Are These Music Schools Ranked Right?

Apr 14, 2011

Via a friend's Facebook posting, we saw this ranking of conservatories and music schools around the US.

To be honest, we're not familiar with the site that offers this particular list, and the methodology looks rather sketchy, to say the least. ("Our ranking methodology is based on our research on an aggregate of other rankings from Times Megazine [sic], Forbes,, Princeton Reviews, and other college and school ranking/review websites...")

Nonetheless, this Top 10 got us thinking.

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

One can sense some predilections here: There's a liking for programs that are within or tied to much larger liberal arts institutions, and a bias toward Midwestern schools. But is location everything? We were pretty surprised to see that the people responsible for promoting Eastman — based at the University of Rochester in upstate New York — are quick to point out that they aren't exactly located in one of America's cultural epicenters:

Such lists raise more questions for us than answers, and we'd like your input. What differentiates one super-specialized music school from another? Is it the faculty — and access to that faculty? Is it the school's location and links — perceived or real — to other cultural opportunities in that locale? Is it the breadth of the total program? (For example, we're impressed with what we've heard and read about the New England Conservatory's recently established "Entrepreneurial Musicianship" program, which recognizes the 21st century reality that emerging classical musicians can't wait around for fairy godmothers to build their careers for them.) Is it the school's placement rate, the percentage of graduates who go on to full-time professional careers in music?

What do you think? What matters most in pursuing a musical education, if you choose to go the conservatory/music school route? And if you are speaking from rearview mirror experience, what kinds of questions do you wish you'd asked? Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit