Choosing a Graduate Program

The search for the perfect graduate school begins long before the December pre-screening deadline. Here is a helpful guide for undergraduate singers to ensure that they are ready for graduate school auditions long before the application deadline.

FACTOR #1 – LOCATION

Where do you live now and how far are you willing to travel for your degree? Do you need to stay near family? Perhaps it would be financially responsible to live with a relative who could house you if they happen to live near a reputable program. Bonus points if you move to a city where a lot of auditions are held, such as New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, or Houston. If you’re not in a major audition hub, will your school be near an airport that has affordable direct flights to audition hotspots? Could you potentially drive to auditions? What is the cost of living in your particular city, and would the low cost of rent make up for the constant travel costs? 

FACTOR #2 – TEACHERS AND STAGE TIME

It is essential to find a teacher that you like and who will advocate for you, both during your time in school but also after you graduate and enter the career field. Some people prefer to work with someone of a similar voice type, while others are looking for a teacher who is still singing and can provide contacts in the industry. Ask yourself what is most important to you. Also be sure to ask your future teacher about performance opportunities, especially if you spent your undergraduate years in the chorus. Make sure you know what kind of performance opportunities there are, and ask them to be specific: there is a big difference between full scale operas in costume in their original language and an opera scenes program in English! Both provide an invaluable learning experience, but only at the right point in your development. Only you know what you need at your current level, and only you can make sure that the school is well-suited to fill the gaps in your resume. You may be interested in singing multiple recitals, performing in an oratorio, continuing choral activity, or delving into musical theatre. It’s best if you know now if your dream school will offer these opportunities to you. What is the highest degree offered at the school? Will you be competing with doctoral students for opportunities? How many students are accepted each year, and how does that affect your odds of being cast? Is there a standing relationship with a local opera company in which students double as young artists in their productions? If you are attending graduate school to add performance opportunities to your resume, make sure you’re getting exactly what you need before you commit to a program.

FACTOR #3 – POTENTIAL PRE-REQUISITES

Some schools have placement exams in theory, history, and piano. If you don’t want to spend your first semester paying for remedial classes, make sure to ask about and study for these placement exams ahead of time. Ask about language competency requirements as well – if you’ve only had one semester of Italian, but your new graduate program requires two semesters, you’ll spend more money taking second semester Italian when you could have planned ahead and taken the course at a community college the summer before starting your graduate program. 

FACTOR #4 – FINANCES

It is entirely possible to complete a master’s degree without any debt. Many universities offer teaching assistantships or private scholarships to entice talented graduate students to their program. These assistantships provide full tuition assistance with a living stipend, and you can often find a church job to supplement this stipend. Well-funded universities can also provide supplemental scholarships for students who travel for auditions and competitions, or for those who need tuition assistance with their summer program. If you don’t receive an assistantship in the music department, ask about general assistantships within the university that can be covered by your skills. Often, the library or administrative offices will have student positions available for graduate students that are not considered work study. Your university may also be able to provide you with a place to teach private voice lessons or sing in a paid choir. There is a treasure trove of funding to be found as long as you ask for it!

People often ask which graduate program is “the best,” but there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question! The best program is the one in which you can thrive while making concrete steps towards your goals. Reach out to current students or potential mentors and ask about your individual needs – they will be happy to let you know if their school is a good fit for you!

Lily Guerrero

Dr. Lily Guerrero is Assistant Professor of Voice at Texas Lutheran University. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Opera Grand Rapids, Wichita Grand Opera, Winter Opera St. Louis, Windy City Opera, and many other companies. She was an Encouragement Award winner at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has received prizes from the Bel Canto Foundation, the National Opera Association, and the NATS Artist Awards competition. A passionate advocate for marginalized voices, she has received research funding from the Society for American Music, The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and Omicron Delta Kappa. www.lilyguerrero.com