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Schools of Music

Learn how to find the top schools of music in the U.S.

The Juilliard School has music programs for young musicians. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The Juilliard School has music programs for young musicians.

Schools of music are educational institutions that offer professional and advanced training in music composition, appreciation, history and performance. Music schools may be part of a larger liberal arts college or a university, or they may be stand alone institutions, often called conservatories.

Conservatories allow students to concentrate on music and other types of performance art, such as drama and dance. Students who attend schools of music can work as professional musicians, composers, music teachers and music industry professionals.

According to the College Music Society, there are 4,314 institutions of higher learning in the United States and of these, 1,739 institutions have programs granting degrees in music and music education. The College Music Society further estimated that there were 330,534 students enrolled in schools of music in 2006 to 2007, representing 1.9 percent of the entire student population.

While each school of music offers a unique curriculum, each degree program will contain similar core material, based on widely accepted standards. The National Association of Schools of Music, founded in 1924, establishes nationally recognized criteria for awarding undergraduate and graduate degrees in music.

Ranking Schools of Music

Educational institutions are ranked according to a number of factors, including cost of tuition, quality of institutional facilities, number of students who achieve professional employment post graduation, and achievements and awards given to former students and faculty.

News organizations such as U.S. News and World Report publish lists ranking the nation's academic institutions according to various factors, including the number of students who graduate after entering a degree program and the success of graduates in entering the professional environment. Schools of music are listed in U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of liberal arts colleges.

There are also international organizations, such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), that publish annual reviews of educational organizations worldwide. The ARWU uses a number of factors in determining the quality of the institution, including the achievements of school alumni and the achievements of school staff and adjunct faculty.

In 2005, Rolling Stone magazine began publishing an annual review of music schools, which contains information about the music "scene" surrounding the school. Though a more informal approach, Rolling Stone's "Schools that Rock" provides useful information for students who are hoping to build careers within the popular music industry.

In addition to ranking lists, students looking to enroll in schools of music should evaluate the school's faculty. Some schools of music may employ faculty members with expertise in classical and jazz music, while other schools may employ faculty whose expertise extends to other genres.

The following music schools are considered among the finest in the United States, based both on official ranking and popular opinion:

Schools of Music in the United States

The Juilliard School of Music, located in New York, N.Y., is one of the best-known schools of music in the United States. Juilliard consistently places high in ranking lists and has also achieved fame because many of the school's graduates have achieved prominent positions as performers and educators.

The Juilliard School was founded in 1905 and became the nation's most prominent school of music in the 1930s. Composer William Schuman, who won the first Pulitzer Prize for music, served as president of the school in the 1940s, during which time Juilliard gained an international reputation for excellence.

The Peabody Institute, which was founded in 1857 as a department of John's Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., is one of the most prestigious schools of music in the country. Prominent alumni include pianist and composer Philip Glass and singer Tori Amos. Peabody focuses on classical and jazz music with an emphasis on performance. Even students focusing on music industry management are expected to achieve a high level of skill in both composition and performance.

While Peabody and Juilliard top most ranking lists, musicians and industry leaders argue that there are many high quality schools of music in the United States. A student's ultimate choice must therefore depend partially on personal preference and the unique educational opportunities offered by specific programs.

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