Best fit BM Composition programs for senior new to composition?

Hi there,

My HS senior son has been studying music and musical theatre since elementary school, including lots of classical voice/musical theatre and to a lesser extent piano, music theory, and songwriting. He became very interested in composition during junior year, began work with a composition teacher over the winter, and attended Lamont’s Summer Academy for composition this summer, solidifying his interest in applying to BM programs in composition this fall.

As we’re looking into programs, he’s interested in music schools within universities or liberal arts schools and ones that provide opportunities for collaborations with other departments (musical theatre, film, dance, etc.) in addition to classical composition. Some of the schools on his list include:

USC Thornton
NYU Steinhardt
U. of Michigan
Lamont School of Music at U. of Denver
Ithaca College
ASU Herberger School of Music
Mannes School of Music
U. Of Colorado, Boulder
CSU Northridge
CSU Long Beach
CSU Fullerton

My question is whether some of these programs require more experience than he currently has and/or if others are willing to admit students based on musical experience in other fields and “potential.” I worry that without guidance he might only apply to schools that fall into the first group and won’t be accepted anywhere. I would appreciate any guidance since music is not at all my area of expertise.

Thanks so much.

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Do you know what kind of composition he’s interested in pursuing? Meaning, concert world vs film scoring or other more commercial avenues? It makes a difference. I’m happy to talk to you more directly about it if you want to PM me (I read these forums but haven’t posted before so I don’t think I can message you?)

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He’s so new to this I’m not sure he knows yet. We’ve read that a good concert composition will prepare you for a career and/or grad school in film scoring. That said schools that offer both programs as BM’s (like NYU Steinhardt) seem appealing because he could potentially apply to both or change course if he finds one’s a better fit than the other.

Btw I’m also brand new to College Confidential so not sure how to PM.

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I think one of us would need a minimum number of posts to be able to PM. But I’m totally brand new!

If he wants to pursue film scoring, he will be best served by living in LA. It is really hard to get meaningful work in that world if you don’t live in Los Angeles. Many (not all) new composers wanting to score films will work as an assistant to a composer. And there, the most important skills generally have nothing to do with pencil-and-paper composing ability, but more having excellent tech skills, fluidity with software/hardware used, being able to do good mockups using samples. (These are all things that good commercial music programs will teach but that he could also figure out on his own.) USC is rivaled maybe only by Berklee in terms of the kinds of connections kids make that will go a long way outside of college.

He might want to go look up the composition faculty at each of the schools he’s interested in and listen to their work. And if possible look to see which ones teach the beginning theory courses as well. Some might inspire more than others. :slight_smile:

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USC likes composition undergrads to do a foundational BM in classical composition before doing grad work in film scoring. I personally favor this approach. Which is not to say that, as an undergrad, he couldn’t take courses in film scoring and/or work with film students.

Have you or has he read the Double Degree Dilemma essay closer to the top of this forum? That actually details different ways to study music, and can be clarifying.

Composers do not have to do a BM. Some benefit from getting a BA in music or in another subject, and then focusing on composing in grad school. That would mean working with a teacher and having pieces performed as an extracurricular.

For undergrad, I would try to make sure there is diversity in student works. The aesthetic varies from school to school (from neo-Romantic/tonal to experimental) and I believe for undergrads, the most important thing is freedom from dogma and freedom to find one’s own “voice.”

If he wants a BM, I would suggest looking at Oberlin, Lawrence, Ithaca, Hartt, Temple Boyer, Lamont, Bienin, Mason Gross…there are others. He might like Boston Conservatory which is in a college area and has an excellent composition program, and is also merged with Berklee. BoCo therefore has a foundational composition program plus connection to film scoring, musical theater (at BoCo0 and a personalized experience.

He should listen to faculty works. A good teacher will NOT expect students to emulate him or her, but still, it is helpful. Some schools have discs of student works as well. This takes a lot of research.

Starting in junior year is not a problem. At the undergrad level they are not looking for polish (unless Juilliard level) but potential.

He might want to read Alex Ross’ book “The Rest is Noise” and listen to some of the music covered. A knowledge of 20th and 21 st century composers can help with admissions as well as with one’s own work.

I’ll PM you. You can’t PM yet unless someone PM’s you.

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University of Puget Sound has a new composition degree as part of their music school. Might be worth checking into, I assume it is not highly competitive given it’s a new major.

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Good info on Puget Sound.

There are countless schools, some with BM’s, some with BA’s, some with both.

College of Wooster is another good one.

Puget Sound
Bachelor of Music in Composition
The Bachelor of Music in Composition provides students with essential skills in composition, orchestration, counterpoint, and musical analysis. In three years of composition lessons, students learn about modern techniques, historical forms, and extended instrumental techniques, with a capstone composition recital in the senior year. Additional courses are taken in acoustics, computer science, and computer music.
Portfolio required | Degree requirements


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Thanks so much, everyone. The double degree dilemma article was super helpful.

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David Lane’s essay was originally on the Peabody admissions site. It disappeared when he retired so we asked him to give us a copy for CC because we thought it was so helpful.

Just add the option (especially for composers) of BA in music or in something else with lessons and extracurricular performance for credit :slight_smile:

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This is a good list. I would suggest looking at Peabody Institute as well - they have a school of dance and Thomas Dolby is there now heading a music for new media program. He could take other classes at Johns Hopkins. Have you looked at UCLA?

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Hi all,

My son’s completed the process now so I wanted to share an update in case it helps another budding composer. Of the ten schools he applied to he received the following:

Acceptance for BM Composition:
Rutgers Mason Gross
ASU Herberger
Ithaca College
U. of Denver Lamont
CSU Northridge
CSU Fullerton

Acceptance to BM Music:
CSU Long Beach

Redirect to BM Voice:
U. of Colorado Boulder

U. of Michigan
NYU Steinhardt

In the end he chose Rutgers Mason Gross because he had a wonderful sample lesson with a professor there. ASU was a close second.

Thanks to everyone for the help and please let me know if I can help advise anyone else going through the process in the future!



Congratulations! He will have a great experience. It is so nice of you to come back and post for the sake of others.