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  • Joey Karz

Applying to College as a Composer

This article is really a loose guide I wish I had when I was applying to college as a music composition major. I’ve known I wanted to go to school for music since my sophomore year of high school, but I’ve never been completely in love with the idea of studying music 24/7 for four straight years. Throughout high school I was into many different things, whether that be sports, academics, music, or having fun with my friends, and although I spent many hours a week composing and practicing piano, I needed balance in my life. My high school was not very artsy, so when it was time to apply for college, my path was guided by friends and music teachers who had gone through this process before me.

First, I spent time researching schools and degrees I could get. You can go down a few different musical degree paths, one being a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts in Music). This is more of a general education in music degree. One would be taking classes that focused on music as a whole rather than a specific niche in the music world. You could get a B.M.E (Bachelor of music education), which is a great degree if you want to teach. However, I didn’t want either; I knew I wanted to intensely study composition and music production, so I narrowed down the colleges that offered a B.M. (Bachelor of Music) degree. I went online and did research on dozens of schools, asked my musician friends to talk about their experiences, and even had my music teachers outside of school give me the rundown on music programs they knew about. Then, after making an organized list of schools I was interested in, I really weighed the conservatory vs. university debate.

Something that is really important to me is balance. I am very passionate about music and plan to pursue it as a career, but at the same time, I wasn't so sure I would thrive in a conservatory. I wanted the big college experience as well as a rigorous academic curriculum, so I ended up cutting out all conservatories from my list and focusing on universities.

From here, I reached out to composition professors at each of the schools I was seriously considering and set up times to meet with them over Zoom. I prepared a question sheet of things I really wanted to know about each school and after researching by myself, asking around, and talking to these professors, I gathered enough information to make a pros and cons list about each university I was applying to. Another really helpful thing in making these lists is reaching out to current or recently graduated students. It’s one thing to talk to a professor, but talking to a student that’s actually immersed in the culture can provide a more practical perspective.

Finally, audition season. Everyone dreads auditions, and I did too, however, my auditions were more of a conversation than anything. When preparing a portfolio, you want to have diverse compositions, while still showing your best work, but what’s most important about the portfolio is being able to talk about your ideas and compositional process behind each work. It is of course an advantage to be good at your primary instrument, know basic music theory, and have good compositions to show, but most importantly, being able to talk about yourself and how you as an individual approach music is the most important thing during an audition.

After months of grinding through these steps I ended up applying to and deciding on the best school for me, and I am currently very happy to be starting my sophomore year in 2022. The last thing I will say about this daunting process is that it’s okay to be stressed out—it’s stressful at times. However, it will all work out if you do your best to keep up with your deadlines and stay at least slightly organized!


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