From Preparation to Application: Getting Ready to Apply to Music School 


Taking time to look ahead and plan for the music admissions process is a valuable exercise for student musicians and their families. Having a good understanding of how the specialized application process works for music applicants could mean a less stressful senior year and success during application season. It’s a lot to handle, and staying on track throughout high school can mean that when applications open, you are prepared to transition smoothly to a confident senior who feels ready to tackle the college admissions process! 

During each year of high school, there are steps you can take to make the final application process easier. In this article, we’ll break it down, year-by-year, to make sure you are ready when it’s time to click “submit.” 

A smiling mother and daughter view a music college application on a laptop.

Preparing for Music School during Freshmen and Sophomore Year

It’s early, but it’s never too early to start planning! Even as a freshman and sophomore, there are plenty of things for you to consider as a future music applicant. This is the perfect time to start building a solid base, thinking about the direction you might take, and how you can best prepare for it. Long-term commitment to music, building your artistic resume, and creating a strong academic profile start now!

What Can Underclassmen Do to Prepare for Music School Applications?

  • Summer music programs and camps—these types of experiences not only build your music skills but are also great networking opportunities. You’ll meet other student musicians and develop lifelong relationships. You’ll also make faculty connections that will benefit you in the future.
  • Class schedule and course selection – work with your parents and school counselor to plan a strong curriculum throughout high school. You should take the necessary prerequisites to lead to options for AP and Honors classes later. 
  • Ensembles – take advantage of ensembles that are available at your school. Consider joining community music schools, youth orchestra/choir, School of Rock, and other organizations to increase your exposure to excellent training.
  • Standardized testing plan—outline your test schedule, including options for test prep and diagnostic tests (PSAT, for example) and a general idea of when and how many times you might take the SAT/ACT.
  • Resume—if you haven’t already, begin tracking all your activities. This includes music-related activities and other important things you do, like school clubs, volunteer and community service, and honors and awards. Start big and track everything. When you work with Inside Music Schools (IMS), we can help you narrow down your list to the most relevant and important activities. 
  • Repertoire list – keep a comprehensive list of the significant pieces of repertoire you study.  Also, track which selections you’ve performed, memorized, etc.
  • Private lessons – continue your private lessons, and if you’re not studying with a teacher on a one-on-one basis, start. 

Activities for Juniors to Prepare for Music School Applications

Time to get serious about your college research and continue building on the training and hard work you’ve done so far. Planning and organizing are key this year. The more prep work you can do, the better. Once junior year is over, things will move quickly! 

  • Summer music programs and camps—between junior and senior year, you have another great opportunity to gain more knowledge and polish your skills at a music camp. 
  • Testing (SAT/ACT–some schools will require standardized test scores. Schedule an official test date(s) early in the fall and again in the spring, if not already done. 
  • Essay topic brainstorming – you will likely be required to write a general essay, a music-specific essay, or maybe both. Try to think of topics that will “show, not tell” an admissions officer who you are. 
  • Resume – keep it updated! 
  • Letters of recommendation – start thinking about which teachers you’ll ask to write letters of recommendation. Depending on the schools you apply to, you may need an academic/core subject teacher to write one. 
  • Campus visits, college fairs, virtual events – start planning visits to schools that interest you.
  • Think about what’s important to you.
    • Type of institution – conservatory versus a university or liberal arts college with a strong music school/department
    • Location, size, costs, majors
    • Start big and list any school that is a possibility. When you work with IMS, we will help narrow it down and make sure you have a balanced list.
  • School research – use a spreadsheet to list your schools and link to their websites. It is important to get the right requirements for each school and follow their specific instructions. Each school may have a slightly different process, so use the website as a resource. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions. 
  • Finalize your school list – by summer, you should have a fairly good idea of where to apply. Make sure you have a balanced list that will offer many opportunities for you.
  • Plan repertoire – follow each school’s requirements but try to find repertoire/songs/tunes that will meet the requirements for several schools. 
  • Record prescreen videos and prepare portfolios—The summer between junior and senior year is the time to plan your videos and schedule time to ensure you get the best prescreens possible. This is also the time to get your files ready to submit if required for a composition program (recordings and/or scores) or media (DAW files, etc.) for production/technology programs. 

The Final Stretch: How to Prepare for Music School as a Senior

Application season is open! Time to put all the research and preparation to good use. Pay special attention to deadlines and any supplemental requirements such as music applications, additional essays, prescreen and/or portfolios. The last few months of senior year are some of the most exciting and stressful, but if you’ve done your preparation, you’ll be in good shape.

  • Practice, practice, practice! Keep working to perfect your audition repertoire. 
  • Decide if you will apply Early Decision I or II, Early Action, or Regular Decision. 
  • Create your Common Application account or school-specific applications. Earlier is better.
  • Work with your school counselor to ensure items are submitted (transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation).
  • Get individualized attention and assistance from IMS on prescreening videos, building an artistic resume, and preparing for your auditions. 
  • Submit FAFSA / CSS Profile (if required)
  • Schedule auditions – typically, you need to wait for the school to confirm your date before making travel plans.
  • Check your portal – schools will share updates throughout the process on your applicant portal, including:
    • Missing application items
    • Decisions
    • Award notifications (need-based and merit-based)
    • Housing information
    • Orientation

Inside Music Schools Can Help

Working with qualified admissions consultants who specialize in music, like Inside Music Schools, can make the process more manageable. We understand the extra requirements musicians must submit and how they fit together. We help you manage your expectations and stay on track because we understand what music schools are looking for and how to prepare for it. The IMS team has assisted hundreds of families to successfully navigate all the steps from the very beginning of college research to selecting your school.

Talk with us – connect with IMS experts now to learn more about how we can help you prepare and cruise through the music admissions process!

Photo of Karen Kerr
Karen Kerr
Senior Consultant at Inside Music Schools

An accomplished professional with over 28 years of experience in higher education, admissions, and recruitment, Karen has always made her goal finding the best-fit school for student musicians. Most recently, she served as the Director of Admission and Recruitment at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, where she was responsible for recruitment, auditions/interviews, and admissions of all undergraduate and graduate applicants. Prior to joining the Frost School, she was part of the admissions staff at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance where she reviewed applications at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.