Best Colleges for Music in the US

Cellists wearing all black playing in an ensemble at a music college recital.
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 03/08/23

Get ready to make some noise! Read on if you're a music major looking for the best place to study 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 the best 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 15 Colleges for Music in the US

Here is our list of the 15 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. 

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, performance, 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.

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 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, with an acceptance rate of merely 7%

Although Julliard 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 tip-notch talent, Juilliard might be the place for you.

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 and only 2% of applicants admitted annually. 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

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, songwriter/producer Booker T. Jones, among many others.

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 Doctorate of Music Arts, Master of Music in Jazz Arts, Classical Studies, Orchestra Performance, and other popular fields.

The school is less competitive than our top four, with an acceptance rate of about 42%. First-year students are mandated to reside in on-campus student housing, and most students receive some form of financial aid.

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

The Yale School of Music is a graduate program 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 offers music courses for undergraduates, the curriculum at the Yale School of Music 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.

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.

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, with a 36% acceptance rate. 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. 

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, with a highly selective acceptance rate of under 20%.

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.

10. Peabody Conservatory-Johns Hopkins University

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 places an emphasis on 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.

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 and has an acceptance rate of about 34%. Oberlin has graduates in every major ensemble in the United States, and it maintains an excellent reputation in the world of music.

12. University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance

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

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 is highly selective and has an acceptance rate of a mere 12%. 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.

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

As we near the end of our list, the caliber of the institutions is still incredibly high. USC-Thornton is one of the top music schools in the US, 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.

15. University of North Texas College of Music

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.

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 their 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 or not 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 you are a self-starter - a music major may be a good investment for you. 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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