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The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Deciding Where To Go To College For Music

It's about that time of year

where seniors everywhere are checking their mailboxes obsessively for college acceptance letters.

Which means the exciting (but also very confusing) decision of where to go becomes top of mind.

Deciding where you are going to spend the next four years of your life growing into a professional is not something to be taken lightly. When seemingly everyone around you has an opinion and thinks they know best about what you should do, I want you to make a promise to yourself right here, right now:

I promise to make this decision based on what I feel in my gut will be the best for me. NOT what my parents, my band director, my best friend, or my significant other want for me.

Because here's some reality for you:

YOU are the one that will be living those next four years and feeling the effects of that decision every single day. YOU are the one that will graduate with that degree, and YOU are the one that is going to learn and grow and be shaped into (hopefully) a better version of you.

Yes, choosing a college can be overwhelming and anxiety inducing and all the other things....but it should also be exciting! It should be a time to envision your future and your goals and find the best place to support those.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of the big name school or what everyone else wants for you - but that is not always what is truly the best school for where you are at in life and what you actually need. Using this post as a guide, it will help you make a decision with confidence and clarity!

Undergrad graduation photo circa 2012 - Florida State University


This one should be pretty self-explanatory but is often neglected when deciding where to apply and also where to go. If you want to be a soloist, then apply to schools where the teacher is a successful soloist. If you want to be a band director, then go to a school that has great job placement rates for their music ed students (ahemFSUahem). Makes sense, right? And if you aren't sure what the heck you want to do then just focus on finding a teacher you love - more on this below.


Trust me, you will thank yourself for this later.

When I was applying for schools I did not take money into consideration - and ultimately I did end up receiving enough scholarships that my undergrad was paid for (thank god). Grad school, however, was a different story. And let me just tell you.... student loans are no freaking joke.

So here's the reality:

It is exceedingly rare for musicians to land a job in music upon graduation (which is exactly why I am a huge advocate for creating your own career...but that's a wholeeee different post). Not landing a full-time music job immediately upon graduation means you will likely have to get a normal 9-5 because we all have bills to pay, right? But if you are trying to pay for rent, and utilities, and a car payment, and car insurance, and an obscene student loan payment on top of it....well you aren't going to have much money leftover for say, taking auditions or going to conventions or applying to competitions or summer festivals. (Unless of course you are independently wealthy, in which Venmo is @nicolericcardo 😂)

This is exactly why the cost of tuition and scholarships should be a primary consideration when you are deciding where to go. And sure, somewhere like Juilliard is shiny and prestigious - but if you get zero scholarships and have to take out $70k a year (minimum), over the span of 4 years = $280,000 ...... just take a moment and imagine how much a monthly payment might be on that. Likely more than my rent! It'd giving me anxiety just thinking about it. 😬


Another one that seems like it should be common sense, right? But I can't even tell you how many friends and colleagues I know that chose a school without ever having a lesson with the teacher. The same teacher you will spending minimum one hour one-on-one every single week for the next four years. The teacher that will be shaping your growth as a musician and as a human. So yeah, I'd say that's kind of important.

If you have ever taken lessons with multiple teachers, then you are already well aware of the fact that we all have a different and unique teaching style. There will also be some teachers that you will immediately click with, and there will be others that are simply not a good fit for your style of playing, learning, or even your personality.

While it may not be realistic to fly out and take a lesson with every teacher of every school you are applying to, you absolutely need to take a lesson with a teacher before you commit to four years with them. So if you are debating between multiple schools, finding the teacher you work the best with is often the tie-breaker.


Usually the above three things will make it pretty clear where you need to be, but if not this one will definitely give you the answer.

If you want to go into performance, start paying attention to who is winning auditions and competitions and what teachers they studied with. If you want to go into music education, look at what programs have the highest job placement rates. Pay attention to those out there creating their own successful careers and look at where they went.

This is something else that most people overlook during the decision making process but ultimately if you want a career in this tough industry, then this will give you a pretty decent idea of what teachers and/or programs will give you the best chance at success.


If you have any questions, comments, or other topics you would like me to cover, please send me a message here. I would love to hear from you!

If you want to see more articles on how to build your career, subscribe here and follow along on Instagram, @nicolericcardo!

Thank you for reading!


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