music school will provide you with important networking and performance opportunities; it’s up to you to take them. 

4. Is Berklee vs. Juilliard Better?

Berklee is known for its contemporary music programs, including popular music, jazz, and music technology, while Juilliard is known for its classical music programs, including orchestral instruments, vocal performance, and composition. Which school is best for you depends on your individual areas of interest; they are both excellent schools with lots to offer.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a music school is a tough job, so we hope that this list has given you some ideas on how to craft your list. Pursuing a degree in music can be a highly rewarding and enriching experience, and attending one of the top 15 schools for music in the US can help set you on a path toward success in the music industry. 

Whether you're interested in classical music, jazz, film scoring, or music production, these schools have something for everyone. With a rigorous academic curriculum and exceptional faculty, these excellent music schools are sure to inspire and challenge you as you pursue your passion for music.

Good luck!

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