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For all those aspiring singers, songwriters, musicians, and even musical theater lovers, it is essential that you choose a place of study that will be able to assist in preparing you for your future endeavors. Thankfully, the United States has no end of options that will be able to provide the right program for you. Whether you want to live in the north, south, east, or west, or you want to study classical music or one of the more popular genres, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the 22 best music colleges in America that are sure to help you make a step forward toward your musical goals.
1. Juilliard School
Is there any surprise as to which music college was going to kick off our list of the best music colleges in America? Juilliard School is arguably one of the most competitive institutes not just in the country but the world as it is considered one of the most prestigious performing art schools not just for music but also for dance and drama.
Situated in the heart of New York City, Juilliard has one of the lowest rates of acceptance of any school in the United States, with only 950 total enrolled students. Those who are lucky enough to be accepted, though, will get the experience of a lifetime with the multiple student and faculty ensembles performing numerous times a year, specifically the Juilliard String Quartet.
2. Belmont University – College of Music & Performing Arts
Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, has seen a lot of growth since it was first founded in 1890 as a college for young women. Considering it is right in Music City, one of those growths has included the School of Music, where several aspiring singers and songwriters fight to get accepted each year.
While the College of Music & Performing Arts is just one stage of it, there is also the Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business to prepare those aspiring artists beyond just the music, bringing in authors, performers, managers, songwriters, record label executives, and more to teach courses.
If that isn’t enough to prove that Belmont University has one of the best music colleges in America, the fact that it’s produced such artists as Brad Paisley, Chris Young, and Trisha Yearwood is easily the cherry on top of the argument.
3. Berklee College of Music
If you’re looking for a college that offers classes in everything from rock to hip hop, reggae to bluegrass, and every genre in between, then Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, may be the best choice. The largest independent college of contemporary music in the world, Berklee College of Music has also produced some impressive, award-winning alumni.
Combined, alums of Berklee have earned more than 300 Grammy Awards, 34 Emmy Awards, seven Tony Awards, and eight Academy Awards. Also, as a side note, there is even a Taylor Swift songwriting class being offered now.
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4. New England Conservatory of Music
If Berklee College of Music is not your speed, Boston has yet another option if you’re looking for the best music colleges in America, and that’s the New England Conservatory of Music. The New England Conservatory is more suited if you’re looking for a more classical approach to music, with classes in instrumental and vocal classical music performance, contemporary musical arts, composition, music history, music theory, and even jazz studies. There are also graduate degrees available in musicology, conducting, and piano.
5. Curtis Institute of Music
Philadelphia anyone? Founded in 1924, the Curtis Institute of Music specializes in performance diplomas, Bachelor of Music degrees, and Master of Music degrees in opera. There is also an option for a Professional Studies Certificate in Opera. If that weren’t enough to help you decide, all students attend on a full scholarship, meaning there is no pressure to pay off student loans once you graduate. That makes it even easier to receive the same education as such notable alumni as violinist Hilary Hahn, pianist Lang Lang, and opera singer Anna Moffo.
6. Manhattan School of Music
Hello, New York City and the Manhattan School of Music. When it comes to the best music colleges in America, it certainly has to be included as an option with everything from bachelor’s degrees to even doctorates in classical and jazz performance and composition. If you’re one that wants to combine the various performing arts, there is even an option to earn a bachelor’s degree in musical theater.
You may be able to receive the same education as such notable alumni as Harry Connick Jr., Charlie Puth, and Max Roach.
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7. San Francisco Conservatory of Music
If you’re looking for a more intimate setting for a music college, you may consider heading to the Golden State and enrolling in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. As of 2021, it has less than 500 students enrolled, meaning there is more of an opportunity to get one-on-one time with teachers and smaller class sizes.
We’re guessing Barbara Eden and Aaron Jay Kernis would agree.
8. Cleveland Institute of Music
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music isn’t the only option if you’re looking for an intimate setting. The Cleveland Institute of Music offers that chance to start as well, only enrolling 325 students, with only 100 new students coming in each year. That’s a small window, considering approximately 1,000 to 1,200 prospective students apply annually.
9. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University has a more significant population than you might think for Bloomington, Indiana, but with more than 1,500 students annually, it has the second-largest enrollment of all the best music colleges in America and beyond that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.
The Jacobs School of Music, formerly known as the Indiana University School of Music until 2005, is the alma mater of such musicians as Grammy award-winning pianist Angelin Chang, jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton, and Juilliard School professor and composer Behzad Ranjbaran.
10. Eastman School of Music
New York continues to have some of the best music colleges in America. If you’re looking to be near New York City but not right in the fray of it all, you might consider the Eastman School of Music, the University of Rochester’s music school.
The Eastman School of Music, founded by George Eastman in 1921, has a plethora of options for study, including bachelor of music degrees, master of arts and master of music degrees, and even doctor of musical arts and doctor of philosophy degrees, meaning there is no end to the level of education one can receive.
11. Oberlin Conservatory of Music
You may not think Oberlin, Ohio, is anything special, but for those looking for the best music colleges in America, it may be just the right spot. The Oberlin Conservatory of Music is the second oldest and oldest continually operating conservatory in the United States. Almost exclusively an undergraduate option, it is the alma mater of such award-winners as Marc Cohn, 1991’s Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards, and Lena Dunham, recipient of the 2013 Best TV Series – Music or Comedy and Best Actress in a TV Series at the Golden Globes for the series Girls on HBO.
12. Mannes School of Music
New York City has yet another option for the best music colleges in America with the Mannes School of Music. Recently relocated to West 13th Street to join the rest of the Mannes College: The New School for Music, it was founded in 1916 by then-New York Symphony Orchestra concertmaster David Mannes and Clara Damrosch, his wife, and their friends.
Some of the school’s most notable alumni include opera singer Jeannette Knoll, Harkness Ballet founder Rebekah Harkness, and music critic Tim Page.
13. Musicians Institute
Musicians Institute is a private institution in Los Angeles that allows students to earn anything from certificates and associate degrees in the arts or Bachelor of Music Degrees in Composition or performance. It may be one of the newest on our list of the best music colleges in America, having been founded in 1977, but it’s nonetheless proven itself in quality.
That’s obvious by its hundreds of notable alums alone, including John Shanks, a songwriter, record producer, and guitarist; Jeff Berlin, a jazz fusion bassist; and Paul Gilbert, a rock guitarist.
14. Boston Conservatory of Berklee
Are you looking to find undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, dance, or theater, but Juilliard didn’t work out? Well, Boston Conservatory at Berklee is just as good of an option on our best music colleges in America list. Although in line with Berklee College of Music, it still offers its own unique opportunities like Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts and Music.
15. Peabody Institute of The John Hopkins University
John Hopkins University is more than just a great place for wannabe medical professionals. It’s also the home of one the best music colleges in America, known as the Peabody Institute. Founded in 1857 and later affiliated with the major university in 1977, it is the oldest conservatory in the United States. It is also one of the most highly-regarded schools of the performing arts.
Like all the rest of the best music colleges, Peabody Institute’s notable reputation is just as well proven by its famous alumni, such as Rebecca Pitcher, known for playing Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and Hugh Wolff, conductor, and director of orchestrates at the New England Conservatory of Music.
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16. Los Angeles College of Music (LACM)
It’s only been 20 years since the Los Angeles College of Music, aka LACM, was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music, but it has proven that it’s a status that is well-deserved. With more than 1,000 students graduating since it opened in 1996, it’s clear that the school’s popularity will only grow as the years go on, especially considering that 50 percent of those who are graduating thus far are from outside the U.S.
17. Colburn School
For a private institution that mainly focuses on music and dance, Colburn School in Los Angeles may be the right choice. Founded in 1950 and named after Richard D. Colburn, its principal benefactor, the school has four divisions. The divisions include the Conservatory of Music, Music Academy, Community School of Performing Arts, and the Trudi Zipper Dance Institute.
18. Yale School of Music
Everyone knows that Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the Ivy League universities of America. The Yale School of Music is just as prestigious. One of 12 professional schools at the university, the School of Music offers Master of Music degrees, Master of Musical Arts degrees, and Doctor of Music Arts degrees. There is also a joint program with the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music programs.
The Yale School of Music has produced everyone from television producers, composers, musicians, vocalists, college presidents, and award winners. Any one of its students could be the next.
19. Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music
If you’re looking to head to the northwest, the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is an option. Renamed in 2008 to honor the former University president and his wife, Henry Bienen, and Leigh Buchanan Bienen, the school offers degrees in every orchestral instrument as well as piano, guitar, voice, jazz studies, and conducting. That’s not all.
The school also has academic degrees in musicology, composition, music education, music theory and cognition, and music history. There are also dual-degree options available in the undergraduate program. Topics include liberal arts, engineering, journalism, education and social policy, or communication. Basically, anything you could ever want is available, making it one of the best music colleges you could go to.
20. McNally Smith College of Music
McNally Smith College of Music is a unique one on our list of the best music colleges in America. Although it is no longer active, it was at the top of its game for the more than 30 years it was open. Sadly, for financial reasons, the school had to close at the end of 2017.
The announcement came without warning, affecting more than just the faculty and students at the school. It also affected downtown St. Paul for many years because of the regular contributions made by students and faculty, which provided a significant source of income, entertainment resources, and even employment.
21. VanderCook College of Music
If you’re looking to become a music teacher and bring the gift of music to the youth, then you cannot do any better than VanderCook College of Music.
Located in the heart of the windy city of Chicago, Illinois, VanderCook is the only college in the country whose sole specialty is training future music educators. There are three types of programs students can pursue, including a Bachelor of Music in Education, a Master of Music in Education, and a Master of Music in Education and Certification. Credited by the National Association of Schools of Music and the Higher Learning Commission, it’s clear that it belongs on our list of the best music colleges in America.
22. Shepherd School of Music at Rice University
Get ready to head down south to Texas if you’re accepted into the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Founded in 1974 and nestled in Houston, Texas, the Shepherd School of Music has a particular emphasis on chamber music, orchestral music, and opera.
It’s a great asset to the community as well, as more than 400 free concerts are given each year, attracting approximately 70,000 attendees annually. Additionally, many students have received master classes from such world-renowned performers as Cecilia Bartoli, Yo-Yo Ma, André Watts, and Renée Fleming.
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