A private conservatory located in Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music was established in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, who named the school for newspaper magnate father, Cyrus Curtis.
Originally, the school helped underprivileged children in South Philadephia, who showed musical aptitude but lacked the funds to expand upon their talent.
Over the nearly 100 years that followed, Curtis has gone on to train some of the greatest conductors and players in the world.
Curtis grads have won nearly every major recognition, including Pulitzer Prizes and Guggenheim Fellowships.
Alumni have played important stages around the globe and with some of the most respected groups, including the Vienna Staatsoper and the San Francisco Opera
Today, the school continues that proud tradition, thanks to outstanding faculty such as Composer in Residence Tania León, who recently received a Kennedy Center Honor, to go along with her Pulitzer Prize.
Recent students have won major jobs in orchestras. 2016 graduate Will Chow joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2022 as a cellist, as has 2022 graduate Takumi Taguchi, a violinist. As these additions reveal, Curtis shows no sign of slowing down.
Part of this success can be attributed to the excellent resources Curtis offers to its students. In addition to its many practice spaces, Curtis features the Field Concert Hall. This 240-seat auditorium features fine-tuned acoustics as well as a 116-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ. Even better, Field Concert Hall is well-equipped for video and audio recording, allowing students to build a portfolio of their best shows.
Curtis Acceptance Rate
The acceptance rate into Curtis is 2%.
One reason the acceptance rate is so low is that all accepted students get a full-tuition scholarship to attend.
Another reason is that it is perhaps the most prestigious music school in the world.
We won’t beat around the bush. Even among elite music schools, Curtis has an extremely low acceptance rate. In contrast, the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University has an acceptance rate of 12%. Even the Julliard School comes in higher at 7%.
To put this in perspective, a 2% acceptance rate means that for every 50 students who apply, 49 get rejected. Simply put, nearly everybody who applies to study Curtis will get rejected.
These numbers are discouraging, without question. It takes a lot to apply to a school, and we all want to believe that the hard work would pay off with an acceptance letter. But the fact of the matter is that most who want to join the student body at Curtis will not get the chance.
As difficult as that fact may be, there are also many benefits to attending a school with a low acceptance rate.
The first are those discussed above, the facts that Curtis covers the cost of tuition for every student and that attending a highly selective school sets students apart from their peers.
Furthermore, a low acceptance rate means the student body at Curtis is quite small. With smaller class sizes, those who do attend are guaranteed more attention from the school’s first-class instructors. And with that greater attention comes more opportunities to succeed.
Curtis Institute of Music GPA
Because GPA is not the most important factor for admission into Curtis, accepted students can have a GPA as low as 2.0.
In lieu of grades, Curtis evaluates students on their musical talent and potential. Every student must pass an audition on their primary instrument for admission. Many students will have to pass the pre-screen recording phase just to be invited for an audition.
Additionally, at Curtis, auditions for some instruments happen in multiple rounds. Students can be invited for callbacks after passing the first round of auditions and end up doing a second audition for the school.
Some majors – like composition – will have to successfully interview with the faculty and take an exam as part of admission. No matter how you slice it, admission to Curtis is incredibly difficult as the level of ability has to be unbelievably high for admission.
Despite the fact that Curtis doesn’t put a real emphasis on grades, a higher GPA will be more beneficial to your application than a low one. This is true not because grades have any bearing on your ability to play your instrument, but because they speak to your work ethic.
College is hard work, especially at an elite school like Curtis. Anyone who can maintain a decent grade point average in high school and keep up on their music practice can handle the demands that will be placed upon them at Curtis, and thus will have a stronger application.
What Is Curtis’ Ranking?
Curtis is perhaps the best music school in the world, with some publications giving it the #1 ranking.
You might be looking at the above information and wonder why anyone would bother to apply to Curtis if the odds of acceptance are so low. The answer is simple: Curtis is one of the world’s best music schools.
The school builds its reputation first with its excellent faculty, which includes some of the greatest musicians in the world.
Voice and opera teacher Stefano Baldasseroni has taught diction for productions of La bohème, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and others. He has worked with the Manhattan School of Music, the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, and the Santa Fe Opera. He brings to Curtis not only his experience as a teacher across the globe but also stints at the Juilliard School and the Shepherd School at Rice University.
Before coming to Curtis, composition and performance major Jonathan Bailey Holland served with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the South Bend Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, and others. He has been given nearly every major honor for a composer, including those from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, and many more.
It is people like these that help make Curtis as prestigious as it is.
Notable Alumni of The Curtis Institute of Music
Even more than the instructors, the reputation of the Curtis Institute rests on the achievements of its alumni. And by that measure, it’s easy to see why Curtis ranks so high on most lists.
Violinist Karina Canellakis graduated from Curtis in 2004, immediately going on to serve in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchester-Akademie from 2005 to 2007.
Since then, Cenellakis has performed with and conducted the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and other respected orchestras.
In 2020, Cenellakis was appointed as the new principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the first woman to hold the position.
Before joining the acoustic quintet the Punch Brothers, Paul Kowert studied at Curtis until 2009. The double bassist won a Grammy Award while playing with the group and has also performed with Gillian Welch and the folk supergroup Hawktail. Kowert credits Curtis for his success, building in him a love of experimentation and collaboration.
Any school would be proud to have just these two alumni among its graduates, but they are just two of the many greats who trained at Curtis. Even those who are not household names have become professional musicians playing on the finest stages in the world.
What Are the Available Music Majors at Curtis?
With its smaller student body and strong focus, Curtis limits its majors to classical music, with some offered in theory and composition. No matter which subject students wish to study, they must go through a rigorous audition process in their chosen major.
Following the department’s “learn by doing” approach, majors studying strings, brass, or other classical instruments work closely with Curtis’s faculty members.
The program emphasizes performance, with the expectation that students prepare solo, orchestral, and chamber pieces to be presented as part of the Student Recital Series.
In addition to performance and musical studies classes, students also take liberal arts courses, ensuring that they become well-rounded musicians.
Future conductors will find much to learn at Curtis, thanks to its heavily-endowed conducting major. Those accepted as Rita E. Hauser Conducting Fellows receive mentorship from Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
They have ample opportunity to develop their skills in real-world situations, not only by conducting concerts performed by Curtis students and through residencies with partner orchestras.
Should You Apply to Curtis?
There’s no easy way to say this. If you apply to Curtis, you will probably get rejected. The school’s 2% acceptance rate is one of the lowest in the world, and only a very small handful of the thousands who apply make it in.
But if you are truly serious about your art, and if you have the talent and dedication, you have to at least try.
On a practical level, Curtis offers some of the greatest possible benefits for those who wish to become professional musicians, including access to training from some of the best working performers of our time and completely free tuition.
However, that’s not enough to justify the rigor and potential heartbreak that comes when applying to Curtis.
Going to this school means not just that you’re great at your instrument, but that you are among the best in the world. It means dedicating your entire life to becoming a true master of the craft.
Obviously, very few people in the world will ever be able to reach such a height. But if you don’t even apply, then you’ll never know if you could be one of them.