Students with a passion for music must decide whether they want to devote their lives to music and thus attend a college dedicated to training musicians, namely, a conservatory.
In choosing a conservatory, music students seek a program that will provide them with the skills and opportunities needed for them to grow and flourish as artists. At the same time, they want a program that prepares them in a practical way for a career in the music world.
The 20 conservatories on this list offer some of the best music programs in the nation. They are located across the United States.
Some, like Juilliard and Curtis, are well-known training grounds for students of classical music. Others, like the Colburn School or Musicians Institute, prepare students for careers in the contemporary music industry.
Despite their many differences, each school on this list is dedicated to advancing the future of music by training the next generation of musicians.
The schools in this ranking were selected on the basis of educational excellence, strength of faculty, reputation, and record of accomplishment by alumni/ae.
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1. Juilliard School
(New York, NY)
Founded in 1905, the Juilliard School can easily be considered the most prestigious music conservatory in the country—and for good reason.
Located in New York City’s Lincoln Center and known for its high-expectations, Juilliard has produced many musicians who have become household names: from Miles Davis to Yo Yo Ma to Renée Fleming.
The school offers a Bachelor of Music, a Master’s of Music, and a Doctorate of Music Arts, as well as various combinations of the three.
Admission is highly competitive and requires a live audition. Each year, only about five percent of vocalists and 16 percent of instrumental musicians are accepted. About 600 of Juilliard’s 650 students are music students (there is also a dramatic arts program). Because the school is so small, it has no problem attracting top talent. Juilliard musicians tend to be competitive students who are happiest as soloists or as members of top-ranked music groups.
First-year students are required to live in student housing, almost all of which is ideally located around the Lincoln Center area. Although Juilliard has received some criticism for its limited availability of practice space, the school is currently in the process of adding additional practice rooms on campus and in residence halls.
2. Curtis Institute of Music
Founded in 1924, the Philadelphia-based Curtis Institute of Music has produced many notable alumni—especially composers, including Leonard Bernstein, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, and Nino Rota. Other famous alumni include conductors Jaime Laredo and Alan Gilbert, violinist Jascha Brodsky, organist Alan Morrison, and pianist Lang Lang.
Curtis is likely the most selective conservatory in the country. Live auditions are required, and only four to 11 percent of applicants are accepted each year. The entire undergraduate student body consistently hovers around 150 students, 100 percent of whom receive a full-tuition scholarship (though housing costs are not included).
The rigorous music education students receive at Curtis is seemingly successful at propelling students into musical careers. Students can participate in any of the four campus ensembles, all of which are led by an elite faculty.
Vocal graduates have gone on to sing with the Met, La Scala, and other internationally famous opera companies, while Curtis musicians currently occupy principal chairs in every major American symphony.
3. Manhattan School of Music
Located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the Manhattan School of Music is a competitive environment that offers its students a number of valuable opportunities.
Founded in 1917, the conservatory is especially respected for its jazz department, which has produced a long roster of notable alumni, including Harry Connick, Jr., Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masakela, and Herbie Mann.
But the conservatory isn’t just about jazz. In fact, the Manhattan School of Music boasts strong programs all around, all of which are headed by a first-class faculty that includes members of the New York City Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
All students take classes in Music Theory, Music History, and a variety of performance arts. Popular degrees offered include Doctorate of Music Arts and Master of Music in Classical Studies, Jazz Arts, and Orchestra Performance, among others.
The school itself is moderately selective. Forty percent of applicants are admitted to join the undergraduate student body of about 400. First-year students are required to live in student housing, and approximately 55 percent of all students receive some sort of financial aid.
4. Berklee College of Music
Unlike many of the conservatories on this list, Berklee is firmly focused upon the study and practice of contemporary, as opposed to classical, music.
Founded in 1945, it was the first music school in the United States to include jazz in its curriculum. Berklee consistently ranks in the top 10 of American conservatories.
With 4, 131 students, Berklee is one of the biggest schools on this list. It offers students the choice of certificates, Bachelor’s, and Master’s in several different programs, the most popular of which include songwriting, general music performance, music management, music teacher education, and music therapy.
Berklee calls itself the “world’s premiere learning lab for the music of today—and tomorrow.”
The College’s long list of successful alumni include composer/producer extraordinaire Quincy Jones, jazz-pianist legend Keith Jarrett, film composer Howard Shore, and countless Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winners.
5. Mannes College-The New School for Music
Founded in 1916, Mannes College joined The New School for Music consortium in 1989. Since then, it has solidified itself as one of the top choices for serious young music students.
Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, Mannes’s student population hovers around 350, making it one of the smallest conservatories on this list.
Both undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered in departments such as classical music performance, voice, composition, jazz, and more.
Mannes’s elite faculty includes a number of well-respected composers, as well as past and current members of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera.
6. New England Conservatory of Music
Located in Boston, the New England Conservatory of Music is one of the largest conservatories to be located in an urban setting. In fact, the college community that is Boston remains a huge draw to prospective Conservatory students.
Nearly half of the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have ties to the school, while Boston itself is a vibrant music community with several regional orchestras and performance ensembles.
Admissions into the New England Conservatory is moderately competitive, with approximately 30 percent of applicants offered admission each year. The most popular programs include composition, jazz, and strings.
The Conservatory has recently received positive press for its newest program, Entrepreneurial Musicianship, which is designed to assist students in establishing successful careers in the music industry.
The Conservatory, which was founded in 1867, is also home to the 1, 013-seat Jordan Hall, a National Historic Landmark and “one of the world’s most acoustically-perfect performance spaces.”