Know the Difference: Higher Music Education Options

When it comes to higher education, music majors have three choices:

Universities with a School of Music

Large universities such as The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan have strong music departments with many undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Undergraduates and post-graduates compete for seats in the same ensembles. In addition, graduate students get stronger applied instructors. There is a full general education track at these schools, so undergraduates take math, English, and science. Performances at Saturday football games make the university experience a six-day week.

Colleges with Music Departments

Colleges like Ithaca CollegeLuther College, and St. Olaf College are primarily private liberal arts colleges. Since this is a college, only undergraduate students are enrolled. Performance and Music Education are the primary music degrees bestowed here. Students here take general education classes to earn their degree. The students here tend to be less competitive than at a university or conservatory. The college experience is usually five days a week. Marching band (or pep band) is often offered as an elective.

Conservatories and Institutes

By contrast, small college level conservatories/institutes such as CurtisJulliard, the Boston Conservatory, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music focus exclusively on the arts. There is a strong competitive nature among the students. In addition to general courses like music theory and music history, students take humanities and writing courses. Some conservatories offer foreign language and music business courses. If you think the college experience has to include sports, frat parties, and weekend excursions, you should not look at this type of school. The strong competitive nature and number of performances required at a conservatory make this experience a seven-day week.

Conservatory Inside School of Music

Finally, there are conservatories within the college music department or the university’s School of Music. Oberlin College and Bard College both have an undergraduate general music department and a conservatory track functioning in the same building. Other schools like Cincinnati University Conservatory of Music and the Shenandoah University Conservatory of Music offer undergraduate and post-graduate courses.

There are benefits to this option. Students can take electives from the general curriculum. They also have access to the traditional college experience with football and parties. However, many students struggle to balance these options with conservatory performance requirements. The struggle often results in a seven-day week.


Compare the websites of the schools I mentioned to understand the differences. Even better, visit the campuses to see the pace and depth of their curriculums and degree requirements.

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO