The 30 Best Music Schools & Conservatories in the US

Rice University Shepherd School of Music (Houston, TX)

Rice University Shepherd School of Music
photo via Wikimedia Commons

One of three Texas universities on this list, the Rice University Shepherd School of Music, is among the most selective university-based music programs in the country.

Rice University provides significant contacts and opportunities to top classical musicians connected to the Houston Symphony and the Houston Grand opera.

Alumni of Rice University have won orchestral positions in the nation’s top symphonies. These include the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, LA Philharmonic, and Cleveland Orchestra, among several others.

University of North Texas School of Music (Denton, TX)

University of North Texas
photo via Wikimedia Commons

The University of North Texas, abbreviated as UNT, is known as the “big band” school; its legendary jazz history extends several Grammy awards and alumni who have found success as band members and soloists worldwide.

UNT is home to one of the most diverse symphony orchestras in any college, the aptly named University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra. In 2008, student musicians in the orchestra were from 25 different states and 12 different countries

In a typical non-pandemic year, UNT hosts over 1,000 concerts a year, in part because of its large student body of more than 1,500 students!

UNT’s program breaks down into roughly 2/3 undergraduate students and ⅓ graduate students.

Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)

Eastman School of Music
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Eastman’s musicians are among the most talented in the country. Their acceptance rate is routinely as low as approximately 10%! 

Eastman has had a tremendous influence on the world of classical music. Alumni have won appointments in every major orchestra across the globe.  Several soloists who have achieved rarefied careers in music have also attended Eastman. They include opera stars Renee Fleming and Julia Bullock as well as jazz bass extraordinaire Ron Carter.

Although Eastman’s classical music and jazz programs teach in a traditional and rigorous curriculum, Eastman finds ways to adapt to a new century of musicians. This includes the Institute for Music Leadership, a curriculum designed to help students think about how classical musicians make a living in an evolving society.

Nearly every student who gets accepted to Eastman gets a significant merit-based scholarship, making it an attractive prospect for families seeking financial assistance.

Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)

Curtis Institute of Music
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Curtis is the most selective school in the entire country when including both music schools and traditional universities. 

Accepting just 1 in every 25 applicants for an admissions rate of 4%, getting into Curtis is a dream for most musicians.

Curtis is as small and exclusive as it gets; on top of the low acceptance rate, the entire student body is less than 160 total students! Curtis only takes enough musicians to fill a single orchestra as well as a handful of composers, pianists, singers, and conductors. 

What makes Curtis so selective? On top of the prestige, it is one of the few music schools with zero tuition. 

Curtis has strong ties to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Many faculty members at Curtis perform in the Philadelphia Orchestra, as do many alumni.

Colburn School (Los Angeles, CA)

Colburn School
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Like Curtis before it, Colburn is one of the most prestigious small conservatories in the country for one primary reason: it’s free to attend!

Like Curtis, it is exclusive; less than 7% of all applicants are admitted to Colburn.

Colburn is perhaps the smallest independent music school in the entire world, having just enough students to fill one major orchestra. 

Colburn is in downtown Los Angeles, just across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Colburn’s affiliation with the Los Angeles Philharmonic runs deep: several faculty members from Colburn also perform in the orchestra.

Prominent soloists who graduated from Colburn include classical pianist David Fung and violinists Anne Akiko Meyers and Leila Josefowicz.

Ithaca College School of Music (Ithaca, NY)

Ithaca College School of Music
photo via Wikimedia Commons

A premier liberal arts college based in New York, Ithaca College’s School of Music is well-associated with music education and musical theatre. Indeed, Ithaca has a high number of alumni who star in Broadway musicals. Additionally, Ithaca has a near 100% placement rate in public schools for music education majors.

Like other liberal arts colleges on this list, Ithaca is a primarily undergraduate institution, though their music school does serve graduate students.

Financial aid is abundant at Ithaca; many accepted students receive substantial merit-based scholarships.

California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA)

California Institute of the Arts
photo via Wikimedia Commons

CalArts has perhaps the broadest range of music majors available in any college in the country. While they have their traditional classical performance majors, they also have programs in African Music, Experimental Sound Practices, Experimental Pop, and North Indian Music, among dozens of other programs.

CalArts is excellent for the student with the open mind, who wants to study multiple musical fields in college.

It is also an excellent option for those who enjoy collaborating with other arts disciplines. Other prominent programs at CalArts include film, theatre, and dance.


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