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Double Degree Dilemma essay (written by David Lane)

compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
edited December 2016 in Music Major
The Double Degree Dilemma

Introduction

Music school admissions offices receive more and more visitors expressing an interest in becoming involved with a "double degree" program. At first glance, a double degree program seems to be the perfect solution if you are primarily interested in a liberal arts education, and are also an advanced musical performer. You just do both programs at once, right? After all, you've been juggling both interests all through high school.

The subject is much more complex than that. Actually, pursuing two diverse interests can be accomplished in several ways, and within various educational settings. Which one you choose depends on your interests and your ambitions. There is no one solution for everybody. To help make sense of it all, you first need to understand the different programs available. Then, to see how individual students find a good match for their needs, I will share some experiences I have had with visitors in a conservatory setting. To be complete, this is going to take a while—a bit over six printed pages of text to be exact. Why not get comfortable, and maybe we will have some fun along the way. I am David Lane, retired after thirty-three years as Director of Admissions at Peabody Conservatory. I will be your guide. At the end you should have a better idea of what you are looking for, how to ask for it, and what kinds of schools are most likely to offer what you want.

Getting the Names Right

One of the sources of confusion when dealing with the various "double" programs available is what to call them. Sometimes I refer to any such program as "cross-pollinated," but if you use that term no one will know what you mean. The reason a generic term would be handy is that almost every option exists out there—from being a pre-med major and simply taking piano lessons for credit, to straddling two different schools in an effort to gain two degrees at the same time. The terms most often thrown around are "double major" and "double degree." There is a big difference between the two, so let's take a moment to clear it up.

Liberal arts colleges offer "majors" within the context of a liberal arts curriculum. These programs are easily identifiable in that they lead to a bachelor of arts (B.A.) or bachelor of science (B.S.) degree. To keep from tripping over abbreviations like B.A./S., I will just use B.A. as short for any liberal arts degree. When you declare a "major," your liberal arts program will include a curricular emphasis in a particular area of study. Numerically, a "major" is made up of about a quarter of the curriculum (figure about 36 credits). The other three-quarters are the usual liberal arts courses. Within this context, students can do "double majors," combining two liberal arts majors (one of which might be music). At the completion of the course, graduating students receive one diploma, stating that they have earned a liberal arts degree. Both majors are listed.

At this point, we might as well mention "minors." A "minor" is usually half the size of a "major," being composed of only 16–18 credits. Thus, in addition to the option of declaring two majors, most liberal arts colleges will allow you to have a "major" and a "minor." But let's get back to the subject of double majors.

A liberal arts "major" signifies that you have an extended knowledge of a subject, but does not certify you to be a practitioner of a skill. By the same token, those pursuing a liberal arts music major are not necessarily practitioners of a musical art. Said another way, the holder of a B.A. in music should be able to discuss Beethoven—his life and music—but the same individual may or may not be able to perform any of Beethoven's compositions. This ability to perform is the major component of a bachelor of music degree.

A bachelor of music (B.M.) degree is far more specialized than a B.A., and, to repeat, its focus is typically on musical performance. In a B.M. program, the word "major" refers to a musical subject or performance area (clarinet, voice, piano, music theory, etc.). A "double major" for a music student in a B.M. program might be, say, piano and music history.

The ratio of musical to non-musical study contained in a bachelor of music program is roughly the reverse of the ratio for a B.A. program at a liberal arts college. That is, roughly three-quarters of the credits are in music performance and musical academics (theory, eartraining, etc.), and one quarter are in traditional liberal arts subjects. This ratio differs from school to school, and can approach fifty-fifty at some universities where there are university-wide course requirements.

The bachelor of music degree certifies a level of knowledge about music and also a level of performance ability, but the performance level is not the same for all schools offering the degree. Here's why. Entrance to a B.M. program is usually by audition, and competition for available space at the better known music schools tends to drive the required entrance level upward. It follows that the exit (graduation) level of performance will be higher for students that go to these schools. Over a period of decades, the more selective schools earn a well-deserved reputation for turning out high-level performers. This serves to attract even higher level performers to these schools, which enhances the effect.

This brings us to the subject of "double degree" programs. Double degree programs typically take five years to complete, and lead to two pieces of paper—a B.A. or B.S. in a liberal arts subject, and a B.M. in music. Double degree programs are available in all kinds of settings, and at all kinds of schools. Listing all the options here would bore you to death. So, abrupt as it may seem, I need to bring this stage of the discussion to a close.

Instead of trying to unravel the various programs offered by colleges, universities, and conservatories, a better approach is to focus on the reasons people seek such programs. To do that, I am going to introduce you to typical visitors from my career in admissions, and then make comments. Hopefully, one of the visitors will be in a situation similar to yours. Or perhaps you will fall somewhere in between.



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edited December 2016
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Replies to: Double Degree Dilemma essay (written by David Lane)

  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    This is Jennifer

    "I really can't make up my mind what I want to do. I love music, and I can't see myself giving it up when I go to college. But it seems like such a drastic step to go to a music school where I won't get a lot of liberal arts. I am a good academic student, and I don't want to give that up either. Besides, I also have a pretty strong interest in literature. Maybe I should try a double degree program and I won't have to give up either one."

    Jennifer recognizes the value of music in her life but is not so driven that she is willing to make a total commitment to it—at least not yet. She needs a school that can help her sort her interests out. If I had to guess, I would say that the majority of those seeking cross-pollinated (I knew that term would come in handy) programs fit this scenario. Fortunately, there are lots of schools out there that can do just what she wants. If you think about it, most liberal arts majors rely on their college years to help them focus on career goals, so Jennifer would probably be happy in a liberal arts setting. The key for Jennifer is finding a school with a good music program built on the same framework as the liberal arts curriculum. In addition to a liberal arts-based B.A. degree, the school should also offer a B.M. degree—preferably one with a national reputation for producing high level performers. The availability of both B.A. and B.M. degrees will give Jennifer the options necessary as she establishes her priorities.

    Students like Jennifer typically begin their studies as double degree students. Within the first year or two, they get a better feel for how they want to balance music and liberal arts, and they adjust the balance of degrees, majors, and minors accordingly. Almost anything is possible. Schools that cater to the "Jennifers" out there often have a significant percentage of their entering music students interested in some sort of cross-pollinated program. During their studies, many (if not most) of these students succeed in their efforts to prioritize their interests, and they graduate with a single Bachelor's degree that reflects their decision.



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  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2016
    Alexander's Story

    "Science is my strength, but I have been playing French horn all my life. I am always among the top students in the state music festivals, and I don't think I could live without it. On the other hand, I have eight fish tanks in the basement, and a life-long ambition to be the next Jacques Cousteau. I seem to have an easy time with math and science, and I have worked very hard to keep a straight A average in the toughest honors courses offered at my school. On the other hand, my horn teacher says I have what it takes to be an orchestral musician, and he is pushing me very hard to apply to most of the major conservatories—saying that it would be a waste of talent if I did not. I really love the horn, and I don't want to settle for anything less than the highest level situation, but I would need to find a program where I could do a double degree involving a top conservatory, and a school that offers one of the top oceanography programs in the country. Eventually, I would like to analyze whale songs in musical terms. I am also interested in doing research on marine mammals, and how they react to different styles of music. Maybe it will help with those kept in captivity."

    Alexander is one of the rare young people out there who has two equal and intense talents. He doesn't want to settle for (if you will pardon the term) "second best" in either his liberal arts or his music program. He differs from Jennifer in that he is not conflicted about what he wants to do. He has specific interests and is bound and determined to pursue both with equal vigor. If he could (fantasy time here), he would try to place one foot in a highly focused music conservatory, and the other in a top-rated academic institution with a highly regarded oceanography program. He would attend both at the same time--a neat trick if you could pull it off...and if you don't mind paying two (cough!) tuitions. This is the profile of those who should be considering double degree programs.

    These are not programs for the faint of heart. The two schools involved usually do not structure their schedules in the same way, so there are typically conflicts when, for instance, orchestra rehearsals are scheduled at the same time as the advanced bio labs. You get the idea. A little creativity on the part of the student helps, and a mild degree of frustration can also be expected.

    Why would Alexander be more interested in a conservatory-based program than in one of the excellent comprehensive programs at a large University?

    I don't know.

    Alexander may, in fact, be exploring those options, and the fact that he is visiting my office at a conservatory tells me that he is trying to figure out the plusses and minuses of each setting. This gives me a good excuse to bring up the subject of how conservatories and music schools differ from the music departments of large universities. The answer (he said, cryptically) is not only in what the schools offer their students, but also in what the students demand from the schools.

    Most music conservatories were founded with the mission and purpose of fostering musical development within the student body. At the outset, a given conservatory must decide what constitutes a good musical education—what it offers its students. If it is successful, the school attracts students of increasingly high ability, and the student body eventually develops into a collection of "Howard" types who demand a curriculum that crams as much training and intensity into four years as possible. If the school is wise, it will put all its energy and resources into the effort. Every element of study, from languages to liberal arts, will be focused toward the needs of students seeking musical careers. Over the decades, the better conservatories and music schools have done just that—each in its own way.

    Universities, on the other hand, have a wider perspective and must address the educational wants and needs of a more diverse group of people. Thus, as a music student (even a B.M. student) at a large university, you will take your English courses with English majors, and your history courses with history majors. Also, subjects like math and science—sometimes required in a university setting—are optional, or hardly noticed at all, at conservatories.

    It is hard to claim which approach will be better for a given student. That is what makes the college selection process so interesting. However, it is fair to say that a school which knows its classes will be filled with music students has an opportunity to tune those classes to be of maximum benefit to those with musical interests. It comes down to that word "focus" again. The more selective music schools tend to be relatively small, highly focused places with the entire student body traveling, you might say, in the same direction. The better known university music schools also offer high quality music programs, but in the context of a much more diverse college environment. Each approach offers benefits to the right kind of student.

    Meet Mike

    "I was just visiting the campus at my first-choice college, and they said I could take music courses at a local conservatory. I was wondering if I had to do a double degree or something for that to happen?"

    That's an easy one. Most schools offer liberal arts students an opportunity to cross-register to other local schools if the student wants to study a subject not otherwise available. The same applies to students at the music school who want to take a liberal arts subject not offered there.

    And Finally, Bill. His Parents Will Speak for Him.

    "Bill is a very talented guitarist, but that's not what he wants to do with his life. Well, not exactly, anyway. I mean, his guitar teacher would like him to fully develop his talent, but even though he has been studying classical guitar for several years, he seems equally interested in the electronics the bands use these days. This kid has a keyboard and what seems like a recording studio in his room. He sits in there for hours, and I must admit that some of the stuff he comes up with is pretty good. Of course, being his parents, we would say that. He would really like to pursue the music, but we have pretty much given up hope on finding a program that would allow him to follow both interests."

    Within the program structures of most music schools are a variety of double degree or double major programs that combine music performance with a music related subject. Choices vary by school, but it is not hard to find B.M. degrees that combine performance with music education, recording arts (music technology), musical theater, music industry (management), musicology (history), accompanying, early music (lute, harpsichord, etc.), electronic/computer music, jazz, music therapy, pedagogy, or church music. These programs vary widely in their entrance and exit requirements, and in the kind of students they attract, so don't take anything for granted.

    Bill and his family are likely to be thrilled when they discover that Bill won't have to straddle two schools to get his needs met. In all likelihood, he can take a double degree program in "recording arts" or "music technology" at a single school. At some schools, the performance degree is optional.

    edited December 2016
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  • ClarinetDad16ClarinetDad16 3303 replies119 threads Senior Member
    He hits most of the notes.

    I don't think he covered the kid who performed music at a high level in high school. Leverages that passion for admission into a top academic school. Where (s)he will continue Music, but not with the dedication or passion (s)he would as a BM with a top teacher in a top music program. The student earns an academic degree plus maybe a minor in music and plays in the orchestra and takes private lessons. But along the way decides they do want to pursue music. So for their masters they go for a MM at a Conservatory or a top music program within a University.
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  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    He is writing about undergrad choices. Yes, anything can happen along the way, as many of us have experienced with our musician kids : ) I would add that the scenario you describe may be unlikely, since spending 4 years without some level of dedication (whether at college or conservatory) might not result in an MM program admission.
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  • ClarinetDad16ClarinetDad16 3303 replies119 threads Senior Member
    There have been many professional musicians who did their undergraduate educations at Harvard, Yale, etc. who then pivoted as I said to pursue a career in music via graduate education.

    There is a mom on CC whose son is on that journey as well.
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  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2016
    It is also true that some who get BM's and are passionately devoted to music in undergrad years, end up in med or law school.

    I think that this forum frequently suggests the possibility of doing a BA at a college or university, majoring in music or something else entirely, but continuing lessons and performance in music, as a way to continue to progress, and keep options open for either performance or grad work after graduation. These kids usually have other academic interests. They also tend to have unusual talent in music, if they do continue on in music after graduation.
    edited December 2016
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  • SpiritManagerSpiritManager 2823 replies67 threads Senior Member
    @thumper1 After Peabody put @compmom in touch with the original author of the post on the Double Degree Dilemma, he reworked the piece specifically for her to post here on College Confidential to share with all prospective music students, regardless of institution.
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  • classicalsaxmomclassicalsaxmom 311 replies26 threads Member
    I am so glad this essay is preserved here! I have read the essay many times and referred a good number of people to it, and was sad to see it was no longer on the Peabody web site. Thanks @compmom for going to the trouble of getting permission to post it here.
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  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    Thanks to David Lane for making it available to us!
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  • LadyMeowMeowLadyMeowMeow 257 replies17 threads Junior Member
    Yes, thanks to David Lane for sharing his experience and insight.

    Does anyone have any information about the number of students who apply to double-degree programs every year? Do any of the major double-degree schools (e.g. Northwestern, Oberlin, Vanderbilt) publish numerical data about applicants/ acceptances/ yield -- specifically for double degree?
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  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    You could check with whatever schools you are interested in. A lot of schools offer double degree programs. In addition to the three you mention, just off the top, Bard (which requires double degrees of conservatory students), Lawrence, Ithaca, Michigan, Peabody/Hopkins, Rochester/Eastman,Harvard/NEC, Harvard/Berklee, Tufts/NEC....many others. In many cases you would have to check both the university acceptance rate/yield and that of the music school/conservatory.
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  • TiggerDadTiggerDad 1947 replies71 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2017
    Some of you remember me for posting a question a few months ago about my son's dilemma regarding the very topic. For anyone wrestling with the dilemma, I think it really comes down to the individual musician in question. My violinist son, for example, doesn't really want to pursue a double degree. He feels that he's lived a "double life" all his life since he took up the violin at age 5, and he simply doesn't want to go on with this lifestyle anymore. In fact, he wants to take a gap year in order to pursue his "other" passions that he never really had the time to do, such as cooking, learning his parents' native language, home studio video/audio recordings, photography, making his own brand of music, and the list goes on. I fully support that, and I'm excited by his passion for life.

    When he was researching the colleges for his applications, he specifically looked for those schools with very strong academics and with an equally strong or interesting music programs. For instance, he learned that Dartmouth has a very interesting and flexible curriculum approach and it specifically offers the "Music Study Abroad" program that takes the musicians to either Vienna or London, alternatively. Other schools have noteworthy instruction subsidizing program with or without the performance certificate, etc.

    My son loves the performance aspect of music, so he specifically targetted those schools that offer such opportunities beyond the school orchestra or chamber program. Judging by his strong interest in his regular high school activities, I feel very strongly that he'd thrive in a regular college environment as opposed to a conservatory or a dual degree program that would limit his exploration of other interests. Currently, he intends to major in music (B.A.) and take as many electives in Pre-Med related courses that he's also interested in. Or, he may end up flipping the intention once he gets to the college of his choice.

    In helping the child to make the decisions for the future, I just want to emphasize how important it is to really cater to the child's personality traits, his/her passion, aptitude, all the while allowing the child to a variety of possibilities that lie beyond the college so that he/she can make informed decisions about what path to take.
    edited February 2017
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  • SDave03SDave03 64 replies20 threads Junior Member
    @compmom Hello! I'm Sharv and I had a few questions. I'm interested in going with a Pre-Med track with majoring in Biomedical or Aeronautical Engineering. Can I have a double major for pre med? If I can, can I double major one of the engineering courses with either music or accounting? I've heard that many times the Biomedical courses are similar to the Pre-Med courses. I am really interested in pursuing these majors and hopefully this is possible. So Pre med with the following majors: Biomedical OR Aeronautical Engineering, Music (either education or some other type), accounting). Is triple majoring possible? I'd really love to know! Also, do you apply to music schools after completing a 4-year Bachelor's degree? Thanks!
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  • MomOf2TeenGirlsMomOf2TeenGirls 316 replies3 threads Member
    @SDave03 - My D is currentlypursuing dual degrees in BME (BS) and music performance (BM). She is not doing pre-med nor is does she have a third major, but doing two degrees is possible - though it requires carrying heavy course loads, working through many scheduling issues, and typically more than four years. My D may get done in four, but this is with 40-50 hours of AP credit, three summer classes, and carrying 17-20 hours every single semester. Not for the faint at heart, to say the least. It may be a little easier with a BA in music rather than a BM. Some other options include taking more time, majoring only in BME/pre-med and pursuing music as a minor or extracurricular, or majoring only in music and picking up all your pre-med requirements as electives (apply to med school after your BM/BA in music).
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  • SDave03SDave03 64 replies20 threads Junior Member
  • compmomcompmom 10830 replies77 threads Senior Member
    Hi Sharv, with majors that have set course sequences, labs or other additional classes, and generally intense work loads, a triple major would not be possible. I have not ever heard of anyone doing such a thing!

    A double major in a science and music is possible but rigorous, as MomOf2TeenGirls said. You can also consider double degree, or major/minor, or keeping music as an extracurricular plus electives.

    You could also major in music, period, and still go to med school. Music majors actually have a high admit rate.

    I hope you know that you can major in anything and still go to med school. You can try to do some prerequisites as electives but there are also post-bac programs for this (see Goucher for one example). The post-bac means more money spent of course.

    It would seem you have a genuine interest in science. If you did not have the interest in med school, would you still major in biomedical or aeronautical engineering?

    You don't tell us much about your music. If your interest in that is strong, a double degree might work well for you.

    Which student did you identify in David Lane's essay?
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  • SDave03SDave03 64 replies20 threads Junior Member
    I'm really devoted to music and don't mind more to my schedule to get a degree in music. If you just drop the pre-med idea, is it a good idea to go into Biomedical/Aeronautical Engineering, accounting, and music? Thanks! @compmom
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