Berklee School of Music vs Herb Alpert vs Thornton School of Music

My son will study music and seems super focused on Berklee school of music. We want him to consider other schools especially UCLA or Cal Poly as instate tuition would be more affordable. He might also get merit scholarships at other schools that consider his very high SAT scores. His GPA is 4.3, he will be drum major senior year, plays several instruments, music mentors, band leadership and many other accolades. How do we get him to consider other schools and what reasons would help us convince him?

What does he want to study at Berklee, specifically? What would he audition on/for? Why is he fixed on Berklee? Does he have a friend who goes there, has he done a program there, etc? Does he love Boston?

There are other great options. Is he willing to visit UCLA or other schools?

Does he want to continue with marching band? That could guide choices too.

I used to have a guitar teacher who had started at Berklee, ran out of money, found that he could not borrow enough money to finish his degree, and had to transfer to an in-state public university. He needed to give a LOT of guitar lessons to pay off his college loans for a degree that he never got. He would have been way better off to start at the same in-state public university that he eventually graduated from.

I also know a professor of music quite well and we have discussed the financial aspects of a music degree. At one point he introduced me and a daughter to another professor who used to be a singer and dancer on Broadway. She had found that the pay was bad and NYC is expensive, and you sing the same songs over and over again. She went back to get her PhD and became a professor.

You need to be very cautious about taking on any debt at all to study music. Berklee is a very good college of music. One daughter took a very good summer class there when she was in high school. However, it can be expensive.

I would tell him what your budget is, and state that you will not allow him to take on any debt at all to study music in university. Berklee is very good for music and also good at teaching pragmatic issues related to having a music career. I do not think that you can knock it based on the quality of the education there. I think that you need to knock it based on the main legitimate issue, which is the cost.

Berklee is very good for music. However, there are a LOT of other universities that are also very good for music.


What grade is your son? If he is a junior, you still have a lot of time. The dream school phase dominates Junior year. Most Seniors (and some Jrs) move out of that during visits, applications and auditions. You are not alone with this issue.

I remember fondly the days that my D was only going to NYU. I was quite certain that she would NOT go there bc we weren’t in the right tax bracket. I made clear that she could apply there. But I also gave her the financial parameters as well. I showed her what debt she would take on…and that it was on her…and that I didn’t recommend it. And I didn’t have to do any fancy spreadsheets or sit down with her…bc she wouldn’t. I said most of this to the back of her head or when I had her trapped in my car. Those were some angry times. It was hard. It was messy. I wavered and wondered if I was a “mean and poor” parent (probs was). But I kept up the drum beat. Yes, you can apply. No I will not fund beyond what I have for you…you will have debt. This was the dark side.

The light side was visiting other colleges (begrudgingly at first). As she got on more campuses, met students and professors, she slowly started to open up. She started getting interested in other schools. She also realized she would get GOOD money (probably) and it would be affordable…which thank goodness excited her. Some schools were very welcoming which made her feel great. We never got around to visiting NYU. And she never did the application in the end. She had found other schools and was burned out on applications…so it never got done…and in the end I never had to say “no”.

Whew…it was a lot of work. I’m sure that your situation will differ. You know your kid best…so figuring out how to make him put down a “sensible” list that you will be willing to support financially through applications and audition travel is a parent’s job in my opinion. If my D’s list only said NYU…I wouldn’t be on board with that…and she knew it. She really didn’t have choice. I boxed her in…lol.

Good luck! And btw, my D has two good performance friends who went to NYU and she performs right next to them often. It never mattered in the end…


I can’t comment on the different music schools BUT if you have a college budget in mind be upfront with your S about it.

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Yes absolutely. Also, if the OP does not have a college budget in mind, then it is time to think about it and figure out what the budget should be.

And, if there are younger siblings I would assume that they get the same budget (adjusted for inflation).

He is a junior and thank you very much for your story…helpful!

Good questions that we are still navigating. He loves anything music, mentioned composing, has a talent hearing and identifying sounds in film and knowing was, who it was etc…we are a non music family which doesn’t help.

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My D got her UG and grad degree with no debt. I understand that not everyone can do this. We had family help. But she had to give a bit on school selection. She did her UG at IU which is a highly selective music school that gives money for academics. It fit our financial parameters. It certainly wasn’t a city (she waited for grad school for that). She got invited into a studio right after her audition. By that point, the junior year obsession with NYU was long gone.

I want to be clear that it is fine for him to apply to Berklee bc you never know…maybe he’ll get enough in scholarships. Still any smart parent will be looking carefully to find music schools that will be affordable. It’s a lot of work but there is a lot of information on this site.

And…my D used to thank me almost monthly for having no debt as she started her career. I do know that having no debt has helped her establish herself. It takes a few years of hard work and being available. If you have to work a lot to service debt, it’s a lot harder.

Finally, we are a non-music family too (besides my D). I do have cousins with muscially talent however…it’s just skipped me and my immediate family. So keep asking questions of people in “the know” and it will all work out.

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I am wondering why he is fixed on Berklee. It is hard to comment otherwise.

Have you or has he looked at the Double Degree Dilemma essay in the Read Me thread here on the music major forum?

Does he have any other academic interests?

Does he want East Coast? It is good to know budget, size, location and “vibe” that he wants.

Boston Conservatory merged with Berklee and is really good for composition, with access to Berklee, but also costly.

UCLA Herb Alpert is a great alternative. West Coast also has BM programs at USC, Cal Arts, U. of the Pacific, University of Puget Sound,

Students on here often look at Oberlin, Lawrence, Bard, UMichigan and others if he is interested in double degree. He might like to look Oberlin for BM (or BA Musical Studies). A multi-faceted kid like your son might like Oberlin-?

If he had other academic interests he could also consider liberal arts colleges (“little Iivies,” Colleges that Change Lives) where he could have lessons and diverse extracurricular music.

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Welcome to the Music Major Forum!
The pathways to studying music and careers in music are numerous and sometimes not clear which in our experience made Junior year and college planning challenging. And we are a musical family! A bit of background: we have 2 of our 3 kids with degrees in Music Performance, one graduated 4 years ago from Chapman University and one currently in conservatory on the East Coast. I am pretty familiar with the programs you mention in the thread. Perhaps more importantly, lots of experience with 16-17 year olds looking at potentially pursuing a degree/career that is not as clear cut as others.

My first advice is to have your son clarify as much as possible what he wants to pursue or is most interested in. This might not happen overnight, but the clearer his picture of what interests him, the easier it is to find a path or paths that fit. If his interest stays general, that is ok too. But then you need to find a program that allows ongoing exploration.

As long as this process is not overwhelming for your son, as he starts to clarify his interest, I would let him do as much of the research on schools and programs. There are a many different types of degrees and environments to explore but to simplify, I would say there are categories based on most directed or a narrow path) to most open (allows paths to diverge)

Bachelor of MusicPerformance/Conservatory Level generally involves an audition on your chosen instrument or a portfolio for composition. Examples are Berklee School of Music, Thornton USC. Your son would need to be very high level on his instrument. I know @compmom and others can speak to composition.

Music Education and/or Music Studies: There are a lot of interesting programs out there. UCLA for example, is well known for it’s Music Ed program as well as Ethnomusicology. Many schools (like Chapman, CSU Long Beach and CSU Northridge) not only have great programs but have good flexibility with allowing students to explore education, technology, recording within the degree.

A different academic degree with the opportunity to explore music as a minor or as an extracurricular. Again, many options. My oldest was interested in double majoring in biochem and music when she was applying. She was accepted to USC, UCLA, Chapman and several others. She chose Chapman with a big academic scholarship because it was really the only school that was willing to accommodate those two interests. And she later dropped the Biochem because she really did not like it at all, but without using extra time to finish her degree.

You will hear a lot about finding the best fit at the lowest cost on this forum. We had a very strict policy with our kids that we would pay a set amount and would not allow them to take out loans. Particularly in music, which can be a lower paying or at least have more variability in employment options. So part of your and your son’s research should be about what programs will be affordable. Some schools give good merit/talent scholarship, but those are reserved the very highest level of musician world wide. Other schools, give good academic scholarship and some may stack a bit of talent money on top of the academic funds. Your son sounds like he has very good academic stats, so this may help a lot.

In our experience, once our kids were “in charge” of exploring the path and financial options, they were much more open to looking at lots of different programs. And really, it is their time to make informed choices and plans.

While it sounds overwhelming, there are so many great programs and opportunities out there! And the path will become clearer. Know that the best program for your son is not always the most expensive one or the one with the most prestigious name.

I hope this helps!


What a great post @anotheroboemom!

I think it can be harder for kids who are multi-faceted and love different aspects of music.

Just want to add that it is just fine to apply to a wide range of programs, including BA (music or other), BM, double major, double degree. A lot can become clear by spring of senior year and it is good to have options that cover several possible paths. He can decide in April of senior year!

If he does not do an audition school (though it sounds like he will) he can submit a music supplement with recording, music resume and one or two music letters of recommendation- if the school accepts them. (I think UC’s do not…)

With his stats and grades, and his music, he can actually shoot pretty high in terms of top universities and liberal arts colleges if he wanted to go in that direction. Harvard has a double degree program with Berklee btw.

ps Does he want a school with a band?

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Hi, Bridgenail. We are seeing this is so true. S had/has to figure out who/where the gatekeepers/pathfinders into various venues are. There are various corporate band umbrellas and other circles of people that have to be discovered and approached. And then analyzed as to how they work and will they fit in with your master plan - will they tie you down too much from engaging in other options as well.

He was also very lucky with costs for his undergrad. One of his most affordable options was also near a city, where he has decided to stay. At the time, and maybe now, UNT was giving I think full rides for anyone who was a National Merit Finalist. S wasn’t quite at that level, but one of his friends was and took advantage of that. When I spoke to S about college, I would speak more in terms of how he planned to use college to accomplish his subsequent goals.

Another of his friends did get a full scholarship or a full ride to Berklee. All in all, I think all of his peers improved their musical abilities and such wherever they went.


My son will be starting Berklee this fall. He had a similar gpa - academically he is a strong student and can handle any level of academic coursework, but his love and passion is for music. He had no clear favorite school when we started the search. We are from CA, and toured/auditioned for A LOT of schools. He plays multiple instruments, but is interested in studying composition/film scoring/media scoring, so that dictated some of his auditions. He did not like UCLA when we toured - it would have been my first choice, but I am a different person. (His high school music teacher is relatively recent graduate from UCLA, and said he did not recommend it for what my son wanted to do.) He was accepted into CalPoly - had a great time with his music audition there, and the price was certainly right, but their music department is just so small, there really isn’t a whole lot of opportunity. As soon as he auditioned for Berklee (locally in SF), it became his first choice. Everything they discussed was exactly what he was looking for in a school - collaboration between departments, endless musical variety and opportunities in different genres and styles, a student body full of kids who are as passionate about and dedicated to music as he is.

I made him wait until all the other offers were in before accepting. CU Boulder would have been his second choice when all was said and done, but he was accepted to Berklee, and they gave him more money than any other school. (Out of state at Boulder would have ended up being almost the same price.) Would I go into massive debt for Berklee? No, but I wouldn’t go into massive debt for any school. We could have made him to go to CalPoly - we have nothing but positive experiences with that school, but it was important to us that this was his choice, not ours. But, that’s only because we are able to afford it with the scholarship and family help. If we truly hadn’t been able to afford it we would have been up front about it, told him what his budget was, and let him choose from there. And, if I’m being totally honest, if he was interested in pursuing performance, we would have strongly recommended choosing a local in state school and using the extra money for private lessons instead.


Another thing I wanted to mention - I had a really hard time with the idea of a music school. I am a traditional academic, graduated from UC Berkeley with a business degree, so you know, the opposite. :slight_smile: For some reason I had it my head that going to a traditional university was somehow going to give him more options than a music school. He also got into UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, SDSU, among many others. But really, how would a music degree from CalPoly or UC Davis open any more doors or give any more opportunity than a music degree from Berklee? My son has been consistently dedicated to studying and performing music since his first guitar lesson at 8yo. These were his words: “Mom, I’m not 100% sure Berklee is the right school, but I am 100% sure that I want to at least give it a try. I don’t want to always wonder What If?” If it would not have worked financially, he would have understood and chosen another school. But knowing my son, money would be the only reason I would have felt comfortable telling him he couldn’t go to Berklee. UCLA was my dream school, not his.

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