If you are a high school student with a strong passion for music, then you may be looking to apply to colleges that offer high-quality music programs.
Whether you are interested in pursuing a career in music performance, education, academia, or any other field under the broad umbrella category of music, it is essential to thoroughly research different schools to compare and contrast what each has to offer its music students.
Selecting a college that offers professional-level conservatories, rigorous training opportunities, and world-class instruction from faculty members who are leading experts in their field is essential to boosting your chances of succeeding within the music profession.
Currently ranked #9 according to US News and World Report’s annual list of the best universities in the United States, Northwestern University is a highly-esteemed private college located in Evanston, IL, just an hour outside of Chicago.
In addition to numerous graduate and professional programs, the university is also home to six different undergraduate colleges offering degree programs in various areas. One of these is the Bienen School of Music, named in honor of Northwestern University’s former president Henry Bienen and his wife, Leigh.
Being a part of the prestigious Northwestern University, it is no surprise that the Bienen School of Music is also well-revered, giving music students a vast array of stellar programs to choose from. Read on to learn more about what Northwestern’s Bienen School has to offer, how to get into this elite music college, its various rankings, and much more.
Bienen School of Music Acceptance Rate
Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music acceptance rate is, depending on the year, likely between 10% – 20%.
According to their website, they receive 2,000 applications a year for the music program for a class size of only 200. This doesn’t mean it’s a 10% acceptance rate, as some students accepted to Bienen may choose to attend another school.
What it does mean, however, is that Bienen’s admissions process has to be extremely selective, since space in each class is so limited.
Consider, for the sake of comparison, the average acceptance rate for all universities in the country. At roughly 66%— over six times Bienen’s acceptance rate — the majority of colleges in the country accept nearly two-thirds of applicants.
Do not let the relatively low acceptance rate discourage you from applying to the Bienen School of Music — there are many different things college admissions officials look for in prospective students, so there are a lot of different ways to earn acceptance to the school.
For example, the Bienen application process requires that students complete either the Common Application or the Coalition Application, both of which include a brief personal essay response.
Through the required essay, students are allowed to showcase aspects of who they are as a person, a musician, and a student that the rest of the application may not reflect.
Bienen School of Music GPA
While Northwestern has not published the average GPA of entering students for the Bienen School of Music, based on our experience with past students accepted to Northwestern, the minimum GPA for most admitted candidates is at least 3.7.
Although this is a relatively high standard to meet, students who have earned less-than-perfect grades shouldn’t worry too much about their chances of being accepted to the school. In addition to GPA, musical proficiency is essential for acceptance, such as the audition.
Students who are concerned about their low GPA or want to stand out from other applicants should ensure that their audition recordings are high-quality to communicate their musical ability to Bienen’s admissions department effectively.
Furthermore, it is strongly recommended that students select an audition piece that does not exceed their level of skill, but rather a piece they can play with complete mastery, beauty, and confidence.
Because Bienen’s approach to undergraduate music education emphasizes the importance of professional conservatory-level musical training and academic study in broader subject areas, both are considered in the school’s admissions decision-making process.
As a result, students who want to attend this prestigious music college should strive to work hard both in the classroom and in the practice room.
Is Bienen a Good Music School? Bienen School of Music Ranking
Yes, Bienen is among the best music schools in the entire world.
According to a 2022 ranked list by Niche, Northwestern University is the fourth best college for majoring in music in the United States. This places Bienen above even world-famous schools like Juilliard, for example.
The school features state-of-the-art facilities, including 134 practice rooms, the large Pick-Staiger Concert Hall — which serves as both an event venue and a classroom — and more.
In addition, Northwestern’s Music Library is one of the largest in the country, with a broad collection of over 300,000 books, recordings, sheet music, and other archival materials.
The school’s more than 120 faculty members include many accomplished composers, performers, and scholars, including numerous members of the elite Chicago Symphony.
According to the music magazine LedgerNote, the Chicago Symphony is the second-best orchestra in the world and the very best in the United States.
Therefore, Bienen’s close relationship with this highly-regarded group is quite an advantage for students. On top of that, the school has similar connections to the esteemed Lyric Opera of Chicago.
For students who may be interested in double majoring in music and another academic subject, Bienen is an especially great choice of music school.
Students who choose a dual degree or double major program are able to earn two bachelor’s degrees with just one additional year of study, for a total of 5 years.
Notable Alumni of Northwestern’s School of Music
Originally called the Conservatory of Music, Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music began in 1873, making it one of the country’s oldest degree-granting colleges for music.
Since the college was established, Bienen has produced a large number of talented graduates who went on to become prominent figures in the music industry.
Notable Bienen School of Music alumni include the likes of Kay Davis, a jazz singer whose soprano vocals can be heard in 1940s records by Duke Ellington, with whom she regularly performed.
The school can boast of having multiple Grammy-award-winning alumni, such as Arnie Roth, music director and principal conductor for the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra, and Steve Rodby, jazz bassist and producer.
Bienen alums are also successful on the silver screen. For one, there is Mary Beth Peil, singer and actress whose repertoire includes numerous Broadway performances, television appearances in popular shows like Dawson’s Creek, and prominent roles with the Metropolitan Opera, the Minnesota Opera, the New York City Opera, and much more.
In the theatre, there is Jenny Powers, Broadway actress known for her stellar performances in productions such as Grease and Little Women. Sheldon Harnick, the esteemed lyricist for musicals whose past work includes Fiddler on the Roof, studied at Bienen.
Many Bienen alumni have held leadership positions, like Andrew Mason, founder and former CEO of Groupon, Eastman School of Music former president Howard Hanson, and former President of the American Guild of Organists Frederick Swann.
What Are the Available Music Majors at Bienen School of Music?
Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music awards three different kinds of undergraduate degrees: the Bachelor of Arts in Music, Bachelor of Science in Music, and the Bachelor of Music.
The former two are degree programs that provide a complete liberal arts education with a focus on music studies.
The music bachelor’s is intended for students who want to focus more extensively on the study of musical performance. Bienen’s BM major offerings include classical performance, jazz performance, voice & opera, and many related areas of study like music education, music theory, and composition.
Students in this program receive challenging academic coursework and instruction, in addition to rigorous technical training and many performance opportunities, which provide an excellent, well-rounded musical education.
The BS and BA degree programs offer two degrees to choose from: music studies and ad hoc.
Students who choose the music studies degree can concentrate on a specific area, like musicology, music cognition, or music technology.
Intended to allow students to pursue music and another field they are passionate about, the ad hoc degree is a dual-degree program available only as a second major. This can include any academic subject area the student desires from among the many offered at Northwestern.
Should You Apply to Northwestern University Bienen School of Music?
There are a plethora of factors to take into consideration when deciding which music schools you should apply to, but Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music is certainly a strong option for many different reasons.
For one, Bienen offers small class sizes, which are instructed by the school’s large, distinguished faculty. With an undergraduate enrollment of around 425 students and a faculty of 125, the student-to-faculty ratio at Bienen is just 3.4, making it a great music school for those who prefer a tight-knit, intimate classroom environment.
Bienen is also known for hosting a large number of highly anticipated events, such as theatre performances, concerts, and other music-related events. One of these is NUNC, or the Northwestern University New Music Conference.
First held in 2014, NUNC is a large conference where performers, musical scholars, composers, and other industry leaders gather at Bienen to participate in panel discussions and workshops and attend concerts.
Held every few years, NUNC is a highly-anticipated series of events and one of the leading conferences for new music in the United States.
On top of getting to attend events like NUNC, the small class sizes, and the world-class academic programs, another perk of attending Bienen is its location.
Situated right on the beautiful Lake Michigan, yet also less than an hour from downtown Chicago, Evanston is a fantastic town to go to college in.
The Bienen campus is within walking distance of many great restaurants, perfect for students who want to enjoy the lively, bustling community atmosphere. When in need of a peaceful nature retreat, students can take advantage of the many hiking trails, kayak tours, bike paths, and beaches the coastal area has to offer.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine if you should apply to Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, but there is no doubt that it is a fantastic music school to attend.