Artistic and Musical - majors?

My DS23 is a fantastic artist (visual and performance) and musician. He is mostly self-taught, though he took a few years of piano. He loves all things music. The HS he attends has a wonderful theater and literary program and he has won several regional and state awards. He has also won a few awards for his drawing and painting. He’s a great student, but doesn’t like STEM classes. He’s in the honors track for English and History, but not Math and Science. He’s quite philosophical and spends quite a bit of time watching documentaries and political shows. He’s the kind of kid everyone loves - personable, kind, funny and wise.

He does not want to pursue a major in Musical Theater, although he is asked constantly if this is what he plans to do.

I would love to hear suggestions for college majors for this type of kid.

Unlike his sister (STEM kid), we can’t seem to get him to talk about college and careers.

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It sounds like he might do really well in an artsy liberal arts college, or maybe a school that has few or no gen ed requirements and more freedom to choose courses. When he does apply I would encourage him to submit arts/music supplement including samples/recordings/videos of work, a resume related to the art/music, and letters or recommendation related as well.

Depending on the school, he can decide on major in late sophomore year, and major and career to not necessarily have to align. He can do performance, studio, internships, summer programs, volunteer- whatever helps clarify career goals- while in school.

Schools that come to mind include Brown, Amherst, Wesleyan (google “little Ivies”), Clark (google Colleges that Change Lives), Vassar, Skidmore, Hobart William Smith, Bennington, Lewis and Clark- many more…

Sounds like a great kid! He will find his way.

ps my kid who is a little similar didn’t think about college until fall of senior year- very frustrating- but ended up at Brown


I don’t have any specific ideas other than majoring in Art or Music lol, but when anyone is wondering about majors, I always suggest that you look at a catalog at a big school with lots of majors offered. When one sounds interesting by title- look at the course requirements and descriptions and see if it still seems interesting.


Someone I know fairly well is a professor of music. He always tries to have “the talk” with each of his students regarding what they are going to do after graduation. It appears that the answer varies quite a bit. Different students do very different things, at least after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music.

One student of his got a job after graduating writing software that does musical notation. Another was having a lot of trouble figuring out what would make sense. The professor asked “what do you like to do?”. The reply was “fix musical instruments for my various friends”. This student graduated, and now has a job fixing musical instruments. Another student went on to be a singer and dancer on Broadway. She discovered that the pay was mediocre and New York is a very expensive city to live in. She went back and got a PhD in music, and is now a professor of music. Both of these professors are in Canada (except for the temporary job on Broadway), which means that the children of farmers can afford to attend their university. A few of his students have just told him that they have four years at university, then they will go back to being farmers (whether they graduate or not).

Someone who might be the most talented musician that I have ever met was also very good at art, and won an award from a Boston newspaper. We went downtown where she got to see all of the other art work that had won awards. Her immediate reaction was “Wow these are good, how do I compete with this?”. She is now studying for a DVM (she was comfortable with STEM).

I used to know a different artist, who was a cashier to earn a living, and did art for love. He had sold a few of his paintings, but probably made single digit thousands per year from selling paintings.

I have worked my entire career in high tech. There are quite a few people in high tech who are good at music. I occasionally will randomly run into one at a concert. As often as not they are playing at the concert. However, they make their money in high tech.

I also have a relative who graduated from Julliard in dance. She makes some money teaching dance and some money dancing. However, she cannot be making big bucks because she also has worked as a cook.

One daughter was in an a cappella group in high school. One of the other members of the group went on to study musical theater in university. He is currently making a living in musical theater. He was really good. “How do I compete with that” applies in this case also.

I have talked to managers or salespeople in music stores who said that their major was music performance.

To me there are two things that I take from this. One is that different people who are very talented at art, dance, or music make money in a very wide variety of ways. The other is that most of these ways do not pay big bucks, and avoiding debt for your bachelor’s degree is a very good plan if you can do it.

I think that this is a good idea. I did this before going back to get my master’s.

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Our kids know that (in our family) a college degree = a job or a viable/debt-free grad school plan. My DS has no desire for a performer’s lifestyle, but his gifts/talents should transfer to a career that support him and (possibly/hopefully) a family.

Sales, marketing, advertising, teaching…. He has people-skills. Possibly a “blue collar” career that allows him to use his creativity.

It is amazing how different two children from the same parents can be!!

First off, what does your son want to do? Does your son want to go to college? Does your son have any ideas as to what he might like to do professionally? Does he want a future career to involve art/music? Assuming that your son wants to go to college and have a major that incorporates art or music, then here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

  • Audio/sound production
  • Music Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Music Education
  • Art Education
  • Arts Administration
  • Product/Industrial Design
  • Architecture
  • Animation
  • Art
  • Art history
  • Music performance
  • Music composition
  • Music history
  • Graphic Design

AustenNut has it right. How does your son see himself becoming an independent, self-supporting human being?

Even if he sees himself as a creative artist, he probably would need to earn a living somehow other than selling his art. The first question is not “what do you want to major in”, but rather “how can you do something that makes you happy while also solving the issue of becoming financially independent of your parents”. The list above is a great place to start a conversation. After that comes the where to apply conversation, based upon interests, majors, and finances.


@PB1961 your son has many interests. Your original post mentions art, music, musical theater, history, English, film, philosophy and an interest in politics. )And not math/science.) There is nothing wrong with going into college undecided. And regardless of major, or no major yet, he can submit supplement(s).

I know music majors, both BM and BA, who have gone on to doctorates and teaching at the college level. I know one who became a scholar in Medieval Studies, one who works for Sesame Street in a non-music area, one who started a collective of dancers, musicians and composers, one who went to law school, and a few who play in ensembles/freelance. That’s just music…I could continue regarding the other interests.

My main point is there is no need to know major or career when entering college, and there is time to explore. And career or grad/professional school do not have to relate to undergrad major.

It seems to me that the main decision may be whether to pursue certain interests like music, art or musical theater as a course of study or as extracurriculars. He doesn’t necessarily have to figure that out now but it may help guide his application choices.


I really don’t agree with this. I know plenty of people who are creative artists and make a living with their art. One of my good friends told me he decided when he was in grad school for art that he wanted a creative life not a run-of-the-mill life and he went out and made that happen. He’s a musician (also an artist) and has been self-supporting with his music for the past 30 years or so. He’s not a huge rock star, but lives a nice middle class existence — owns his own home and studio, travels the world, meets all kinds of people, and has amazing stories, and a great family.

There are many, many opportunities for creative types and it’s a big fallacy that people can’t support themselves making art. You might not be Beyonce or Andy Warhol famous, but you can make a living being a creative artist.

I do graphic design and web design myself. I’m a huge introvert, but even so, I probably know 20-30+ people who make a living with music or art. There’s my friend Melissa (graphic designer), Eric (does museum design at a science museum), Rick (musician, engineer, producer), Jason (filmmaker), Brian (actor, voice actor), Graham (artist and museum and gallery worker), Adam (artist and commercial art director), Dave (musician), Mac (musician, runs record label), Mary (musician), Jennifer (graphic designer), Sue (graphic designer specializing in music), Dex (musician), Jessica (textile artist), Julie (letterpress artist), Steve (animator, musician), Alex (RIP, commercial photographer), Kent (museum photographer), Jennifer (violin maker), Frank (photographer), Mike (museum exhibit designer), Chip (film director/producer/editor), Steve (box office director), Dave (musician), Frank (music venue owner, booking), Kristine (booking agent), David (president musicians agency), Frank (art law), Sarah (art teacher), Greg (festival director), oh and my friend Nick’s son is a pretty famous EMD musician. He decided he wanted to do that in high school and went out and did it. I know a lot of folks who work for record labels too.

And for the record I live in North Carolina, not New York or LA, so not necessarily what an average person thinks of as a hot creative spot, but there is a great creative scene here. A few of my friends are in NY or Hollywood or Chicago now, but most are still here in NC.

I would tell him to follow his interests. The deeper in you get with something be it music, musical theater, visual art, or what have you, the more opportunities become apparent.

I work with musicians (doing design work) and there are so many different roles that the average person doesn’t see from the outside, but once you get up close you get to see the different pieces of the puzzle in action.

There are the band members, but there are also the sound engineers, mixer, producer, booking agents, the managers, the radio publicity people, the “print” publicity people, the album designer, the record pressing plant, the club owners, the promotions people, the roadies, the merch people, the social media person, etc. And this is for a band that owns their own label. Once you get into record labels there’s a whole 'nother level with your A&R person, digital marketing, traditional marketing, etc, etc.

So follow what sparks you and see where you end up. This is what I tell my kid who is going to major in Creative Writing. I don’t know the writing world as well as I know of the music world (and, really I only tangentially know the music world), but I have friends who work in publishing, editing, and, of course, know folks who work as journalists, at bookstores, libraries and teach. There’s not a lot of money or fame in poetry if you’re not Amanda Gorman or Rupi Kaur but if my D22 dives headfirst into it she might find some other aspects where she can be creative and make money.


I so want this to be the case for every artist and musician! Unfortunately, it’s often not. Most have to work a job that pays the bills, too. Hence, the music educator who also plays in the local symphony, teaches, works gigs. The artist who paints murals in children’s bedrooms, teaches art, and does her own creative work. The musical theater performer who teaches in the high school, is the stalwart of the community theater group, and runs the summer theater camp in town. The poet who also got an ed certification and teaches high school English while also writing, submitting for publication, participating in an academic poetry group, advising re: college admissions essays.

I’m not saying that young people whose joy is art, music, theater, writing shouldn’t study those things. I’m saying that they should have a coordinated plan to become self-supporting, too, in case they cannot make a living solely from their art for its own sake.

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I don’t see a contradiction here between either what you have said or what @sweetgum said.


All my kids are heavy in creativity/art/music. One planned to be an artist and live in a treehouse. We told her that was great, but since most kids don’t graduate from high school, move into a treehouse, and begin selling their art at high prices, she needed a plan to support herself on her way to her dreams. Suddenly, late in junior year of high school, she decided she did not want to do art for pay, and wanted to be an engineer (?!?!). Fortunately she had the grades for it, majored in architectural and structural engineering and happily works in that field now. She still does art for fun. She may yet live in a treehouse. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Another one my creative kids is a music major and plans to teach. He considered majoring in music performance and was even accepted to college as a performance major but is really passionate about teaching. If your son is considering majoring in music he should look into the ways of studying music and see what fits him best, especially since you say he’s mostly self-taught.

Another of my kids did music since age 5, and theatre in high school, could easily pick up and learn any instrument and has some crazy graphic design-type natural abilities. She is working on a graduate degree in the social sciences. She didn’t do any music or theatre in college at all.

There’s also more artistic opportunities than you’d think in the field of welding and that doesn’t require a college degree, typically just a certificate, in our state at community college.
There’s a lot of ways your son could take this. The suggestion to look at a list of college majors from a large university, cross off the ones that don’t sound interesting, then comb through what’s left in more detail, was helpful for a couple of my kids.