How To Make The Most Of A Performing Arts College Fair

As I said in my last post, college visits are the best way to decide on a school. But what if you can’t visit? Or what if you don’t know which schools you want to see? You need a college fair!

Every fall, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) hosts a number Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs. At these fairs you will find admissions counselors from most of the major schools of music around the US. They will have information about their school and will be available to answer any questions you may have.

Here are a few tips to make the most of a college fair:

Come Prepared

  • Before the fair, make a short list of schools that you are most interested in visiting
  • Make a list of questions that you wish to ask at each school
  • Print a sheet of labels with your information (name, address, phone, email, instrument, year of graduation). These will make filling out cards requesting more information very fast and will also guarantee accuracy.

Come With An Open Mind

After you have stopped at your top choices, it is likely you will have some time left. Look around and see if there are other schools that you had not originally considered. You already have a list of questions to ask; sometimes a school will surprise you.

When I was looking at schools, I used to keep a list of questions by my phone. There was a time when I got a call from a small school and I ran down my list of questions. I was so impressed by their answers that I visited the school. Guess where I decided to attend!

Remember, you are not committing to anything, just getting ready for the choices ahead.

Make An Impression

It’s OK to stand out. You don’t need to be over the top, but if you come prepared and have thoughtful questions, we are more likely to remember you when you apply.

Throughout the next month, both Joyce and I will be traveling around the country. You can see the list of fairs we will be at below (click on the link for times and locations). Please come out and say “Hi”. I will also be posting on this blog about my travel experiences and introducing you to some of the other schools on the road.


3 Steps for the Perfect Music School Visit

Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

The single best way to decide if a school is right for you is to visit, but just like everything in life, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it. Showing up on campus without setting up any events or meetings? Wrong way. Visiting campus on a weekend or during holiday breaks? Only attending a general admissions session without visiting the School of Music? Wrong way. Here are the steps to the perfect college visit:

  1. Schedule a lesson with faculty – As you can imagine, faculty have the least flexibility in their schedule. Because of this, scheduling a lesson with faculty is the best place to start planning your visit. School websites will offer complete listings of faculty and their email addresses (Illinois faculty listing). I encourage you to use email and be persistent if you don’t get a response.
  2. Schedule an information session with the music admissions office – If the school you are visiting has a music admissions office (and most major schools do), they offer information sessions. This typically includes a tour of the School of Music as well as information about applying. It will also give you a chance to meet the admissions staff. These people will be your best resource during the application process. Come prepared with questions.
  3. Ask if there are classes you can observe – Most faculty will welcome prospective students to their classrooms. The music admissions office should be able to provide you with a list of available classes. If one of the classes is particularly interesting to you, email the instructor and ask if you can meet for 10 minutes after class.

The most important thing to remember is that we want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know us. Come with a list of questions. Show that you have prepared for your visit and you’ll be surprised how profitable your time will be. This will likely be your first meeting the faculty who will be hearing your audition and the staff who process your application. Don’t be afraid to make an impression.

Choosing a music school – Faculty

Jonathan Keeble, Professor of Flute, University of Illinois

Jonathan Keeble, Professor of Flute, University of Illinois

The Importance of Faculty

Regardless of your major, the single biggest educational influence during your college years will be your faculty.

Think of your favorite teacher. Now think of the most important things you’ve learned from that teacher. I’m guessing you can make a pretty good list. Now do the same for your least favorite teacher. The list is shorter, maybe even completely empty. Personality and teaching style can directly affect what and how we learn.

Often the importance of individual faculty members is clear to students pursuing performance. You will be spending at least one to two hours every week with this teacher on a one-to-one basis. But the same is also true in other areas. In music education, teachers will observe your teaching, offering valuable feedback and ideas. In composition, you will be taking group and private composition lessons. In history, you will be researching alongside others in your field.

Often, students will choose a school based solely on a faculty member they wish to study with. While this may not always be the wisest idea (faculty members leave, etc), I think it is a very good place to start.

Full-time VS. Adjunct

This debate is often a matter of personal preference. The basic idea is this: full-time faculty are available on a regular basis because their primary career is teaching while adjunct faculty are available sporadically as they balance performing and teaching schedules. This is not to say that full-time faculty do not perform, nor that adjunct faculty do not take their teaching seriously.

Often schools will be composed of primarily one type of faculty or the other. Illinois is almost entirely full-time faculty while the Chicago College for the Performing Arts (Roosevelt University) has primarily adjunct faculty in the major performance areas. While I personally prefer the availability and personal attention of full-time faculty members, there are also advantages to studying with the concert master of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Get To Know Your Faculty

This is the most important part of this post. If I was a better writer, I probably wouldn’t have to tell you that, but I’m not!

Because faculty play such a major role in your education, students should take the time to get to know them before they even apply. Begin with a simple email. Let them know who you are and when you plan to apply. Most faculty truly enjoy getting to know prospective students and will happily answer an email.

Step two involves meeting them. If you are a performer, ask for a lesson (many faculty will do this for free). If you are a composer, ask if you can bring your portfolio. If you can’t visit the school, find out if they are planning a visit to your area. Admissions offices will often be able to help you with these options. For example, Illinois keeps a public calendar of upcoming faculty performances and lectures happening off campus.

I think many of you will be surprised by the positive responses you will receive. The faculty are as eager to get to know you as you are to know them.

Choosing a music school – Majors

I am going to make what, to me, seems an obvious statement. If you have decided on a major, look at schools that offer that major. ONLY look at schools that offer that major. If you call a school and they tell you that they do not have a music business major (or whatever major you have decided on), cross that school off your list.

In addition, don’t be fooled if the school attempts to spin their answer. For example, if you ask me if Illinois offers a musical theatre degree, I could give you one of three answers:

  • “Yes, we have an Open Studies degree option in which you can create a musical theatre program. There are curently a number of students who have taken advantage of this option.”
  • “Yes, but . . .” The “but” in this case is that the School of Music does not produce any musicals. I see this as a major hindrance to a musical theatre program.
  • “No”

All of these answers are true. Answers 2 and 3, however, are also helpful.

The reason I stress this idea so much is that it happens on a regular basis. Some students have already made up their mind as to which school they would like to attend based on other criteria (their parents went there, their friends are going there, they like the school colors, etc). With their mind made up, they gladly overlook the fact that the program they wish to pursue doesn’t actually exist. I encourage all students to carefully examine the schools that interest them.

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

How to choose a music school – Reputation

This series of posts was inspired by the Open House that Illinois hosted on Tuesday. We invited interested juniors and seniors to come and visit classes, sit in on rehearsals and perform in master classes with our faculty. It was a great opportunity for students to get to know us better and it made me think of a question that I wish people would ask me. How do you choose a music school?

The first topic that I would like to cover is often the most common way to choose a school, even if you don’t realize it. When you first started looking for schools what was the first thing you did? More than likely, you asked a lot of questions of people you trusted.  You asked your band or choir director. You asked your friends. You probably didn’t ask your parents, but they told you what they thought anyway. Even before you asked, you probably already had a list in mind. Why? Because of their reputation.

Some schools have particular name recognition.  Juilliard is a household name associated with the performing arts, even for those you know nothing about music.  Berklee College of Music has a reputation for popular music. University of California – Berkley is known for being confused with the other Berklee, until you learn more about schools of music and find out it’s actually known for research and musicology.  Most students looking for schools already have a good idea of the type of schools they want to look at.

Reputation can be very important and I have no intention of telling you that this should not be a major part of your decision.  I do hope, however, that it will not be the only factor.  Over the next few days, we will also be discussing curriculum options, private instruction, location and school visits. Let me know what you consider important when choosing a college in the comments.

The Beginning

I signed up for this blog almost a month ago. For the first two weeks, I put it off because I felt like no one was interested in school over the summer. Since then, I’ve just had a hard time getting started. I’m human, I like to procrastinate, and that is actually one of the reasons that I am writing now.

The goal of this blog is to provide prospective college music majors with a little help. College admissions can be confusing, music admissions even more so. I have been a student, both undergraduate and graduate, and now an administrator.  I have been both admitted and denied to schools. I have switched majors. I have switched degrees. I have experienced many of the same things with my friends. I am by no means an expert, but I am a real person, and I’d like to be able to help in any way I can.

In all, I have three goals for this blog:

  • To help in the music admissions process, answering commonly asked questions and providing insight from the other side of the application
  • To give a face to the admissions process, proving that we are real people and allowing you to get to know us a little better
  • To provide prospective students with more information about the University of Illinois School of Music (where I work) and also provide a forum to discuss other schools of music

I will be writing as much as I can over the next few months. I intend to discuss some of the most asked questions, but also lend my personal insight. I’d like to bring you with me as I travel around the country and allow you to see what I see. Soon, I hope to invite other schools to join in the discussion and give their perspective on a broader range of options.  I certainly don’t claim to be the best writer in the world, but I hope that what you find here is helpful.

Finally, I would like to encourage you to get involved. Although I work for the University of Illinois, I welcome questions from everyone, regardless of where you may be interested in studying. If you would like some help with the admissions process, I would strongly encourage you to come back often or subscribe using one of the links at the side. I would love to receive any comments on my posts and would welcome questions either in the comments section or by email ( If you have a topic you would like to see covered on this blog, let me know as well. I am looking forward to getting to know you and hope you will keep coming back.