Colburn School – Acceptance Rate, Ranking, and Profile

When talking about the most outstanding music schools in the United States, several well-established names come to mind: the Julliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and others. But while these schools have decades of history behind them, other great schools are starting to build a name for themselves.

One of the best schools to establish itself after World War II, the Colburn School is a private music school that broke off from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School in 1980. 

Taking advantage of its Los Angeles location, the Colburn School works in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, offering its students the best possible resources to aid their learning.

Over the years, some of the finest musicians in the world have taught at Colburn.

Instructors include Finnish conductor and composer Esa Pekka Salonen, principal conductor and artistic advisor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and music director of the San Francisco Symphony. 

Throughout his illustrious career, Salonen has earned numerous honors, including the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and the 2014 Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

Winner of the 1993 Virginia P. Moore Award for most promising young Canadian classical artist and the 2013 Sanford Medal from Yale University, Martin Beaver served as the first violinist in the Tokyo String Quartet from 2002 to 2013. 

Before coming to the Colburn School, Beaver taught at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University.

Clearly, Colburn is one of the best music schools in the country. But is it the right school for you?

Colburn School Acceptance Rate

Colburn School of Music
Dave Parker, ColburnSchoolFront, CC BY 3.0

The acceptance rate into Colburn is 10%.

By nearly every metric, any school with a 10% acceptance rate is highly competitive. At that rate, only one out of ten people who apply will receive letters of acceptance. 

The overwhelming majority will be turned away.

Without a doubt, that’s tough news to hear. We’d all like to believe that the hard work that goes into applying for a school will result in the ultimate reward, an acceptance letter.

But believe it or not, Colburn’s acceptance rate is consistent with many schools of equal quality. For example, Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has an acceptance rate of 12%, while The Julliard School takes in a mere 7% of its applicants. The Curtis Institute of Music outdoes them all with an incredibly low 2% acceptance rate.

As hard as it might be to believe, low acceptance rates are actually a good thing, at least for those who make it into the school. On a fundamental level, the few students a school takes in, the higher its elite status, which raises its overall reputation.

Even better, a low acceptance rate makes for a smaller student body, which in turn means smaller class sizes and more attention from instructors. Students at Colburn have greater opportunities for one-on-one instruction from Colburn’s outstanding faculty.

None of this means that it’s easier to get it, but it might be enough to keep you going through the complex application process.

Colburn School GPA

While Colburn does not publish any minimum required GPA, it is likely that, upon showcasing a successful audition, application, and potential interview, Colburn would accept students with a GPA as low as 2.5.

To some, the question of GPA might seem irrelevant. After all, what does earning good grades in English or math have to do with playing the trumpet or singing an aria?

On the one hand, the answer is nothing. Playing an instrument requires a different skill set than diagraming a sentence or multiplying fractions. But the tasks do have one thing in common: they all require hard work and dedication.

Music schools like Colburn care about GPA because good grades often correlate with a strong work ethic. A brief look at Colburn’s curriculum reveals that every program asks a lot of its students. 

With such a low acceptance rate, Colburn wants to ensure they’re bringing in students who can handle the workload.

Anyone who can maintain a good grade, while still keeping up with their instrument practice, will be more likely to handle the demands of studying at Colburn. 

So while you don’t want to focus on grades to the extent that you neglect your instrument, you’ll still want to get the best grade possible to show admissions counselors that you’re up to the challenge.

What Is Colburn’s Ranking? Is Colburn a good college/conservatory?

Colburn is often cited as the “west coast Curtis” and is among the best colleges for music in the entire world. Its small, selective student body, combined with the fact that it is entirely tuition-free for accepted applicants, makes it among the most desirable schools worldwide.

With an incredibly small acceptance rate and high expectations for students, some may wonder why anyone would even apply to Colburn. It takes only a look at any ranking outlets to see why. By nearly every metric, Colburn is one of the best music schools in the world.

According to, Colburn sits among the 15 best music schools in the United States, with a program that rivals that of the California Institute of the Arts and the Mannes School of Music at The New School. Prepscholar specifically praises Colburn for the quality program it built so quickly and its focus on performance study.

The Best Schools puts Colburn in the #19 slot for best music schools in the country, just below Minnesota’s McNally Smith College of Music and above the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles. For The Best Schools, Colburn stands out with its comprehensive curriculum and competitive program.

As this small sample indicates, Colburn has developed a reputation as a first-class conservatory. But perhaps the most impressive part is how the school has done it in just two decades, beating out other schools that have existed for over a century. The future looks bright for both Colburn and its graduates.

Notable Alumni of Colburn

In addition to factors such as faculty and resources, the surest sign of quality in a music school is the success of its graduates. And on that note, Colburn stands second to none.

You may not know the name, but you have likely heard the music of composer and pianist Kris Bowers

After graduating from Colburn in 2006, Bowers became one of the most in-demand composers working in popular culture. In addition to scoring hit shows such as Dear White People and Bridgerton, Bowers has collaborated with top artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Member of the award-winning jazz ensemble Black Note, Eric Reed began studying at Colburn when he was just 11 years old. 

Through Colburn, Reed forged a friendship with the legendary trumpeter Wynton Marselis, with whom he would later tour. From that point, Reed has cut Billboard-charting albums and toured the world, including stints with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

This small sample speaks to the quality and range of Colburn’s graduates. Surely, they are at the forefront of the modern music scene.

What Are the Available Music Majors at Colburn?

The average music school offers a wide range of majors for students, with subjects such as composition or voice performance. But Colburn is not an average music school. Instead, the school decides to focus its resources and offer only classical performance and conducting majors, ensuring that students become true masters of their subjects.

While pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree, students spend four years becoming highly skilled musicians. 

In addition to courses in music theory, ear training, and more, students also participate in numerous performance opportunities, including solo recitals during their junior and senior years. 

But as a full-fledged liberal arts degree, students also take classes in the humanities, preparing them for a career as musicians or in any other field.

Finally, future conductors can participate in Colburn’s Negaunee Conducting Program. Under the direction of conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, fellows prepare to work in the Colburn Orchestra, as well as the Zipper Outreach orchestra. 

With a combination of classes, lectures, and performance opportunities, fellows leave ready to lead some of the best orchestras and ensembles in the world.

Should You Apply to the Colburn School?

When looking at only a 10% chance of getting accepted, some may think it’s not worth applying to the Colburn School. And with good reason. At that rate, even excellent musicians are more likely to be denied than accepted.

However, such a decision must be examined in light of all Colburn offers. If you’re interested in performance or conducting, it’s hard to think of a better program, as Colburn focuses only on those topics. 

And when one considers the quality of alumni who have gone through these programs, it’s impossible to argue that they aren’t effective.

Furthermore, thanks to its Los Angeles location, Colburn has connections that only a few schools can best, allowing its students to work with some of the most excellent musicians and conductors in the world.

Do those facts make the odds any better? Sadly, no.

But there’s no better choice for the serious musician who wants to spend the rest of their lives pursuing their passions.

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