Hello fellow bassists and educators, Peter Tambroni here from MostlyBass.com. Jason has posted great articles on choosing schools and going to college. I came across a similar piece I wrote that was in American String Teacher in 1999. Some of it is a little dated but it still has relevant information.
Deciding where to pursue a college degree is an extremely difficult task. This is especially true of finding a music school, where programs and curricula can vary widely from school to school. It can be overwhelming with teachers, parents, guidance counselors, students, colleges, and peers all offering information to help with this decision. And now there is another resource available to students – the internet. But can this help you find a music school?
As a student pursuing an undergraduate degree, one needs to consider the big picture. Teachers, facilities, dormitory life, in addition to academics must all be considered when deciding where to study.
When looking at information about a college, having pre – determined criteria and questions can give your search direction and save time. Below is a list of items to consider when looking for a school, and then, to start you on your journey, a few available internet resources I found in cyberspace.
Assess your level – Be realistic, but also realize that many schools are looking for your potential, not that you can already play concertos. Are you a performance – oriented musician? An educator or both? This is not to diminish the skills of teachers in any way, however performance programs often have more stringent acceptance guidelines and a different curriculum. Also realize that an education-oriented school may not offer the same orchestral experience as a conservatory.
Vocational decisions / goals – What will you major in and how well does the school address your particular choice? Performance, composition, education, music therapy, music history, and music business are some options. If you’re an education major, is the campus near local schools that participate in programs with the college? If you’re a performance major, are their orchestras besides the college ensembles to play with? What about solo opportunities such as a concerto competition? Composition majors – can you get your pieces performed and recorded?
Studio teacher – You will be spending a lot of time with this teacher. Is their personality compatible with yours? Try to take a lesson with the teacher to experience their ‘style’. What are their education and performance philosophies? You may want to ask current students about their personality and philosophies. What have they done? Are they still active? Also find out if you will be studying with this person full time, or working with a graduate assistant.
Graduate Teaching Assistants – You may want to find out if you will be taking most of your beginning classes from full time faculty or from graduate students. Some schools have most of their 100 and 200 level classes taught by graduate students.
Size of school – Will you be a number or a person? When looking at enrollment numbers, be sure to find out how many students are in the music school not just the entire college. The music school is usually much smaller and therefore will have smaller class sizes. Even at some big – name schools the classes are small enough where every teacher will know your name! This can play a major role in your academic success.
Practice rooms – How many are there? Is that number enough (again, you may want to ask students)? Do they charge for usage? Yes, some colleges charge for practice room rental.
Music facilities – Are their classrooms equipped with stereos (they should have a CD player) and in good condition? What about concert and recital halls? Do they have recording facilities? What are the hours for the music building and practice rooms?
Are their instrument repair people nearby or part of the school? – There may or may not be a permanent faculty member who repairs instruments. This is more important than it sounds! Ever drop your instrument the day before a recital?
Do the performing groups tour? – Touring can be an invaluable experience, both as a musician and person, besides letting you travel.
What happens if you fail a class? – Can you take a class out – of – sequence? For example, if you fail Theory I can you take it your second semester when everyone else will be taking Theory II. Or, will you have to wait a semester and possibly have to stay for 5 or 6 years because you had problems your first semester?
Student to faculty ratio – How many students per faculty member are there? This may or may not have an impact. There are usually many more flute players than bassoonists so this may not give you an accurate representation of student – to – teacher contact time.
Library Facilities – Does the school have an adequate music library? It should include a large sound (records / CDs) selection, listening rooms, scores, and possibly a computer or MIDI lab. This is in addition to the standard selection of music books, solos, etude books, reference materials, etc.
Computer Facilities – Do the students have access to computers and if so where are they located (in each dorm, in academic buildings only)? Most schools have computer labs for students with internet access, a variety of software, and printing capabilities.
Job Placement Program – Most schools have a ‘career planning’ or job placement department setup to help you find a job. You may want to ask what their success rate is and how they can help you when the time comes.
Non – Academic
Visit the school! How does it feel? – When I was looking at colleges I noticed a huge difference in the way people responded to visitors while on their campus. At one campus I asked for directions and the people were quite rude. At another school, people knew I was a visitor and asked if I had any questions. This had a tremendous influence on my decision.
Social aspects – What is there to do in the area? Regardless of which college you attend you will have plenty to do between classes, studying, and practicing. Does the dorm have programs setup to help you meet people?
Your personality – What kind of person are you? Do you crave the big city or prefer a small town atmosphere?
Family / distance to school – Do you need to be close to home? Does your family need you to be close to home? I recommend living at the school regardless of how close your family lives to the school. This is a time of personal and emotional growth.
Laundry facilities – This may sound very trivial, but if you half to leave campus every week or two you will enjoy the convenience of on – campus facilities.
Do you have a vehicle or are there buses? – Contrary to what you may convince your parents into thinking, you don’t really need a car. Most schools and cities have adequate public transportation but you should know if the campus is in the town or within walking distance to the city. If you do have a vehicle, what is the charge for parking permits?
School Location – Find out what part of the city the school is located. Some campuses have a central campus with a music building across town or in a very isolated. Also, how far is your dormitory or apartment from the music building?
Dining facilities – Are meals served throughout the day or are there specific times for each meal. This will probably not rule out a school but it is nice to know what to expect since this may be the first time you will have to provide for yourself.
The ‘freshman experience’ – Do they offer support systems for dorm life or are you on your own? Some schools have specific (usually optional) programs and dorms setup for freshman. Some people need these, for others it isn’t a consideration.
This site categorizes schools by their type (4 year, 2 year, vocational, etc.) and then offers options to search for those schools. This site offers the following options to search their database: location – such as region or state, enrollment, keywords within major, tuition costs, affiliation (public, private, religious), sports offered, and proximity to a city. The results give the address and phone number of each school, and usually a hyperlink to their website. A limited number of colleges in the final list allowed prospective students to apply online. This site is a great starting point, but there is not enough information on each schools program to make an informed decision.
Kaplan, an organization known for their standardized test preparation, offers a website for the high school junior or college bound senior. This site divides their information into categories such as: College, Grad School, Business, Law, Medicine, Accounting, Learn English, Careers, Study Skills, Parents & Kids, and Financial Aid. Their college search engine however, is a bit weak. It asks for which region of the country, type of community, freshman retention rate, and percentage of applicants accepted. It did not ask for a major! Questions such as these may or not be useful. A motivated student will probably not have to worry about their ‘freshman retention rate’.
Although Kaplan’s college search is not as strong as others are, it does offer great tips for general college preparation and free online practice tests. Helpful items included: Deadlines for standardized test registration, things to think about, common SAT words, type of education your looking for, what lifestyle you want on campus and college setting, realities of being a first year student, Greek life, and packing for college.
This site is organized into the categories: colleges & universities, graduate schools, college chat, free stuff, financial aid, test preparation, student travel, job search, research papers, study abroad, fraternity / sorority, spring break, daily news, and trivia games. The college search options are limited to country and state. After the selections are made, it gives a list of colleges in that particular region. This is not very helpful to find specific schools, but the list of colleges is nice to have.
To use this site you need to fill out an application and register, which is free. After this there are options to find a career, search for schools, apply online, look at schools that are actively recruiting students, and getting advice on schools. The search options included location, size of town, college type, competitiveness of admissions, test scores, major, student to faculty ratio, percentage of freshman returning, percentage if undergrads that receive financial aid, maximum college tuition, special services offered, percentage of ethnic representation, religious affiliation, sports offered, and application deadline. This was time consuming because there are only a few of these options per web page. The search engine seemed very limited as I received an extremely low number of schools in the results.
This site, entitled The Princeton Review Online, is categorized into college, business, medical, law, graduate and career. After registering with page, the website offers the following search options: state & region, school type, religious affiliation, housing options, cost, percentage of freshman receiving financial aid, average class size, percentage of classes taught by graduate students, student to faculty ratio, major, freshman academic profile, student body demographics, student service and facilities, and campus life. The resulting list of schools provided answers to many search options, such as class size. The search engine however, was not very conclusive as my search only found one college in New York State.
This site also requires the user to register, which consists of submitting your name and address. The initial categories offered are: CollegeQuest.com, Resources on Financing Your Education, Enrollment Message Center, Distance Learning Programs, Specialized Programs of Study, International Student Information, Competitive College Consortium, Regional Colleges Consortium, and The Military and Higher Education. I chose CollegeQuest.com and after registering, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to their premium service of advanced financial aid worksheets, a calendar and in their words “much, much more!” Please note that financial aid forms are free from colleges and the government (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/).
After the initial registration I was given the options to build a college list, get test tips (SAT and ACT), compare schools, apply online, learn about financial aid, or join a discussion group. When searching for colleges the only criteria are location, majors offered, college type, and selectivity. My search of schools in New York, Music major, 4-year public school, and selectivity not important yielded 21 schools, all SUNY or CUNY.
Information about these schools was very general, such as enrollment, sports offered and location. I found this site not very helpful and somewhat cumbersome to navigate.
Newsgroups are another resource on the internet. These are discussions that allow users to post messages or questions, respond to other peoples’ posts, and read replies to an original message. To use newsgroups you must subscribe to a specific newsgroup using software such as Microsoft Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator, or earlier programs such as the UNIX based Pine.
To locate a newsgroup, start the software, which will locate the newsgroups on the server you are using. Then you can just scroll through available newsgroups or, depending on the program, search for groups containing specific words. After selecting a newsgroup the title of each is post is then displayed which can be selected and read. While titles of newsgroups vary from server to server, I found the following groups on my internet provider: SOC.COLLEGE, SOC.COLLEGE.ADMISSIONS, and SOC.COLLEGE.FINANCIAL-AID. Newsgroups allow you to ask specific questions and get first hand information from directly from people, not what is posted on a website.
Search engines can be very helpful in finding materials on the vast information super highway. Most of us have used the common YAHOO!, Infoseek, or AltaVista, but there are many other engines available and different ways to search the internet. Most search engines such as YAHOO!, Infoseek, AltaVista, GoTo, Lycos, MSN, and Excite search only their database. This is why many engines give you different results. It is possible to search all or many databases in one search using a meta – search engine. These gather information from many databases in one sweep, and will specify which databases they are querying.
Popular meta – search engines include www.dogpile.com, www.lycospro.com, www.matchsite.com/index.html, www.metacrawler.com, www.webtaxi.com, www.express.infoseek.com, and www.profusion.com.
When using engines, many offer options, such as Boolean syntax – the use of And, Or, Not – to help narrow your search. To read more about this see www.albany.edu/library/internet/syntax.html.
When searching try different combinations to narrow your search, such as “Music Schools, New York”, “Music, Conservatory, Pennsylvania” or “Music and College”.
The internet, with all its flash and wonder, is just another available tool in your search for the right college. Despite its global connection and seemingly endless amount of information, it has yet to be cataloged into an easy – to – use encyclopedia. Websites also are not obligated to give factual information and may only be as helpful as a television commercial. It can however, give new insights and images from schools that previously could only be obtained through a physical visit. In your search for a music college, incorporate the internet as another tool, but do not rely on it as your only resource when making such an important decision as choosing a college.