College Admissions Part 3: Audition Tips

This is part three of a three-part series about the college application and audition process, written by Associate Dean of Admissions at Juilliard, Kathleen Tesar. Part 1 of this series focused on the vocabulary of the admissions process. In Part 2 went deeper into the application and decision processes. Part three focuses on the auditions.

Admissions offices in music schools manage auditions. We not only run the process, but we interact with applicants and faculty, and are aware of some of the elements of successful auditions. For the applicant, preparation is obviously key, and you will be working with your private teacher on that. But to help out, here are some tips from the admissions office.

Tip #1 – Choosing your repertoire

 The first step in choosing your repertoire is to find out the school’s requirements. This includes the requirements for the prescreening round (if there is such a round) and for the audition round, according to your degree level and major. 

When applying to multiple schools, compare the lists and overlap requirements when possible. For example, if School A requires an Italian aria and School B requires an aria of your choice, you can use one Italian aria to satisfy both requirements and thus cut down on the amount of repertoire you need to learn. 

It goes without saying that your private teacher will be your guide in selecting rep that shows you to your best advantage, but it also is important to strategize across the rep requirements for all of your schools when making your choices.


Tip #2 – Timing 

Your stress level will be lower if you have made your repertoire choices by the start of your senior year. You will then have the time to practice your chosen repertoire until it is second nature, until you understand the composer’s intent so well that each piece conveys not just technical competence, but genuine emotion.

You also may give yourself the time to put away the rep, work on other rep, and then return to your audition rep with a fresh look. 

Lastly, if you choose your rep by the start of your senior year, you have the time to create performance opportunities for yourself. Whether the context is a full solo recital, a performance at a nursing home, or community outreach at a pre-school, each performance is one more way to test your preparation and strengthen your weak points. You have given yourself this time by choosing your rep early on.


Tip #3 – Practice the audition

Of course you will practice the repertoire, but have you practiced the audition? When you are applying to college, each audition you take will be held in a different location. Your audition at one school may be on stage in a 400-seat recital hall, while your audition at another school may be in a teacher’s studio that barely has room for you and the faculty member. One audition space may be too cold, another space too hot. You may audition for seven faculty members at one school, and one faculty member at another. Someone’s cell phone may go off in one audition, while the teachers are drinking coffee at another.

All of which is to say that if you don’t anticipate the various conditions that might occur at your auditions, you will be distracted and upset when they do occur. So practice performing your audition rep in different sizes of rooms, in different temperatures, with different audiences. Have your audience members request your prepared works in different orders, so that you can switch up your interpretations rapidly. Have them noisily write notes, or sneeze, or look bored. 

Record each of these mock auditions, then play them back and critique them as a teacher would. In other words, give yourself practical suggestions, rather than emotional comments. This practice will build your audition “muscles.” You will not only know the rep cold, but you will have become accustomed to meeting challenges that could derail your concentration.


Your audition is where you show the faculty your best artistic self. If you practice the rep AND practice the audition, you will have learned how to be both musically convincing and impervious to distractions. That is the sweet spot of an audition—to be able to let the music shine through no matter what is happening around you. That is why we practice, and that is why we perform. 

Kathleen Tesar

Kathleen Tesar oversees the Offices of Admissions and Financial Aid in her role as Associate Dean for Enrollment Management at The Juilliard School. She was previously the Associate Dean at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, and Director of Admissions at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. Kathleen holds degrees in violin performance from the Eastman School of Music and the Catholic University of America, and a doctorate in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. She presents frequently on topics related to performing arts admission, and is co-author of College Prep for Musicians (Bosler, Greene, Tesar).