BY: MARK SMALL
“I want a career in music,” your child announces. As a parent, you feel the pressure to give your best advice on choosing the right music career. And, as a student, you want to find a challenging environment where you can build relationships with peers and professors. You both start doing research and collect a wealth of information. But what do you do with it? With plentiful programs and a dizzying array of opportunities, how do you even begin to know which school is the best fit? You find yourselves feeling frustrated and overwhelmed looking for a solution. That’s where the experts at Inside Music Schools (IMS) come in.
With an outstanding reputation, IMS is known as the premier music school admissions consultancy, matching students with the best-fit program to develop their talents and interests. Every student receives individualized attention, insider perspectives, and expert counseling helping them to navigate each part of the admissions process.
Experts in Music School Admissions
Steve Lipman, Founder and President, started IMS after 40 years as the head of admissions for Berklee College of Music. His counterpart, Karen Kerr, accumulated 30 years of experience in admissions leadership at University of Miami Frost School of Music, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and Indiana University Southeast before coming aboard as the senior consultant at IMS. Their many decades of experience in jazz, popular/contemporary music, classical, and musical theater positions them well to advise students. No other music school consultancy in the country can claim that depth of knowledge.
Guidance for Music Students
students pursuing programs in virtually any musical style, music technology, music education, music business, composition and songwriting, and more. To prepare budding musicians for acceptance into their top school choices, IMS maintains a large network of faculty experts to mentor students in every field. And they cover the spectrum of schools, from small conservatories to large universities with high-profile music departments. Since its founding, IMS has worked with some 300 students who have gone on to study at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, Juilliard, Berklee College of Music, University of Southern California, Manhattan School of Music, and many other premier institutions across America.
How can IMS help your family navigate the complex music school admissions process? In the interview below, Steve and Karen share their insights and tips.
Why should parents and students consider using a college consultant?
Karen Kerr: The music school application process is very different from the liberal arts college application process. Families may not realize there are necessary supplemental materials, such as pre-screening videos and portfolios, as well as various deadlines and application requirements. Understanding the nuances, knowing how they fit together, and coordinating everything for multiple school applications is challenging. Even if a family member attended a music school, the requirements have likely changed over the years, becoming more complex and numerous. We work with families to break the process into manageable chunks, guiding them and answering questions along the way.
Steve Lipman: The competition for spots in music schools has intensified considerably. This is especially true in the popular, contemporary music and musical theater programs where the number of applications has increased dramatically. We can help students prepare pre-screening materials, applications, and essays because we know what the schools are looking for. We save families a lot of stress and anxiety by working together to build a list of schools that match the talents and interests of the student.
Can you describe some of the challenges involved in getting admitted to a music school today?
KK: Admission rates at top-tier music schools hover in the mid-30 percent range but can be as low as three percent. The top schools receive many applications but can only admit so many students. Some schools categorize applicants as “qualified but not competitive.” By that, I mean someone may meet the admissions guidelines but not be competitive enough to earn one of those limited spots.
SL: We continuously work with our students to improve all of their skills, no matter their musical specialty. Our students improve their competitive level through sessions with our extensive network of faculty contacts. For example, every one of our instrumentalists and vocalists gets to do a mock audition with a faculty member from a high-level school. Every composer gets a session with renowned instructors like Michael Gandolfi, the chair of composition at New England Conservatory, Erik Santos, the head of the Composition Department at University of Michigan, or Neil Olmstead, a pianist and expert in jazz and classical composition at Berklee College of Music.
How long do you generally work with students to get them to the level needed for a strong interview and audition?
SL: We like to work with students as long as possible, ideally starting in their sophomore year or early in their junior year. Occasionally, students come to us in the spring or summer before their senior year. While that is not optimal, it is workable and we offer as much assistance as we can.
Can you describe how you work with both families and students to navigate the application process?
SL: Sending a student to college is a family effort. In the early stages, we focus on the family’s perspective before we shift to the student. Even though our primary focus will be on the student, we want to hear what the family is thinking about for their child. To start that process, we offer a complimentary introductory Zoom meeting when they first contact us.
What are the criteria and priorities of colleges making admissions choices? What should people know about this process?
SL: I tell families to think about it in terms of music schools sculpting their entering class. They strive to balance the genders as well as the numbers of domestic and international students. However, they have enrollment goals beyond admitting a certain number of qualified applicants. They set goals by instrument so that everyone will get into an ensemble as well as goals for the teaching studios and programs. For example, schools can only admit a certain number of technology students so that each has ample access to the labs and time in the recording studio to complete their projects. Classical voice departments can’t admit primarily sopranos because they need all of the voices in order to complete a choir.
Beyond a strong showing in the audition and interview, are there other factors that can influence whether or not a student is accepted?
SL: I hear from admissions representatives that they sometimes sense an “X-factor” when considering applicants. Some students have more potential or excitement that can be perceived during an interview or found in their essays. That can make the admissions officer feel that a certain student is going to succeed.
How do you begin to match a student with a best-fit school?
SL: We take all the criteria the student has into consideration as we begin looking for the best program and fit. For example, if someone is looking for a production program, Berklee and University of Miami offer a great environment. Drexel or Elon universities have good music technology/production programs but don’t necessarily attract a lot of songwriters or instrumentalists. So, students need to consider the environment they want to be in.
KK: We offer them a balanced list of schools that will likely be the best fit for them. The goal is to give students choices based on all their criteria.
SL: The list we recommend to our students has eight to ten schools on it. We categorize them as “reach,” “match or target,” and “safety” schools based on a student’s chances for acceptance. Nine out of ten students are getting into their reach or match schools. Very few attend a safety school. We are very proud to say that, in the end, every one of our students has gotten into a school on their list.
Contact IMS for Music School Guidance
At first glance, the music school college admissions process may seem insurmountable. But with expert guidance, like that from Inside Music Schools, families gain an edge and someone to help them through each step, explaining requirements, making college suggestions, and finding the best-fit school for their student. Reach out to us to find out how we can help you!
About the Author
Mark Small, classical guitarist, composer, and music journalist, has spent the majority of his life in New England. He has composed classical, jazz, pop, and sacred music for chorus, wind ensemble, orchestra, piano, and guitar. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical guitar performance from New England Conservatory and California State University, Fullerton. He also studied guitar and composition at Berklee College of Music, and served for 26 years as editor of Berklee today magazine until his retirement in 2018.
An active music journalist, Mark has written for Guitar Player, DownBeat, Acoustic Guitar, Soundboard, Classical Guitar, and other music publications.