Application Deadlines are near

Application Deadlines Coming Soon!

The deadline for applications is drawing near. If you are interested in applying to the UI School of Music, please review the steps outlined below.

GRADUATE APPLICANTS: December 1 Deadline to Apply for Fall 2011
To apply, please complete the requirements below:

  1. Complete the Graduate Application to the University of Illinois (; submit this additional information with the Application:
  • Personal Statement
  • Transcripts (electronically submit scanned official copies)
  • 3 Letters of Recommendations
  • Resume or CV
  • Program Specific: Writing Samples (Musicology and Theory applicants only); Repertoire List (Performance applicants only)

2. Complete the School of Music Application (

Should you have specific questions about the application process, please contact the Music Admissions Office (; 217.244.7899).


FRESHMEN APPLICANTS: January 2 Deadline to Apply for Fall 2011

TRANSFER APPLICANTS: March 1 Deadline to Apply for Fall 2011

To apply, please complete the requirements below:

  1. Complete the Undergraduate Application to the University of Illinois (; submit this additional information with the Application:
  • High School Transcripts
  • ACT or SAT score

2.  Complete the School of Music Application (

Should you have specific questions about the application process, please contact the Music Admissions Office (; 217.244.7899).


Financial Aid for Music Applicants – Our First Guest Post

Today we have our first guest post from Ryan O’Mealey, Associate Director for admissions at the Beinen School of Music – Northwestern University. I would like to publically thank Ryan for taking the time to share his extensive knowledge of financial aid with us. If you would like more information about Ryan or Northwestern, you can email them at or visit their website:

In my position as Associate Director of Music Admission at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, I have the pleasure of handling both applications and acting as the financial aid counselor for our incoming class of musicians each year.  I’ve seen students take out hundreds of thousands in student loan debt with no way to pay it back, and I’ve also seen those who never needed a loan because they laid the groundwork ahead of time by maximizing every resource available.

The truth is that musicians have more scholarship dollars available to them than almost any other major – you just have to know where to look, and what to look for.

Need vs. Merit

The most important step you should take is to find out what financial aid system is being used by the colleges/universities to which you are applying.  Do they award scholarships based on your audition (merit-based)?  Or is it based on your family income (need-based)?   Or do they use both systems?

Knowing this will help you to make an informed decision about finances.  For example, a need-based scholarship award has nothing to do with how well you played in your audition, or how your college essay was written.  Need-based aid fills in any gap between what your family can pay and how much it costs to attend that school – which is comforting for those who have been adversely affected by the current US economy.  Merit-based aid, however, rewards your hard work leading up to the audition.  Practicing hard and really focusing on your audition for a merit-based school will not only help you to get in, but will also increase your chances of earning a merit-based scholarship.  Most major music programs in the United States offer substantial merit-based aid, but you have to work hard to get it!

Pay attention to your financial aid awards, and if you aren’t sure if they are based on merit or need, contact that school’s financial aid office.

Go get your own money

Did you know that in the United States, over $4 million in scholarships go unclaimed each year, simply because no one applied for them??  Going to college is the most important decision you will ever make, so why are you just hoping someone else will pick up the bill?  If you are waiting for the financial aid office to find ways to pay for your education, you are in for a long wait.  There are thousands of musicians just like you who are calling that office and asking for the same thing you are – more money.  So take matters into your own hands and go get your own money!  Even a $500 scholarship from a local organization helps – that’s $500 you didn’t have to come up with before.

A quick web search can help you locate resources for musicians.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Online Education Database

American Federation of Musicians

The National Association for Music Education

The ASCAP foundation

But don’t stop there!  There are thousands of organizations that award scholarships based on different criteria.  Some are competitions, some ask you for an essay, and some are reserved for women, minority groups, first-time college goers, etc.  Search engines like and allow you to put in everything about you and your activities, and then they do the searching for you!

Loans are your friends

Last but not least, remember that student loans are not the enemy.  The United States has some of the most accessible and progressive options for college financing in the world, and federal student loans are among the lowest interest rates you will ever find.

Imagine that you walk into a bank and ask for a loan.  You’re 17 years old, you have no down payment, own no property or assets, have no reliable income, and you want not only a 6% interest rate but you want to have 20-30 years to pay it off, and you want them to give you 5 ½ years to even start paying it back.  Bank security would probably escort you outside after hearing this, right?

But this is exactly what the US government is offering you to help get your education.  Student loans are among the lowest interest rates around, and they offer multiple repayment options.  For some loans, the government even pays the interest for you until 6 months after you graduate!  You’ll never get that kind of a deal from a bank.

Make friends with the financial aid office

Since every school is different, you want to get to know the correct processes and procedures for the schools to which you are applying.  Start early – waiting until the last minute might mean you’ve missed out on all the available money.  Find out what their deadlines are and stick to them.  If you miss a deadline and don’t get any financial aid, there’s no one to blame but yourself!

Be proactive about your financial aid ahead of time means you spend less time worrying about money and more time practicing to be the best musician you can be!

Meeting of the Minds

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is talking about you? Yeah . . . that would be us.

This weekend, the admissions directors of many of the top schools of music will be meeting in Seattle. It is a time for us to discuss ideas about recruitment and admissions and also get to know each other better.

This year, we will be discussing topics such as minority recruitment, the value of college fairs and online recruitment efforts. So here is a question for all of you reading: if you had the admissions directors from schools such as Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Manhattan and USC, what would you ask? Leave your thoughts in the comments. I plan to bring up any issues with my colleagues and will certainly let you know what they think.

The Faculty Are Coming, The Faculty Are Coming!

Michael Cameron, double bass professor

Michael Cameron, double bass professor

I’ve said before that school visits are the best way to get to know a school. If you are unable to make it to campus, however, consider seeing if we are coming to you. The Music Admissions Office at Illinois works hard to provide a comprehensive calendar of what events are faculty are involved in and where the will be performing.

As an example, our double bass instructor, Michael Cameron, recently took his bass quartet to Libertyville High School in the Chicago area. Thanks to Jason Heath for this nice write up.

Over the next few months, you can see the Illinois Brass Quintet in Texas, Professor Louis Bergonzi conducting the Nebraska All-State Orchestra, Oboe professor John Dee performing in Florida and Georgia, and Professor Nathan Gunn in the Los Angeles Opera production of The Magic Flute.

Have you ever had a chance to see a faculty member perform? What was the experience like? Let us know in the comments.

Preparing for Mediocrity: The Myth of the Fallback Major

When I began looking at schools 12 years ago, I wanted to be a songwriter. When filling out info cards, I would mark Composition – Theory as my primary area of interest (Free tip of the day: Composition – Theory is NOT songwriting!) When I finally applied to school, I applied for both Composition and Music Education. Why? Because I was scared that I would not make it as a songwriter and I wanted to be able to pay the bills.

After school, I taught for one year and quickly learned that I was not a teacher.

Music is an uncertain field, I understand that. When the question of what to do with a music degree comes up, the answer is usually pretty vague. This is not because of a lack of jobs in the field, but rather because they are not well-defined.  Look at your typical jazz musician. During the day, they may teach privately, do studio recording or any number of other ventures. At night, they gig. They are doing what they love all day, even if its not your typical 9-5 job.

Double majoring will give you a variety of skills, but it will also limit your time to excel in any one area. Consider the student below:

  • Student majors in performance and education – they want to be a performer but also want to make sure they make a living
  • Student starts the semester strong, practicing regularly and excelling in their classes
  • Semester gets busy and deadlines start to take the place of practicing
  • Next semester, student drops to one ensemble to make more time for class work
  • Lessons continue to go well, but progress is slower as practice time gets more limited
  • After five years, student graduates with both degrees
  • Student auditions but fails to get any paying positions – they are a good musician but not a great one
  • Student finds a teaching job
  • Class is going fine, but student finds they have no passion for teaching
  • Student quits and is forced to either gain more performing experience or move to another field

Obviously, this is a bit of an extreme example, but I have seen this exact sequence of events a number of times. I encourage every student I speak with to decide on the major they have the most love for. You can always change majors if your interests change.

If you have a true passion in two areas and you are willing to work extremely hard, then by all means, do a double major. But don’t do it to put food on the table.

Be encouraged. Most of the music majors that I know have done just fine for themselves, even if  creative. My wife and I were both music majors. She now performs with the Lyric Opera of Chicago chorus and teaches. She loves what she does. I work for the School of Music and interact with music students all day. I also love what I do. Follow your passions and excel at what you do best.

Photo Credit DCE.

Preparing for Mediocrity: The Myth of the Safety School

Is It Really Safe?

When it comes to college, you are not entitled to anything. What makes you think your safety school is safe? Do you study with one of the faculty? Is it close to home? Did your band director go there? While these things may help, none of them is a guarantee. Admissions decisions are based on academic records, auditions and little else. If you decide to apply to a school you consider a safety school, you will be required to work just as hard to prepare the application and audition.

Is It Really Mediocre?

I live in a University town. Very few locals want to attend Illinois. It’s too close to home, their parents are on the faculty or its just too familiar. The truth, however, is that Illinois is a Big 10 University with some of the top programs in the nation. I’m not saying that you need to stay close to home, but you should closely examine your reasons for not considering a school.

Preparing for Excellence

When I was looking for schools, I considered a wide variety of schools. I ended up attending a very small school with a good, but not great, music program (it didn’t even require an audition!) This is not my recommendation to everyone, but if I had written it off early in the process, I never would have had the great experiences I had.

Here is what you should do now:

  • Make a list of schools you are considering
  • Circle the ones that you consider a safety school
  • Make a list of why you think that is the case
  • Do some research
  • If, after honestly examining it, you still think it’s a safety school, cross it off your list
  • Pour yourself into your other applications

I’d be curious to know what the rest of you think. Leave comments below.

Preparing for Mediocrity: The Myth of the Safety School and the Fallback Major

Over the next few days, between traveling, I would like to address two common misconceptions.

Every time I meet a prospective student, I ask what other schools they are interested in. This is not an attempt to scope out the competition, but rather to see if  they are looking at quality programs. Usually, the response will be a short list of schools they like and one safety school. Should they bomb all of their auditions, they assume they be able to attend their safety school as a consolation prize. Typically this will be a school close to home or a lesser known school that they have some connection to.

The second issue is the fallback major. When students start to think about their future, the idea of a music major can be a bit intimidating. This will lead some students to pursue a double major as a fallback to pay the bills. This may be a second music degree, typically in education, or a second major outside of the School of Music.

I believe that both of these ideas are flawed and I plan to discuss my opinions in the next few posts. Until then, I’d like to know your thoughts. Should students apply to a safety school? What makes a good safety school? Is a double major a good idea? Leave your comments below.

. . . and now for something completely different

One thing that I have found with bloggers is that they are a passionate bunch. Thankfully, many of them use this platform to try and encourage people to better themselves. Starting tomorrow, Bob is encouraging people to participate in a 10-day give. The short version is to give something, large or small, to a different person every day for 10 days. It doesn’t have to be stuff, it could also be your time or encouragement. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve found it hard to quickly make a list of 10 people to do this with, and I think that is probably the point. I am looking forward to participating and hope you will consider it too. And I’ll talk about music admissions next time!

Brown Is Beautiful

The beautiful hills of Southern California

The beautiful hills of Southern California

I’m from Southern California, so I’m allowed to mock it a little, right?

I’ve spent the last three days traveling from Palm Springs to Idyllwild to Los Angeles and now I’m in San Francisco. It’s been a fun trip and I’ve enjoyed seeing a lot of friends along the way. Of course, the real reason I’m here is for college fairs.

The first fair was in Idyllwild. For those of you back in my part of the states, the Idyllwild Arts Academy is the Interlochen of the west. It is an excellent boarding school for the arts with a lot of very talented students. The best part about the Idyllwild fair is the drive. Even though Idyllwild is only an hour from Palm Springs, it get snow in the winter because of it’s high altitude. Let’s just say the road is a little windy.

The road to Idyllwild

The road to Idyllwild

Yesterday we had a fair at UCLA in Los Angeles. This is always an excellent fair. The best part about college fairs for me is the chance to meet new people. I really enjoy answering questions and offering advice to students that are just beginning to look at schools. And in answer to the most common question, yes, it snows in Champaign.

The last fair for this trip will be this afternoon in San Francisco. I leave in a few minutes to pick up counselors from other schools as we all try and get to Cheesecake Factory before the fair starts. This is truly the highlight of our trip.

I won’t be travelling again until next weekend, when I’ll be in Chicago and Interlochen. Let me know if I’ll be able to meet you at either of these fairs.

The Idyllwild fair

The Idyllwild fair

Maybe I Don’t Have All The Answers

If you take a tour of the University of Illinois School of Music, you will hear me say the following sentence: “Illinois is a great school, but it’s not the right place for everyone.” When students ask me for advice when choosing a school, I encourage them to look at other schools, examine other options and make the decision that is best for them. If you are looking for other resources to help in your search, I would like to offer some suggestions.

The Juilliard School is one of the most recognizable names in the performing arts world. Their director of admissions, Lee Cioppa, runs an excellent blog and she was kind enough to link to me. I would encourage you to see what they have to say.

The original impetus for creating this site was a blog that I came across by accident. Dean Flagel runs an excellent blog discussing admissions, while occasionally plugging his school, George Mason University. While it’s not specifically about music, there is some very good content here.

Finally, I was reading a post this morning from the “My U Search” blog. In it, Kate Scozzaro offers some great advice on what to ask when you are visiting a school.

On an unrelated topic, my first college fair of the year is in about four hours. I’ll let you know how it goes!