Saturday, April 1, 2017

Your musically gifted child's road to college

How can you help your child decide about college when music is his passion?

What options are available, realistic, and financially sound?

Parents of musically talented children often panic when faced with college decisions. They question whether to support their child's passion, attempt to steer her off-course, or even firmly refuse to pay for a music education. Landing a self-supporting job in music performance is an unknown, and many parents worry about their adult child's future livelihood.

Information about how to pursue a music career is hard to find. Your child's high school guidance counselor often has little understanding about possible options other than performance or music education. Most information is usually obtained through music teachers or band/choir/orchestra directors, and beyond that, you and your child are left to flounder on your own.

What can a parent do?

1. Try to relax

Not so easy to do, of course.  But your child's entire future does not rest on her college or conservatory decision. College opens up a world of advanced music study, but much happens later in your child's development. You may hear that finding the "best" teacher or most prestigious conservatory is critical. But if circumstances do not work out, your child can change schools, directions, or even careers. Once she starts college or conservatory, she will get a clearer picture of what fits or is not working for her. Give it time.

2.  Get informed

Ask questions wherever you go - from fellow parents at recitals to college admissions officers. Read as much as you can. Scour the internet. Learn the difference between free-standing conservatories, college music departments, and conservatories within universities, along with how a BM and BA degree differ. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford, since financial aid may be limited at choice schools. Some programs provide a good perspective on college and conservatory choices, and books, online forums, and even a series about conservatory auditions can offer helpful tips.

3.  Visit different programs

Compare, evaluate, and pay attention to details. These questions are just a few to consider:

  • If your child plays a popular instrument (such as flute or violin), will he be able to select the teacher he would like, or have to wait several years into his college career? 
  • If she wants to double major in music and science, will orchestra practice conflict with lab schedules? 
  • If he wants to pursue jazz, will the school also expect participation in marching band? 
  • If the program lacks a performance track, are performance opportunities and individual lessons still available?
  • Is it possible to transfer in or out of a particular major?
Also, make sure your child gets to observe a rehearsal or concert, or at least listens to a recording to ensure that she feels satisfied with the caliber of the ensembles. Visit the practice rooms and see if your child can imagine spending hours there.

4.  Be realistic 

Stand back and realistically assess your child's chances for success. You adore your child, of course, but the music world can be cut-throat. If your child is not already top-notch compared to his peers, it is unlikely he will be accepted into a conservatory, or flourish in a demanding university music program. If you can't be objective, ask her teacher or band/choir/orchestra director for a truthful assessment of her chances. And while achievements aren't everything, if your child has not demonstrated some accomplishments (e.g., participation in district, regional or state music festivals, acceptance into a prestigious jazz band or regional choir, assignment to first stand in band or orchestra), he may not be competitive with those who have mastered this level of achievement. Finally, ask yourself and your child if she is willing to practice...a lot. Endurance and discipline is sometimes the breaking point for young musicians.

5. Consider the possibilities

We all know that music performance is not the only option. Your child needs to eventually decide if he must pursue a performance career - and cannot imagine any other choice. Otherwise, options to consider include teaching, composition, music therapy, sound engineering, an academic career in music history and theory, film scoring, music production and management, and a traditional music education program.

Once your child arrives at music school, the excitement begins. Of course, the questions and challenges continue, and your child will need to follow through on practice, performing, and focusing on career directions. Even though there may be rough patches ahead, you can feel some relief that your child has made a decision and is pursuing a meaningful and challenging career path.


  1. Thank you sharing such a lovely post Gail. This is really a lesson for parents and child both. For children, this will boost up their morale to achieve their dreams and for parents it will guide them how to keep encourage them at every ups and downs. Thanks once again.

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    1. I agree thank you! There isn't much out there regarding education musically gifted children. My oldest wants to attend Juilliard for vocal after next year. I was interested to see the list of other things that someone can do with a music education besides performing and education. Its given me something to think about.

  2. This resonates with any professional on this path. Often the musician must adopt the philosophy of the bass fisherman; one will not likely support oneself exclusively with the craft, but will learn how the process of personal accomplishment enriches ones life.

    1. Thanks for your comments and philosophical view. There are many ways musicianship can bring fulfillment.