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Liberal Arts Colleges With Good Music Programs

Last Updated on November 28, 2022 by Omoyeni Adeniyi

Liberal arts colleges offer both a distinct undergraduate experience and an education with a strong foundation for future career paths. More and more students are realizing that there is much more to a college degree than just leading to a good job in the workforce. Politicians have always been fans of liberal arts, but understanding why it’s useful requires taking a closer look at the details. Ted Turner, founder of CNN and Turner Broadcasting, had this to say about his time as a student at Brown University: “A liberal arts education teaches you how to think – not what to think.” The purpose of this article is to give you a good overview of what this type of education is, as well as point out several colleges that offer such programs.

Collegelearners will provide you with all the relevant information you are looking for on best music colleges in the world, colleges with music programs, best liberal arts colleges, and so much more.

Liberal Arts Colleges With Good Music Programs

There are many ways for student musicians to continue their music study in college without following a strict path toward becoming a professional musician.  Liberal arts colleges with adjacent music conservatories – preparatory programs for professional musicians – offer the best of both worlds. Students may take music and voice lessons with professors or upper level students and the campus is infused with musical performances by students and guest artists. Here are five colleges, each with a world-class music conservatory accessible to students across all disciplines.

Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA

  • Steeped in history in a world-famous town; most popular programs are English, History, Psychology, Business, and Political Science, BAs in Music, Music Education, and Performance
  • Undergraduate music degrees offered in Composition, Jazz Studies, Music, Music Performance, Music Education, Sound Recording Technology, Theory, and combined music & academic majors
  • By the numbers:  42% admit rate; Mid-range SAT scores: CR 600-680, M 600-690. Note that Gettysburg is test-optional; average GPA of incoming students have a high school GPA of 3.4.

Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY

  • Mid-size college of 6,000 students, with  strong programs in music, physical therapy, communications, science; cross-registration at Cornell University and Wells College
  • Ithaca’s Park School of Communication offers an internship-based semester in Los Angeles to juniors and senior  communications majors to intern in film-related industries
  • By the numbers: 67% admit rate; Mid-range SAT scores: CR 540-620, M540-640.Note that Ithaca College is test-optional.

Lawrence University, Appleton, WI 

  • 1500 students on a picturesque campus overlooking the Fox River, strong programs in Business,  Econ, Psych, Politics, Biology. 
  • Cooperative degree programs include a 3-2 Engineering program (with Columbia, RPI, and Wash U in St. Louis), Forestry and Environmental Studies (with Duke University),  Occupational Therapy (with Wash U in St. Louis), and a five-year double degree in liberal arts and music.
  • By the numbers:  73% admit rate; Mid-range SAT scores: CR 560-700, M580-710. Note that Lawrence University is test-optional; incoming students have an average high school GPA of 3.7.

Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH 

  • A liberal, politically active and socially conscious campus of 2900 students, 600 of whom are Conservatory students who live and learn alongside students in the College of Arts & Sciences
  • Oberlin’s housing options include the large student-run Co-op housing and dining system offers students the chance to share in meal preparation and running of the nine co-op households
  • By the numbers: 30% admit rate; Mid-range SAT scores: CR 650-740, M 620-715; Mid-range ACT scores 28-32.

Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA 

  • Shenandoah’s Women In Mathematical Studies Institute is a program that encourages and supports undergraduate women through mentoring and scholarships
  • Degree programs within the Conservatory include Composition, Church Music, Musical Theatre Accompaniment, Music Therapy, Jazz Studies, Music Recording Technology…..and twelve more
  • By the numbers:  77% admit rate; Mid-range SAT scores: CR 420-540, M 430-550, Mid-range ACT scores 18-24.

Want a big university with a big music presence? Try  your state flagship university, and University of Oregon, University of Michigan, Tulane University (LA), University of the Pacific (CA), Indiana University, DePaul University (IL), University of North Texas,  and University of Idaho.

Best Music Colleges in the World

One of the first things you should be doing as a student still in high school is decide which establishments you will even attempt to get into in the coming months and years. Depending on what you want to study, there could be literally hundreds of options, and all of them will claim to be the perfect fit for you.

As someone who wants to study music, you are both lucky and limited when it comes to colleges, depending on how optimistic you want to be. There are many schools with music programs but only a handful have developed well-earned reputations as excellent educational leaders and those are the ones you want to go for.

Having said this, because there aren’t hundreds of beloved, truly exceptional choices, the playing field is smaller and it can be even more difficult to stand out and eventually be accepted into a program. There are more students who would love to attend these locations than spots available, so you certainly have your work cut out for you if you want admissions counselors to look upon you with favor. For better or worse, that’s just how these things go.

If you’re just beginning your search for where you may go to study music, consider these ten colleges and universities above all others, as they are widely understood to be the absolute best in the world.

In no particular order, our picks for the best music schools in the world are:

  • The Juilliard School
  • Berklee College of Music
  • Yale School of Music
  • New England Conservatory of Music
  • University of Southern California Thornton School of Music
  • Curtis Institute of Music
  • The Royal Academy of Music
  • Royal College of Music
  • Indiana University – The Jacobs School of Music
  • Mannes School of Music

1. The Juilliard School

 Location: New York City, NY
Founded: 1905
Notable Alumni: Barry Manilow, Yo-Yo Ma, John Williams

The Juilliard School, or simply Juilliard as most people call it, is known as the most prestigious performing arts educational institution in the world, according to a number of rankings doled out every year. The college teaches students in a number of verticals, including dance, acting, and, of course, music, which it is perhaps best known for.

The school is attached to the similarly prestigious Lincoln Center, which plays host to some of the best live music performances to be found anywhere, with a focus on all things classical and opera. This option is best for those who one day would like to compose or perhaps play in an orchestra, but it probably isn’t ideal for anyone looking to create more contemporary popular music.

2. Berklee College of Music

 Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1945
Notable Alumni: Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones, John Mayer

Unlike many other music programs all around the world, Berklee College of Music is focused on churning out artists who go on to top the charts and own the pop culture conversation. Many of the most successful alumni aren’t in orchestras or crafting classical compositions, but rather, they have squarely focused their musical efforts in pop, rock, and other modern genres.” Berklee College of Music produces more hitmakers than any other school in the world so if you want to make it big in the Top 40 world, this is where you need to go.”

Boston is known as a college town and Berklee College of Music is simply one of the best in a crowded area.

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3. Yale School of Music

 Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1894
Notable Alumni: Marco Beltrami, Michael Daugherty, Matt Brubeck

Yale needs no introduction, but sadly, many people overlook the music education school as the other programs receive the majority of attention. The legendary university’s musical wing is world-renowned and not just because of the name. It has truly earned its stellar reputation and it lives up to the Yale brand, producing many incredibly accomplished musicians.

New Haven, Connecticut is a relatively smaller city without all the flash of (fairly) nearby NYC but it will be worth it when you get out of school and have Yale on your resume.

4. New England Conservatory of Music

 Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1867
Notable Alumni: Neal E. Boyd, Aoife O’Donovan, Vic Firth

Yes, of course, another Boston college makes this list! With so many schools in such a relatively small area, it’s impossible to avoid including more than one institution from the city on any ranking of great universities. While Berklee does get a majority of the music-focused collegiate attention when it comes to Beantown, there is plenty of room for the New England Conservatory of Music, as the two don’t overlap very much.

Where Berklee is focused on creating hitmakers and pop stars, the NECM keeps its eyes (and ears) on helping those with a passion for playing become some of the best in the world on stringed, woodwind, and brass instruments.

5. University of Southern California Thornton School of Music

 Location: Los Angeles, CA
Founded: 1884
Notable Alumni: Herb Alpert, James Newton Howard, James Horner

Founded just four years after the university itself, the Thornton School of Music is one of the oldest musical institutions in America and it benefits immensely from more than a century of knowing what it takes to craft a truly wonderful musician. While the organization focuses on styles like jazz, classical, and earlier forms of music, the school also has a celebrated program for those looking to work in the music industry but who may not be musicians themselves.

Even if you want to be on the more creative end of things as an artist, taking classes to teach you what’s happening in the business can only benefit you and this is a great place to receive such a blended education. Aspiring Music Business majors should take note of this school. USC also has strong connections to the film music industry.

6. Curtis Institute of Music

 Location: Philadelphia, PA
Founded: 1924
Notable Alumni: Leonard Bernstein, David Brooks, Lang Lang
While not specifically known as one of the better music cities in America, Philadelphia does have at least one hidden gem everybody considering going to college to study the craft should look into: The Curtis Institute of Music. The school, which is coming up on one hundred years of age, has been quietly producing some of the most accomplished musicians in the world for a long time. While you might not have heard of it, everybody in the opera field (the school’s specialty) certainly has!

It is notoriously difficult to be accepted to, as it agrees to take on less than five percent of all applicants, so you’re going to need to show them something really special if you want to go here.

7. The Royal Academy of Music

 Location: London, UK
Founded: 1822
Notable Alumni: Elton John, Annie Lennox
If you’re looking to travel overseas when you take up your musical studies, the Royal Academy of Music may be exactly what you need. The school accepts students from dozens of countries so you certainly have a chance of going but you’re going to need to be really, really great to be included in the incoming class -— this is one institution that can afford to be picky.

The college is also connected to the University of London which can come in handy if you’re looking to study something other than music (in addition to becoming a serious artist, of course).

8. Royal College of Music

 Location: London, UK
Founded: 1882
Notable Alumni: Andrew Lloyd Webber, James Horner, Vanessa-Mae

Speaking of London, if you don’t get into the Royal Academy of Music, there are other options in that great city and the second one on your list should absolutely be the Royal College of Music. The two similarly-named universities are part of the ABRSM (the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), four wonderful educational institutions in the U.K. dedicated to teaching the art of performance.

Only two of the four are located in London, which is where you probably want to live if you’re moving to the country for college. In addition to actually helping people become better musicians, the Royal College of Music does a lot of research into all things related to performance, which further influences teaching methods and how live events are staged and buildings are created.

9. Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University

 Location: Bloomington, IN
Notable Alumni: Joshua Bell, Carl Broemel

It may not be quite as impressive as some other schools on this list and it doesn’t carry the same reputation to one day help you get noticed by employers simply because of a famous name but the Jacobs School of Music, which is based at Indiana University, offers the greatest chance of acceptance for many up-and-coming artists. Many of the universities I’ve already mentioned only admit a small group of new applicants every year, while the Jacobs School has almost 2,000 students at any given time.

As a public university, this option is often offered at a lower price than many private choices, especially for those from the region.

10. Mannes School of Music

 Location: New York City, NY
Founded: 1916
Notable Alumni: Burt Bacharach

Another New York City school, I know — but there’s a reason why so many of these colleges are located in the Big Apple!

While it may be difficult to make a go of being a professional musician in America’s largest metropolis, it also happens to be where the majority of the music industry is focused. Students at the Mannes School of Music benefit not only from excellent Professors who typically have decades of experience, but from being just a subway ride away from countless opportunities for internships, jobs, and places to perform whenever they like.”New York City is to music what Los Angeles is to acting — you’ll be just a small fish in a big pond but at least you’re in the right pond to begin with.”

Also, as part of the New School, which houses fellow artistic college Parsons (known as one of the best in the fashion world), there are plenty of facilities and faculty who will be willing to help in whatever way possible when it comes to making you a success.

Colleges With Good Music Programs for Non Majors

Music can be life-changing, and if you’re searching for schools with exceptional music programs, several colleges in the United States fit the bill.

There are hundreds of colleges and universities to choose from, so picking the right one can be difficult. Before you start your search, consider these ten best colleges with good music programs for nonmajors in the U.S.A.

1) Berklee College of Music
One of the best colleges to attend if you want to study music but aren’t a major is Berklee College of Music. They offer every type of degree you would like, including traditional four-year, two-year, and certificates.

The location is fantastic as well: Boston is a great place that offers tons of entertainment, sports, and nightlife opportunities. Plus, it’s straightforward to get around if you need a break from classes the city even has its subway system!

2) Boston Conservatory at Berklee
The Boston Conservatory at Berklee is a private music college with a diverse student body and faculty. Located on a campus just outside of Boston, students take classes from dedicated artists and professors who have experience working with professional ensembles.

As one of only five collegiate institutions in North America to offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in jazz studies, students have opportunities to participate in workshops and jams hosted by many of their favorite performers.

In addition to their prestigious academic program, B.C.B. offers an Artist Diploma program for students who want to focus on solo performance.

The combination gives students flexibility during their time at B.C.B. They can choose to get some teaching experience or go deep into composing/performing if they want to pursue it further after graduation.

3) College of Music at the University of North Carolina
Located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an institution that draws students from all over.

And though it’s one of America’s top universities and boasts a diverse student body with both in-state and out-of-state attendees, the school also caters to any non-music major who wants to join a musical organization on campus.

Indeed, U.N.C.’s College of Music offers students opportunities they may not find elsewhere:
Extra degrees (such as a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Fine Arts) alongside traditional Bachelors or Associates degrees.
Enrollment in small classes.

Cutting-edge facilities for studying music, such as a recording studio that houses some rare equipment worth $7 million.
4) Cornish College of the Arts
Cornish College of Arts is one of my favorite schools. This liberal arts college in Seattle, Washington, is known for its unique art programs and fantastic location.

I enjoy how small it is because I feel like I can get to know every teacher I have while getting a top-notch education.

If you love art or want to gain a diverse background and knowledge of different types of art, Cornish is a great choice!

5) Curtis Institute of Music
The Curtis Institute of Music is one of four schools that make up The Curtis Institute of Music. In addition to a post-graduate degree program, Curtis provides undergraduate education and community outreach programs.

Admission to all three programs at Curtis is competitive and requires an audition. The school’s main facility is on Rittenhouse Square (pictured above), giving students access to internships and practice opportunities at various music venues in Philadelphia.

6) Hartt School at the University of Hartford
This Connecticut-based university offers a four-year degree that students can complete while immersed in one of several collegiate ensembles. It’s a reliable way to take your love of playing, singing, or composing and turn it into an actual career.

Music degrees also often come equipped with academic minors, allowing you to delve deeper into your passion. If you aren’t sure about attending college, you might want to check out Hartt School’s accelerated online option instead.

7) Mannes School of Music, The New School For Music
Located at 65 W. 12th St., New York, NY 10011, Mannes offers a wide range of musical experiences through class offerings, ensembles, and performances that reflect contemporary music trends.

Students who aren’t majoring in music will learn from talented professionals while also receiving a broad liberal arts education from other professors at The New School.

8) Manhattan School of Music All Majors
The Manhattan School of Music is one of New York City’s most respected conservatories.

It boasts an impressive roster of current and former students, as well as musicians from nearly every genre imaginable.

9) Mason Gross School Of The Arts – Rutgers University
Students at Rutgers University don’t have to major in music to enroll in Mason Gross. If you’re looking for an affordable and high-quality program, look no further. Located a hop, skip, and jump away from New York City, Mason Gross has provided students a top-notch education since 1966.

The curriculum is designed to meet performance and professional standards while offering an artistic and academic experience unique to Rutgers. More than 1,000 undergraduate students are enrolled here, so you’ll never be short on opportunities.

There are plenty of ways to flex your performing muscles outside of class with summer seminars, outreach concerts, and recitals.

10) Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University
The Peabody Institute’s conservatory, which opened in 1866, enrolls more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students. The high demand for spots at J.H.U.’s prestigious program is one reason it ranks highly on our list of best colleges for a music degree outside of a major.

Tuition for undergraduates is free. For those who aren’t accepted into JHU as a conservatory, there are plenty of other ways to get involved in campus life through performances and clubs.

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