How to Choose a Music School in North Texas
It's the dreaded question for most high schoolers: "Have you started thinking about college?" The search for music colleges can feel futile and despairing. In the state of Texas, we are blessed with a vast array of wonderful music colleges, and I aim to de-mystify some of the college search process for our DFW-area readers (but truthfully, this advice applies to everyone).
Let's start off with a banger: "Will I get in?" The question that will never go away until you receive that blessed acceptance e-mail. The only thing you can do is to practice, practice, practice, and amass a selection of universities that you feel confident you could attend and succeed in. How exactly do you find those universities?
How to Begin the Music College Search
There is a myriad of great search engines for this very purpose. Think collegeboard.org or unigo.com. These two sites are great for narrowing down your search: do you want universities solely in Texas? Public or private? What's the "vibe" of these schools? The process remains relatively easy until you start focusing on the music colleges of these schools.
There used to be a great search engine called StartClass that would compare music colleges, pre-med programs, and other specially-rooted programs in great detail. StartClass is no longer funtioning, but for the North Texas area, I've done a bit of the work for you.
This is a chart comparison of the different degree programs at all major universities in the DFW area. I haven't listed "performance" as a category, since all of these options have a performance degree in their catalog. Out of these options, SMU is the only private school.
Which music degree is right for me?
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: most music students at any major university are going to have to endure around four semesters of basic training. Consider it your "music associates" if you will. During this time, you might take a few extra courses that contribute to your actual degree: picture a schedule full of theory, aural skills, piano, maybe a music ed course here and there, or possibly jazz arranging if you're a jazz cat. But, that means you have some time to decide if you want to switch majors, without the risk of being set back. Find a program that has options you're interested in: I began as a music ed major, and now, two years into my degree, I'm a B.A. in music history. If you're unsure, don't fret. There will always be time, and how you enter college is likely not how you will leave.
"___? Oh, that's a grad school."
This is a sentence you might be told during your college search. Let me say this: if a college of music has an undergraduate program, it is for undergraduates. This person might be trying to warn you that you might feel lost at a school focused on graduate programs; what you should hear, however, is that it takes a special type of undergraduate to succeed at that school. During my senior year of high school, I was told by (1) a graduate student at LSU, (2) my orchestra teacher, and (3) a clarinet professor at UH that UNT was a "grad school," and that I would not get the attention I need. This brings me to my next point.
Adults, even adult musicians, do not know everything.
Of course, go to your directors and counselors for help in finding a school that works for you. But also, do your own research. The aforementioned exchange between me and the UH professor happened to me during my audition; the professor asked me for my first-choice college, and upon hearing that it was UNT, promptly told me that I would be forced to study under a graduate student.
1. Studying with a graduate student is not a bad thing, and is common for your first year of undergraduate study.
2. This was entirely false.
I knew this was false because I directly asked one of the four clarinet professors at UNT if I would be "stuck with a graduate student," as so many had warned me before. If I had taken the word of the adults before me, who were sorely mistaken, I might have discredited UNT as my top option, because of something that shouldn't have even deterred me in the first place.
Be less worried about the university, and more concerned with your studio.
There's a lot to be had about your overall choice in university: location, price, and if they offer your degree plan. But, as a musician, you will be forging a close relationship with the professor(s) on your instrument for around four years, and this cannot be ignored. Most, if not all, studio professors will give free introductory lessons upon e-mail. Do not let your parents send these emails for you. You are an adult now, and it is time to make a good impression. While on your college tours, schedule a lesson with a professor of your instrument. Most professors are concerned with finding a student with potential and a positive attitude. I'm not saying this is a way to ensure your acceptance into their studio, but it will definitely give you the tools to make an informed decision about who you would prefer studying under–and having your professor remember your face isn't a bad idea either.
All-State isn't all that.
This is a bit of a tough one because those who make All-State year after year are normally always first-chair players. It can be tough to separate your musicianship from a competition that rules your high school years from August to February with such fervor. If you're an All-State champion, fret not – your months spent perfecting those etudes haven't gone to waste. But there are many factors that go into your acceptance to a music college that go beyond your playing ability. Do you have a real, visible passion for music? Do you show a positive attitude, or the maturity required of accepting criticism? Do you have a lot of leadership positions coming from high school? You might even have more success if, during your senior year, you snub All-State auditions in favor of focusing on your college audition materials and minor scales. Just sayin'.
All in all, finding a music school is a personal journey. It's beginning may be daunting, and you may be left feeling like your counselors - or even your directors - aren't being of much help. Spend plenty of time leading up to your senior year researching and getting familiar with the schools you're interested in. North Texas alone is an amazing place to get music degree; Dallas has a rich music culture and industry with plenty of passionate and knowledgeable professionals to guide you along the way.
There will always been nay-sayers in every capacity - the location, the school, the professors, the curriculum - will never be "enough" for some people. Do your own research and make your own naive judgements - your love of music will carry you through if it's truly meant to be.
Cover image taken by Sara Carpenter