Colleges with strong orchestras/chamber groups truly open for *non* music majors (engineering major)

DD (junior) is interested in engineering as a career but is passionate re. music. She is in a selective HS of arts in their orchestra and in youth symphony orchestras- all-state etc. Most of her peers (seniors) are going to conservatories. I’m helping her find colleges that have strong orchestras open to non-music majors but also has a good engineering program. I’d appreciate your sharing colleges that truly are and are not open to non-music majors. I had to dig in a bit but places such as Mercer is not open / I read Carnagie Mellon is basically not really open. Not considering schools in California. Thank you for any insights you can share to help!

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Take a look at Purdue. Their Philharmonic Orchestra is amazing and open to all for auditions. There is another orchestra that is a bit more low key but also excellent.


One option my son is considering is CWRU + Cleveland Institute of Music.
Case also offers a music scholarship for non-majors.


Is there a budget? A particular type of engineering?

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Princeton allows non majors to participate in the orchestra. But it is competitive. There are auditions for everyone. The orchestra is often helmed by famous conductors.

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Harvard has an incredible symphony, but no perf music majors, plus they have other less selective ensembles. Some NEC students play in the harvard symphony as their large ensemble. I suspect that if one were at MIT and good enough, one could play for harvard.


This is not my area of expertise. Perhaps @compmom will chime in, as she is quite knowledgeable about college music programs.

I looked into ABET-accredited schools for engineering that offer music majors (or music-adjacent majors like music theory or technology), but an insufficient number of them to fill an orchestra (much less multiple types of musical ensembles). You included no size or budget preferences, so there’s an array of schools here that might be worth checking out.

  • Binghamton (NY): About 14k undergrads

  • Bucknell (PA ): About 3700 undergrads

  • Fairfield (CT): About 4600 undergrads

  • Iowa State: About 26k undergrads

  • Kansas State: About 16k undergrads

  • Lehigh (PA ): About 5500 undergrads

  • Miami of Ohio: about 17k undergrads

  • Ohio Northern: about 2400 undergrads

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic (NY): About 5600 undergrads

  • Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ): About 4k undergrads

  • The College of New Jersey: About 7k undergrads

  • Union (NY): About 2100 undergrads

  • U. of Dayton (OH): about 8600 undergrads

  • U. of Louisville (KY): About 16k undergrads

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We went to see Vanderbilt and they allow non Blair school students to be part of their ensembles and take lessons/join chamber groups. Seems fairly easy to take a music minor.


My child was also in this position. Not an engineering major, but a conservatory-level musician who was not going to conservatory. IDK what level of selectiveness your D is looking at, but here’s a sampling from across the board.

Yale (really, any highly selective college, but especially Yale)
Lawrence University
Ithaca College
Williams College

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My kid was an engineering major and finding a place where she could play her (endangered) instrument NOT as a music major in the orchestra was THE hardest part of her college search. Like your daughter, mine was in precollege orchestra and wind ensemble, and took private lessons on two instruments, and also was a member of an auditioned childrens chorus.

My kid reached out to every applied teacher on her instrument at the colleges of interest, and the orchestra directors, and the department chair people.

My kid went to Santa Clara University. Their engineering program is well regarded. The college orchestra was open to all students. It wasn’t the strongest orchestra on the planet, but my kid enjoyed it nevertheless. She played first chair all four years, and also was able to take private lessons at no cost to us as long as she played in the orchestra. She also got a small scholarship every term.

This was sort of a compromise…but it worked well. My DD loved her private teachers, and the orchestra. She also picked up a few gigs playing in civic theater pit orchestras via her private teacher.

If you are looking for conservatory level non-music major orchestras…I would suggest Yale. Of course, getting acceoted is a challenge, but but they have many many ensembles for undergrads, and a lot of students who are excellent musicians.


We are looking at non conservatory music programs also, and agree with all of your suggestions, but I dont think any have engineering majors. The LACs I believe have dual enrollment programs with Dartmouth.

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Have you looked at University of Rochester? They have the Eastman School of Music. Check if they take non music majors.

My son ended up at Tufts. It has an engineering school. The TSO is pretty good. Some of the members are conservatory level. My son knew some of them from all-Eastern. Tufts also has a joint program with NEC.


I don’t think Eastman is particularly welcoming and inclusive to non-majors. Though I do think if a school like Rochester is of strong interest and you can somehow get in for a sample lesson with a teacher at Eastman, you may get the straight scoop or work around. But I suspect a school like that would be frustrating it you really wanted to do music.

I think a lot of large universities with schools of engineering and schools of music may allow for this. In paticular for a strong musician that is willing/able to audition for a spot in an ensemble. I know UMN and UW Madison have non majors in some of their ensembles.


We looked into Rochester as well, since we heard that Eastman is relatively welcoming to U Rochester non-music majors and provides similar benefits to CIM’s relationship with CWRU. My son didn’t like how Eastman isn’t physically as close to U Rochester proper, compared to CIM being in the same area as CWRU, so he ended up crossing it off his list without even visiting. But many people do recommend it.


NC State offers a number of audition and non-audition ensembles.


I would focus on schools that do not have BM Programs, with some exceptions. A lot of chamber and orchestral offerings are extracurricular and non-majors are as welcome as music majors. I believe Tufts is a good example. A school like Williams has kids who play with the local regional orchestra and that kind of thing happens too. MIT has an excellent music dept.

Honestly there are a lot of possibilities so without more info it is hard to recommend specific schools.


THis was my thought, I think that it is far and not so easy for an engineer

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Agree Tufts is a great idea for OP, and I forgot about Columbia, excellent orchestra, many prior Julliard precollege students. Also SUNY Stony Brook has an excellent orchestra.

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Consider something like the student run Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland.


@Hippobirdy this sounds like so much fun!

I was going to say, the bigger universities sometimes have offbeat opportunities you need to dig and ask around about before you find them. My kid is actually doing music and STEM degrees at a large University. His favorite music related ensemble now is not through the school of music and is not for credit and does not require him to be a music major. But tours and performs and rehearses at a very high level.