In this ranking, we profile the top 20 best music schools of 2020.
Students with raw talent and a passion for music often have career aspirations of becoming professional performers, whether playing in a symphony or orchestra or composing songs for famous musicians. Depending on your needs as a musician and artist, different music schools offer different programs. There is no one size fits all when it comes to choosing the right conservatory. The schools in this ranking were selected for a variety of reasons, including the strength of faculty, educational excellence, reputation with major publications, and affordability.
We looked at over 55 music conservatories and accredited colleges and universities with thriving music schools, as listed by the Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) College Navigator. We narrowed our original pool of schools by applying the following criteria: accreditation (regional or national), rankings with U.S. News and World Report (institution and/or art school), and affordability. Schools are ranked according to raw affordability.
Below are the results of our top 20 best music schools of 2020.
#20 – University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Undergraduate Tuition: $56,225
University of Southern California is considered one of the best music schools in the country. In fact, USC’s Thornton School of Music is ranked among the best music schools in California, as well as the west coast. A large number of programs are offered within the following categories: classical performance and composition, contemporary music, and research and scholarly studies. Within each of these overarching programs, students may elect majors in anything from arts leadership to jazz studies. The university’s music school was founded in 1884, and today is one of the oldest music schools and conservatories. Also, the school has received numerous awards and holds existing partnerships with LA Philharmonic, LA Chamber Orchestra, and the GRAMMY Foundation.
#19 – Northwestern University
Undergraduate Tuition: $54,568
Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music is ranked as one of the best music schools in the US. Founded in 1895, Bienen is also one of the oldest degree-granting music school in the nation. Currently there are 400 undergraduate students and 225 graduate students. Degrees conferred include Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts in Music or Bachelor of Science in Music. The school also offers a number of majors, including performance in piano, strings, voice, winds, percussion, or jazz studies. Study-abroad programs take students around the world and are only open to music students. Some of the international programs include the Danish Institute (Royal Danish Academy of Music option) in Copenhagen, Denmark and the Royal Academy of Music in London, England. Northwestern is a top-ranked research institution that routinely tops Best Colleges publications put out by U.S. News and World Report.
#18 – University of Rochester
Rochester, New York
Undergraduate Tuition: $53,909
Eastman School of Music at University of Rochester is considered one of the top music schools in the US. Undergraduate degree programs, such as the bachelor’s in music, are designed to develop comprehensive musical skills and literacy, while graduate programs integrate musical scholarship and professionalism. Alongside prescribed curriculum, students may elect to dig deeper in intensive co-curricular work. The school offers studios to aid in the development of instrumental and vocal mastery in areas such as horn, percussion, saxophone, trumpet, or trombone. Eastman is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and the university is ranked by major publications like U.S. News and World Report.
#17 – Johns Hopkins University
Undergraduate Tuition: $53,740
With worldwide acclaim and recognition, Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute ranks among the best music schools in the US. Several degree programs are available at Peabody Conservatory, including bachelor’s degrees in fine arts, music, music education, and recording arts and sciences. In addition to the bachelor’s programs, areas of study include acoustics, brass, business of music, chamber music, guitar, liberal arts, music education, and more. Peabody, founded in 1857, employs leading musicians, Guggenheim fellows, Fullbright grantees, and Pulitzer Prize winners as faculty. Students learn from the best in their field. In addition to the music school’s reputation, Johns Hopkins ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 10th best national university in the country.
#16 – Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
Undergraduate Tuition: $53,430
Yale University, known for its research and reputation, also offers one of the best music schools in the world. Currently, Yale is celebrating their 125th year of music at the Ivy League institution. With its long history, the school maintains a highly selective admissions process, admitting 200 students to study with the school’s distinguished faculty. Undergraduate programs include the BA in music. Also, unique to the music school is the five-year combined BA/MM degree, which is open to both music and non-music majors. Students at Yale may also take individual instrument or voice lessons. Yale ranks #3 in best national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#15 – New York University
New York, New York
Undergraduate Tuition: $51,828
Ranked among the best music schools in the US, New York University’s Department of Music offers major and minor options in music, along with a wide range of music and instrument courses. The undergraduate program at NYU encourages students to find intersections between their creative work, performance, and research. Students learn from world-renowned faculty and have opportunities private lessons with skilled teachers. Waverly Labs offer access to performance studios and research equipment, giving students state-of-the-art sound technologies for nearly all music disciplines. In addition to the prestigious music school, NYU ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report as the 29th best national university.
#14 – University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida
Undergraduate Tuition: $50,226
Frost School of Music at University of Miami comes in among the top 15 of our best music schools. The school is home to concert and recital halls, world-class recording studios, and a premier music library. Students gain hands-on experience while learning from some of the nation’s top musicians and world-renowned faculty. Several undergraduate and graduate music programs allow students to tailor their musical specialty. Programs include composition, instrumental performance, keyboard performance, music education, music therapy, studio jazz, and vocal performance. Several music minors and certificates of study are also available to Frost School of Music students. In addition to the high quality of programs that the music school offers, the institution offers a strong academic reputation. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Miami #57 in best national universities.
#13 – California Institute of the Arts
Undergraduate Tuition: $49,276
For potential students looking for the best music schools in California, the California Institute of the Arts has received top rankings. This internationally known school offers more than 70 comprehensive degree programs in visual, performing, media, and literary arts. Undergraduate and graduate level work may be completed at any of the six music schools, including art, critical studies, dance, film and video, music, and theater. Admission to CalArts is highly competitive and considered on the basis of talent, commitment, and creativity. The institution has recently been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a top arts school.
#12 – The New School
New York, New York
Undergraduate Tuition: $49,064
The New School ranks among the best music schools on our list. Their Mannes School of Music offers eleven areas of study, including brass, collaborative piano, composition, conducting, guitar, percussion, piano and harpsichord, strings, theory, voice, and woodwinds. The school also offers a unique creative setting located in the heart of New York City. Students have access to limitless opportunities to perform across the city and interact with premier artists. The New School has also earned recognition from major publications like U.S. News and World Report. In fact, U.S. News ranks the private institution #153 in best national universities.
#11 – The New England Conservatory of Music
Undergraduate Tuition: $48,750
The New England Conservatory of Music is considered to be one of the top music schools in the US. What sets the New England Conservatory school apart from others is its affiliation with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Interestingly, NEC faculty and alumni make up half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There are approximately 750 graduate and undergraduate college students attending NEC. A wide range of programs help prepare students for careers in music. Some of the programs include composition, jazz and contemporary improvisation, orchestral and wind ensemble conducting, and voice and opera. NEC is ranked and accredited. In fact, U.S. News and World Report lists the conservatory as a top art school.
#10 – Rice University
Undergraduate Tuition: $47,350
Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music is one of the best music schools on our list. A relatively new music school launched in 1975, Shepherd is the youngest major university level music program in the country. But within the last four decades, the school has risen to become one of the top American music schools. There are 285 music majors focusing on establishing professional careers in the industry. Alumni and faculty have appeared on some of the world’s most prestigious stages, including Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera. Bachelor’s and master’s programs in brass, composition and theory, conducting, opera studies, string, and voice are just some of the areas of study available at Rice. Also, U.S. News and World Report ranks Rice #17 in best national universities.
#9 – Manhattan School of Music
New York, New York
Undergraduate Tuition: $47,300
Manhattan School of Music offers an east coast music school that stands up to some of the best music schools in California in terms of reputation and quality. With access to all that New York City has to offer, students thrive in what is considered to be a world premiere music conservatory. Programs include classical music, jazz arts, musical theatre, and orchestral and contemporary performance. Whether you are pursuing study of an instrument, voice, or conducting, Manhattan School of Music offers degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. Also, MSM’s pre-conservatory training programs is open to talented musicians ages five to eighteen through the precollege program. MSM is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a top art institution.
#8 – San Francisco Conservatory of Music
San Francisco, California
Undergraduate Tuition: $46,210
Recognized as one of the best music schools in California, San Francisco Conservatory of Music offers a world-class conservatory, interconnected curriculum and majors, and highly qualified faculty that have experience in professional music. Some of the available programs include historical performance, string and piano chamber, and technology and applied composition. What makes San Francisco Conservatory of Music unique is that near the beginning of every term, students get a few weeks to immerse themselves in subjects beyond standard curriculum. Workshops allow students to work on personal projects or gain a new business or technical skill. SF Conservatory ranks with major publications as a top art school.
#7 – The Juilliard School
New York, New York
Undergraduate Tuition: $45,110
The Juilliard School is a name synonymous with the top music schools in the US. In fact, since 1905, the school has been considered a world leader in performing arts education. Juilliard, located in the heart of New York City, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in dance, drama, and music. For music, students may elect to pursue degrees in classical, jazz, historical performance, or vocal arts. Four-year undergraduate bachelor of music degrees provides extensive applied training, along with comprehensive study in music theory and the history of music, as well as introductions to the liberal arts disciplines. Juilliard also offers advanced degrees, such as the master of music and doctor of musical arts.
#6 – Berklee College of Music
Undergraduate Tuition: $44,140
Berklee College of Music, one of the top music schools on our list, is ideal for individuals looking for a music school that measures up to the best music schools in California. There are 12 music majors to choose, including composition, contemporary writing and production, film scoring, jazz composition, music business and management, music education, and songwriting. In addition to the majors, over 20 minors are available. Minors allow students to tailor their degree toward an area of interest. Minors may include music studies or tap into one of the liberal arts programs also offered at Berklee. The school ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report as a top and leading art school.
#5 – Cleveland Institute of Music
Undergraduate Tuition: $41,987
Cleveland Institute of Music ranks as high as some of the best music schools in California in terms of its devotion to classical music performance. CIM is one of just seven independent conservatories in the United States and one of three devoted entirely to classical music and the performance of classical music. CIM hosts world-renowned artists, conductors, and performers, offering its student access to some of the most celebrated musicians. Also, the school’s curriculum and impressive faculty are offered by CIM’s partner, Case Western Reserve University. CIM’s commitment to music education shows, as more than half of the Cleveland Orchestra members are connected in some capacity to the institution. In its 2020 rankings, U.S. News and World Report indicates CIM as a top art school.
#4 – University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Undergraduate Tuition: $15,262
University of Michigan, a top performing institution, is also one of the best music schools in the US. The School of Music, Theatre, and Dance has been an integral part of the university since 1880, when some of the first courses were offered. Today, the music school combines a unique and effective blend of artistry, performance, and academics to offers students a comprehensive education in all disciplines of music and performance. Undergraduate degrees include bachelor’s programs in composition, jazz and contemporary improvisation, music education, music theory, musicology, organ, piano, strings, voice, and winds and percussion. Several graduate degrees and minors and/or certificates are also offered. Since the university promotes performance, several opportunities in every music discipline are open to students each academic year. These opportunities include band performances, musical theater, opera, orchestras, and more. University of Michigan is a top-ranking institution. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #25 in best national universities.
#3 – University of Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $15,094
University of Illinois School of Music constantly hits rankings of best music schools in the country. The school offers comprehensive and intensive studies that reach beyond the conservatory and bring opportunities for students across the globe. Students may choose from BA, BM, and BME programs with majors in all areas of music, such as instrumental performance, jazz performance, music composition, music education, musicology, music technology, or vocal performance. To apply to the School of Music, applicants must submit one essay with the completed application that tells why you are interested in your major. Unlike some music programs, once you apply, you will be considered for scholarships automatically. Rankings with U.S. News and World Report include #48 in best national universities.
#2 – Indiana University
Undergraduate Tuition: $10,681
The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University is considered one of the best music schools in the US. The School is home to more than 1,600 students and broad music and academic offerings. There are 180 full-time faculty members in residence at the IU School of Music. This number includes performers, musicians, scholars, teachers, and internationally known individuals who have made a mark in the music industry. The school also offers access to performance opportunities with more than 1,100 performances taking place each year, including seven operas. IU is also ranked by major publications like U.S. News and World Report. In fact, U.S. News ranks the school #79 in best national universities and #140 in best value schools.
#1 – Curtis Institute of Music
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,900
Ranking at #1 for affordability on our list of the best music schools, Curtis Institute of Music provide students with access to some of the world’s most talented faculty. Curtis Institute is a unique music school due to its limited enrollment of about 175 students at a time. The school admits just enough students to maintain its full symphony orchestra and opera program, as well as disciplines of music like composition, conducting, guitar, organ, and piano. CIM believes that students “live by doing” and provides access to public performances and opportunities for students to hone their craft and talent by participating in on-stage productions. In addition to its affordable tuition, Curtis offers a solid reputation and rankings with major publications like U.S. News and World Report as a top art school.
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