Established in 1884, the Thornton School of Music is LA’s oldest continually operating arts institution.
With its combination of well-worn conservatory-style education and a progressive approach that awards innovation, the Thornton School pushes toward the future by building on the foundation of the past.
This approach has earned the school high praise from nearly every ranking organization, which regularly puts the school among the top ten in the nation.
Thornton offers degrees in twenty disciplines, raninging from well-established genres such as classical and early music (one of the few American schools to offer a degree in the latter) to modern musical concerns, becoming one of the world’s first schools with a music industry degree.
Students at Thornton take advantage of the school’s numerous theaters and performance halls. The school’s pride is Bovard Auditorium, a 1235-seat performance space over 100 years old. The grand space connects performers to the school’s history, even as they play music of the future.
USC Thornton School of Music Acceptance Rate
The overall Thornton School of Music acceptance rate is approximately 20%.
Some programs, like popular music, have a much lower acceptance rate. Some years, the acceptance rate into popular music at USC is less than 5%.
As one of the nation’s best music schools, Thornton receives thousands of applications each year. And while we might wish that everyone could get the chance to study at Thornton, the fact is that most get turned away.
In fact, even the most welcoming programs accept only two out of every ten applicants, with several programs taking in only one out of twenty applicants.
That can certainly be frightening, but Thornton’s acceptance rates are the standard for schools of its quality.
The School of Music at the University of North Texas accepts just 15% of its applicants, while Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has an acceptance rate of just 12%. As these numbers show, low acceptance rates are simply part of working with top-rated schools.
No one applying to music schools wants to hear that fact. We’d all like to think that the hard work of filling out applications and gathering materials would, more often than not, pay off with a letter of acceptance. But it’s hard to have a great music program without a low acceptance rate.
The reason for this requirement is simple.
By accepting only a small percentage of applicants, Thornton makes sure that they’re getting the best possible musicians.
Thus, students at Thornton not only learn their craft alongside other first-class musicians, but the low acceptance rates make for small class sizes, ensuring more opportunities for individual sessions with faculty.
So while low acceptance rates require more work from applicants, they also make schools like Thornton worth the effort.
USC Thornton School of Music GPA
While USC Thornton does not explicitly state the actual GPA students need for admission, a good rule of thumb for music programs in prestigious universities is at least a 3.5.
It is true that Thornton, like most major music programs in the US, prioritizes musicianship over academic success. That being said, most students accepted are not only phenomenal musicians but also excellent academic students.
At first glance, it seems ridiculous for a music school like Thornton to care about an applicant’s GPA. After all, if you can play Mozart’s Horn Concertos, what does it matter if you can find the square root of 82?
But when a school like Thornton examines one’s GPA, they’re not looking at knowledge as much as they are looking at effort.
Students who attend high-level music schools like Thornton may prefer to practice their scales instead of doing their history homework, but Thornton is still a school and, therefore, still hard work.
Even when a class involves something about which students are passionate, their teachers will still demand a lot of time and effort.
When admissions counselors look at an applicant’s GPA, they’re gauging how well that student can handle the workload placed upon them.
Anyone who can earn As and Bs in school while also staying on top of their instrument practice and other daily concerns can certainly handle Thornton’s demands.
For that reason, it shouldn’t be surprising that the overwhelming majority of Thornton students have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. These students remain devoted to their craft and their commitment to excellence.
GPAs are also important because they help the school maintain its reputation. When outlets such as U.S. News & World Report put together their yearly rankings, they consider the grade averages earned by their students.
Is Thornton a Good Music School? USC Thornton Ranking
Yes, Thornton is among the best music schools in the US.
As seen earlier, a music school program’s quality can be determined partly by its low acceptance rate. By that metric, Thornton’s popular music program is one of the best, as it has a has an incredibly low 5% (or so) acceptance rate. Any program that can turn down the overwhelming majority of those who want to join can clearly take in only the very best in the field.
Part of that quality also stems from Thornton’s associations, including those with the world-famous Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In addition to providing collaboration and performance opportunities with the LA Phil, several of USC’s faculty members play in the orchestra.
Thanks to these connections, teachers can give their students unprecedented access and experience with some of the world’s best performers.
Unsurprisingly, these connections mean that USC boasts some of the greatest masters of their respective instruments.
Jazz Studies teacher Peter Erskine has played on more than 700 albums and scores, earning ten Grammy nominations and winning twice. His scores for productions of Shakespeare works have earned him Best Original Music awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and the Bay Area Drama Critics Circle.
Erskin’s colleague in the Jazz Studies program Bob Mintzer serves as the Bowen H. “Buzz” and Barbara M. McCoy Endowed Chair. The author of several books on saxophone, Mintzner won the 2001 Grammy Award for large ensemble recording. Mintzer has played with many of the greatest musicians in the genre, serving as a longtime member of the fusion supergroup the Yellowjackets.
Notable Alumni of USC Thornton
As impressive as all of these elements certainly are, the true evidence of a music school’s quality can be found in the musicians it produces. By that account, Thornton is second to none.
The average person may not know the name Ludwig Göransson, but they have certainly heard his music.
The Acadamy Award-winning composer and producer has worked on television programs such as Community and The Mandalorian and on films including Black Panther and Tenet.
Collaborations with rapper Childish Gambino have earned Göransson further praise, including a Grammy award for his production on the track “This Is America.”
After graduating from Thornton, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne went on to an illustrious opera career. Horne has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Fransisco Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and many more.
Her work has earned her the highest possible honors, such as multiple Grammies, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2021, the National Medal of Arts, and Kennedy Center Honors.
Thornton was also responsible for training Jazz Studies major Jason Goldman, known professionally as Spicy G. Most famous for writing and producing Michael Buble’s hit song “Nobody But Me,” Goldman has also performed with Terrence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and many more.
As this brief survey indicates, USC Thornton well deserves its reputation as an excellent music school.
What Are the Available Music Majors at USC Thornton?
As these exemplary alumni demonstrate, students at Thornton have big shoes to fill. Fortunately, the school gives them plenty of opportunities to prove their worth, thanks to its many excellent majors.
Those with a passion for strings, brass, and other time-honored instruments can earn a classical performance degree at Thornton.
Working alongside some of the best musicians in the world, those pursuing a classical performance degree learn not only mastery of their instrument but also the fundamentals of performance, preparing to connect with their audience in the most invigorating manner.
Likewise, performance emphasis in the school’s Jazz Studies major covers everything from theory and history to performance and collaboration. Under the tutelage of world-class musicians, students learn how to write the next chapter in the story of this purely American genre.
For those passionate about more contemporary forms of music, Thornton has majors that keep students up-to-date with the latest pop trends. The popular music major surveys all the cutting-edge forms of music, building off a foundation of classical and jazz.
The music industry major teaches students how to become entrepreneurs who defend musicians’ artistic principles while also navigating today’s business world.
The music technology major trains the producers of tomorrow to use the studio as their instrument, creating new soundscapes in collaboration with performers.
Should You Apply to USC Thornton School of Music?
In short, yes – you absolutely should apply to the Univesity of Southern California to study at the Thornton School of Music. By nearly every metric, Thornton is one of the best music schools in the world, fully equipped to create the next generation of musical masters.
But of course, many people will not apply to Thornton, and it’s not hard to see why. Some programs, such as its popular music major, have an acceptance rate of just 5%. Even at its most generous, Thornton programs overall have a low acceptance rate of 20%.
In other words, most of those who apply to Thornton will be rejected. All that hard work of applying will come to nothing for most people.
Even then, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t worth a shot.
Thornton’s faculty consists of true living legends, people who push the medium forward while keeping alive some of the best-loved works of all time.
Its alumni include those who make the most exciting and popular music of our generation and masters who will never be forgotten. Thornton has majors ready to support every interest and passion, every taste and exploration.
To attend Thornton is to be fully equipped to become a musical legend yourself. It’s an opportunity to hone your skills alongside the best in the nation, gleaning knowledge from the best musicians of the previous generation.
So while chances are, you will be rejected from USC Thornton, if there’s even a possibility of acceptance, even an outside chance to be counted among these luminaries, you have to take the shot and apply to Thornton.