CS Music Recruiting works with hundreds of schools, admission officers, and university faculty. We recently spoke with two leaders in the field to ask them their advice for prospective students and their parents. Bobby Schrader is the Assistant Director of Admissions at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Fred Peterbark is Assistant Dean at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
CS: What type of preparation should a high school sophomore or junior be doing?
Schrader: In addition to starting to research schools and programs that fit their goals and aspirations, high school sophomores and juniors should participate in as many performance activities as they can so that they can start building their portfolios and repertoire selections. This is really the time for these students to be getting as much experience as possible, not only for their auditions, but also to allow them to try different things and determine their personal and professional goals.
Peterbark: First and foremost, students should work to achieve high marks academically in all courses. Developing overall music literacy (music theory and keyboard skills) is also very important. As you visit colleges, ask to sit in on a private lesson or potentially have a sample lesson. Consider the skills and experience you need to pursue the career you want, and then consider the schools and the programs/environments they would provide for those needed skills and experience.
CS: What experience is needed for a performance major?
Schrader: Speaking specifically for Boston Conservatory at Berklee, while we do not require a specific number of years of experience for performance majors, we do recommend that students have at least a baseline of technique in their primary instrument or performance area so that they are familiar with the art form and the type of repertoire required for their auditions. We always recommend that students review the audition requirements to determine their preparedness level for auditions.
Peterbark: As I said before, music literacy is so important—music theory and keyboard skills. Additionally, other keys include good basic technique, time management skills, self-motivation, and confidence & persistence.
CS: For a student picking a school, what are the most important points to consider?
Schrader: First and foremost, students should consider different types of schools, including conservatory programs, liberal arts colleges, and large universities. Doing so will help the student to select the environment that makes most sense for their college experience and their artistic training. For example, at Boston Conservatory, students are surrounded by artists, and can expect small, intimate class sizes. Students should also consider location when choosing a school: do you envision yourself in a campus environment, or an urban environment?
Secondly, students should consider the types of programs and offerings at each school, and how these programs can help them to prepare for their future professional careers. Students will want to inquire about the types of classes they can expect to take and will want to review information about each school’s alumni and what types of careers and lives they are leading.
Finally, students will want to consider the atmosphere of the schools they are considering. Do you feel welcome by the faculty and staff? Are the students supportive of one another? Can you envision yourself succeeding here? If it’s possible for the student, they should attend campus tours, whether in person or virtually, of all of the schools they wish to apply to so that they can get a sense of the atmosphere.
Peterbark: Simply stated, find a school that is the best fit for YOU. You need to factor in environment, geography, programs, finances—all of those and whatever else is important to you.
CS: From an admissions’ perspective, what are you looking for from an applicant?
Schrader: In addition to a student’s artistic talent, Boston Conservatory also looks for passion, potential, and the ability to grow in their selected program. Part of our training includes helping students to identify their own unique identities as artists, and so we look for students who will succeed in this environment and have thought about how our program and training can help them to achieve their goals.
Peterbark: We want someone we believe will be successful in the program.
CS: How many schools should a serious performance major apply to?
Schrader: While the number of schools a prospective performance major applies to is entirely up to them, many admissions counselors would generally advise applying to at least two schools, as it’s incredibly important for students to consider multiple options for their college experience.
Peterbark: 5-6 seems to be a good number. But students should consider the number of auditions required within the process and the potential travel involved.
CS: What are the most important metrics you use in determining admissions’ acceptance?
Schrader: At Boston Conservatory at Berklee, the Admissions Office looks at a variety of different factors in the application process, including the student’s audition, their high school transcript, and an online recorded video interview. All of these components are weighed in the admissions process to determine acceptance, and the Conservatory makes a holistic review of the student’s application.
Peterbark: I first look at GPA to help determine the likelihood of academic success. Then we examine the audition to see the musical potential.
CS: What’s the best way to go about getting a scholarship and/or financial aid?
Schrader: All students who audition for Boston Conservatory at Berklee are automatically considered for merit-based (talent-based) scholarships, with consideration based primarily on the student’s performance in their audition. These scholarships range from partial-to-full tuition, and about 40% of the incoming class at Berklee receives institutional aid, with the average award covering about 40% of tuition. Scholarships are competitive, and since not all accepted students receive a scholarship, we do encourage time and preparation for the student’s audition. Additionally, Berklee offers federal financial aid through the FAFSA, has a list of external scholarships that students may apply for, and has resources for international students seeking financial aid.
Peterbark: Start with the FAFSA. Then go to Google for private scholarships. Include all affiliations in your search—cultural, social, religious, etc. Also, be sure to consider local/civic organizations like the Lion’s Club and the local Rotary Club.
CS: What general advice do you have for prospective students?
Schrader: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Many admissions staff and faculty members are more than willing to help with anything you need as you go through this process, which we know can be stressful. That’s why we’re here: to help. Additionally, keep a calendar dedicated to your college applications so that you have the correct deadlines for all of the schools you are applying to. Finally, make sure to breathe and enjoy the experience. You’ve done the work to get here: now it’s time to show what you’ve got.
Peterbark: Start looking early. Ask ALL of your questions. Every school wants to answer all of them so you can make the most informed decision.
CS: What general advice do you have for parents of prospective students?
Schrader: Be a supportive contributor to your student in this process, but also allow your student some space to ask their own questions and conduct this process themselves. The transition from high school to college gives student’s space to explore their independence and individuality and allowing them to develop these skills and traits will only help them in this important time in their lives. Help them where you can, and they will be incredibly thankful for your support.
Peterbark: If you are anxious about your student’s desire to study music, remember that throughout their process they are learning transferable skills that can be applied to any job. Also, remember that the job interview question is not, “What degree do you have and where did you get it?”, but rather, “What skills and experience do you have?”