Archive for the ‘admissions’ Tag

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.

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.

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.