How to go to College for Music Performance

Updated: a day ago

There are many degree programs within music that you can pursue, the top ones being music education, music therapy, and music performance. Out of all of these, music performance is the most competitive. The number of students admitted into performance degree programs are kept very small, and for good reason. To give you an idea of just how competitive these programs can be, when I auditioned for my Bachelor's in Performance at Florida State University, I was one of only two flute performance majors that were admitted that year. In the real world, performance is also the most competitive musical career path. Trying to win an orchestral audition is like trying to win the lottery. You show up and have to compete against literally hundreds of other people for one single spot. The worst part is that a portion of who advances and who doesn't has nothing to do with your playing. It will be affected by how the audition committee is feeling at that particular moment. Is the clarinetist sitting on the other side of the screen thinking about how bad he has to pee after downing those three cups of coffee? Has the committee already listened to fifty other auditions and the trombonist just momentarily zoned out during your best ever run of Firebird? Yes, it is daunting, and yes, it should scare you a little bit. But as the saying goes, if your dreams don't scare you, you're not dreaming big enough!

This is all of the information that I learned the hard way so you don't have to!


Ideally you should begin your research your Junior year, and there are quite a few reasons starting this early will give you a huge advantage.

First, there are SO. MANY. SCHOOLS. that offer music performance programs. I strongly recommend researching as many schools as possible! When I was applying for colleges, I really limited myself by only applying to places I was familiar with. The easiest way to start your search is to narrow things down based on geography. Create a list that includes all fifty states, go through one by one, and if there are any states that you 110% would not be okay moving to, delete them from your list. Hopefully this won't eliminate too many, however, always go for what you feel the most comfortable with! Many students prefer to stay closer to home, or even within driving distance only of home, and that is OKAY! Ultimately, you want your college experience to be some of the most fun and developmental years of your life and this just isn't possible if you are consumed by home sickness and anxiety. I will give you more tips to help narrow down your list later on in the post.

Second, many schools do not update their pre-screening and live audition requirements every year. This means that you can get a really good idea of what music you are going to be asked to learn for your auditions. You will find that many pieces are standard and asked by almost every school (looking at you Mozart Concertos and J.S. Bach Sonatas). As you narrow down the schools you are interested in, make a master list of all of the repertoire that is asked for. Purchase this music and get to work!

Third, as you narrow down your list and make your final selections, fly out and take lessons with as many of these teachers as possible. I can't emphasize the importance of this enough. On the surface, a lesson is a good idea simply because it gives you a foot in the door. It gives you an opportunity to showcase not only your abilities, but also your personality, which is just as important! It will allow you to develop a relationship with the teacher so when audition time rolls around, they will be able to differentiate you from the however many other players that are auditioning that day. Each lesson is as much of an interview for the teacher as it is for you. This is the person that you will be spending at minimum one hour per week, one on one, for four years of your life. It is extremely important that you make sure their teaching style works well for you and that you have good student-teacher chemistry. I actually ended up cutting out my top choice school this way. The teacher had a style that was much more intense than I was comfortable with at that point in my life, and I ended up feeling intimidated and overwhelmed the entire lesson. If I had not taken the time to fly out and take this lesson, I could have ended up feeling that way in every lesson for the next four years!

Lesson Hack: Be sure to research any upcoming flute festivals as many established flute players and professors attend these events. Think the Florida Flute Convention, the Atlanta Flute Fair, the National Flute Convention, etc.. The National Flute Convention is probably your best bet in terms of finding most (if not all) of your top choices all in one place, but it will absolutely require planning well in advance. This convention usually occurs in August, and hotels in the area book up quickly as do lesson slots! But hey, it will save a ton of money if you are able to attend a convention and take lessons with 5 different teachers as opposed to flying to 5 separate cities!


After narrowing down your state list, take the next step by listing out every college or university in each remaining state that offers a degree program in music performance. You can find this with a simple google search. For example, Google "Florida Colleges Music Performance." If you have a lot of states on your list, this step can be pretty time consuming, which is another reason to start early. Keep it approachable by researching one state at a time and sticking to a few specifics for the type of institution you want to attend. For me, I knew I did not want to go to a smaller and/or private school, so I only considered well known public Universities. In my Google search for "Florida College Music Performance," I found 30 schools in Florida that offer a music performance program. It only took me ten minutes to find out which were public by doing another quick Google search: "Is (insert school name here) public or private." Out of the 30 schools in Florida offering a music performance degree program, only 10 are public Universities. Now my next qualification of "well known" is obviously subjective, but to my standards, only 4 out of 10 of these schools fit that bill. Now repeat this for every state you have on your list.


Each flute professor is going to have a niche. It could be anything ranging from orchestral performance to being a renowned soloist, or from Baroque historical performance to contemporary music and extended techniques. Try to envision your musical career path and study with a teacher who specializes in that. If you want to be an orchestral flute player, then Elizabeth Rowe, Principal Flute of the Boston Symphony, should be on your list. If you want to be a piccolo player, Nicole Esposito should be a top consideration. Even if you have absolutely no idea, reading the professors bios and listening to their recordings/watching their videos will at least give you a much better idea for who they are and what they are passionate about. If it seems intriguing to you, then keep them on your list! Alternatively, if it is something you are not interested in, cross that school off the list.


The last step before you begin the application process will be to come up with a final count of how many schools you will apply to. For many of us, this is going to be a financial decision. Applying to college is expensive! There will be an application fee to apply to the University, and then there is usually a separate application and fee to apply to the music school. And when you factor in the cost of flying out to take adds up. Even if you are one of the lucky ones who can afford to apply to every school your heart desires, you may not even want to. Each application is going to take up a considerable amount of time. You will need to ask for recommendation letters, request transcripts and test scores, write essays, and follow up to make sure everything is received by the deadline. Speaking of deadlines, SUBMIT EARLY. Do not be one of those people that waits until the last minute. If things don't make it in on time, you will not be the only one, and schools have no sympathy. I worked in the Office of Admissions at FSU for four years so trust me on this one. On top of all of that, you will have to prepare music for the pre-screening auditions if required, as well as live auditions. Bottom line is applying to college takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Choose wisely!

Something you should also think about when compiling your final list is whether to include at least one "for sure" school (somewhere that you know you can get accepted at). If you are okay with the possibility of having to wait another year to apply again if you are not accepted anywhere, then this "for sure" school is not necessary. Making this choice will be very personal and is something I encourage you to discuss with your current private instructor.


You have finalized your list, you have taken lessons, and now it is time to send out your applications! Many schools now require you to pass a pre-screening in order to be invited for a live audition. Committees have become increasingly more selective with this process, so it is imperative you make sure you have high quality recordings. You can read this great post by my friend Jolene Madewell on what she learned by judging a round of pre-screening recordings!

I hope that these tips will help you through your application process! If you have any questions or ideas for other topics you would like me to cover in a future post, send me a message here!

Please let me know if these tips helped you on your journey!

If you want to see more great posts on how to build your musical career, sign up for my email list and follow me on Instagram @nicolericcardo!

#Music #CollegePrep #Career

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Austin, Texas





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