Top 10 Leading Music Schools in the U.S

For those serious about taking their music career to the next level, some higher education is in order. Whether it’s on the production or playing side, a sound musical education enriches not only a career, but life in general.

The leading music schools in the U.S. are standard bearers, most of the names sounding familiar to anyone remotely interested or knowledgeable about post-secondary institutions of learning. The fields of concentration may vary, but these are the top music education programs in the country based on different rankings from different sources. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of the best music schools are also considered the best schools in general. These institutions are for the serious student of music, not the quick degree you might see advertised by a local technical college on late night TV.

The latest rankings from the last two years from U.S. College, a website devoted to ranking colleges by region and programs, don’t show much change among the best of the best. In fact, the same schools made the Top 10 for 2010 and 2011, with the only difference being a small shuffling of the top spots.
The 2011 rankings — according to the website — are:

1. University of Rochester (Eastman School of Music) — New York
2. Indiana University-Bloomington — Indiana
3. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor — Michigan
4. The Juilliard School — New York
5. Curtis Institute of Music — Pennsylvania
6. New England Conservatory of Music — Massachusetts
7. Northwestern University — Illinois
8. Oberlin College/Oberlin Conservatory — Ohio
9. University of Cincinnati — Ohio
10. University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign — Illinois

NPR questioned these rankings in a blog on its website, pointing out the the list seems to be biased towards Midwestern schools and larger institutions with expanded liberal arts programs, but didn’t disagree with any specific school being on the list.

Another way to gauge what the best music schools in the U.S. are is to ask the students themselves. The website gives reviews and rankings of schools by college students. Their list of the best music schools is somewhat similar to the above list, with one notable exception: the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which isn’t even in the Top 10 on U.S. College Ranking’s list, is at No. 1 on the students’ list, while the University of Rochester (Eastman School of Music) didn’t make the Top 10 on (it’s at No. 11). This list seems to have more of a
Northeastern bias, and one California school made the cut.

Top 10 Leading Music Schools in the U.S1. Berklee College of Music — Massachusetts
2. Cleveland Institute of Music — Ohio
3. Curtis Institute of Music — Pennsylvania
4. Harvard School — Massachusetts
5. Julliard School — New York
6. Manhattan School of Music — New York
7. New England Conservatory — Massachusetts
8. Oberlin College/Oberlin Conservatory — Ohio
9. San Francisco Conservatory of Music — California
10. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor — Michigan

While these rankings can be used to help point you in the right direction, there are many other fine music schools to consider as well. Do your research and consider all your options before paying those hefty application fees.

Comment List

  • Harry Joh 19 / 06 / 2013 Reply

    My Ranking: 1. Juilliard, 2. Eastman, 3. Curtis, 4. Colburn, 5. NEC, 6. Jacobs, 7. Peabody, 8. Manhattan, 9. Oberlin, 10. Cleveland, 11. San Francisco, 12. Mannes, 13. U. Michigan, 14. Northwestern, 15. USC. 16. U. Cincinnati, 17. Yale, 18. U. Illinois-UC, 19. Florida State, 20. BoCo

    • Jim 15 / 11 / 2013 Reply

      Serious omission in your list: Indiana.

      • Rei 16 / 12 / 2013 Reply

        If by Indiana you mean IU Jacobs (School of Music), those are the same. 😀

  • Karin 26 / 06 / 2013 Reply

    University of North Texas has a great music college! Best in Texas

  • wayne mueller 13 / 11 / 2013 Reply

    The real question to ask is: ” What percentage of graduates get good paying jobs performing music in their intended area?”

  • Daniel De Kok 14 / 11 / 2013 Reply

    While it’s nice to see that my undergrad school made both lists (Go Blue!), time, observation, and experience have taught me that YOU are the one who makes your education the best it can be–not a ranking on a website.

  • FCM 14 / 11 / 2013 Reply

    This is ridiculous. Show me a single school that calculates ROI on money spent in school as a return on salary and I’ll eat my loan statement.

    Music school is a lottery, in which a lot of people put a LOT of effort and money into the system, and only a handful will ever earn a middle class life for their efforts. It’s like going to a med school where only the top 5% get jobs.

    If you are in high school, please please please: DO NOT GO TO A MUSIC SCHOOL. Get a real college education and practice music on the side. You will have a lifetime of enjoyment, cultural enrichment, and opportunities to play.

    By the way, what do you call the BOTTOM 5% of people in med school?

    • Daniel C 15 / 11 / 2013 Reply

      That talk is very discouraging to anybody who wants to play music for a career. I spent three years at Indiana and now I play with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. I would not be where I am without my time in music school. It’s hard, but if you work diligently and are realistic about your abilities, go for it. The only way you know you won’t get it is by condemning yourself to failure prematurely, like this person “FCM” has done.

    • Anonymous 15 / 11 / 2013 Reply

      Having attended Juilliard, Cleveland Institute of Music, and Colburn, I could not agree with you more.

    • bassist 24 / 12 / 2013 Reply

      If everyone followed this advice, say goodbye to talented musicians and say hello to a world filled with bad music. If you truly believe this, may god have mercy on your ears…

  • derek 03 / 04 / 2014 Reply

    FCM nailed it ,for all of the dreamers and I am a product of one of those listed colleges and you wouldn’t believe the talent that will struggle like all of us long since graduated, if luck is not in the cards and money is not in the bag! Musicians can only love their craft and play where and when you can for a pay check unless you’re with the Boston Pops….and the competition for any orchestral spots, any where in the country is so intense you will be measured against 200 world class players at every audition for 1 spot that was formerly held for 20 years or more in most cases! The life of a pop star is 18 months avg. For most musicians that would be akin to making the National Hockey League….you have a better shot with a stick in your hands! Love your music ,chase the dream, know the wall hits even the great ones who have charted songs and careers but struggled to make a good secure financial life. The struggle will eat you alive if you eventually mix drugs and booze into the frame work.

  • james 11 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    I went to Juilliard. The ROI was bigger than you think. Even when the music didn’t pan out the way I wanted, the reputation for withstanding intense pressure, hard driving and being detail oriented is respected by other Ivy Leaguers as well as Wall Street and technology.

    College is about learning to learn. Juilliard has teachers that have passion for what they do and that is the secret to being good at anything. You have to be passionate about what you are doing. If you learn to learn something in detail as exacting as music can be, do it with an open mind, and then apply that to anything you want, the sky’s the limit.

    Juilliard is capable of making artistic leaders not just followers. The new paradigm is to be more entrepreneurial. But Juilliard is really about being a virtuoso not just being a musical soldier.

    Of course Juilliard is about all the arts not just music and that makes it extraordinary. The crossing of music, dance, opera and theatre under one roof is boggling and amazing…

  • james 11 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    I might add, I paid off my loans not only from Juilliard but my previous school pretty much on time or earlier…

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