Help with college list for a kid who wants music and computer science

My son, currently a junior, is starting to put together a college list. We read “Double Degree Dilemma” by David Lane (the perfect reading at this stage). I would say my son is close to a “Jennifer.” His two main interest are orchestral percussion and computer science. This is not a situation where one is his passion and the other one a way to get a job. Percussion and CS are just the two things he is best at and he loves the most. He (and my husband and I) would be totally happy if he chooses just one of the two or if he continues with both. Let me add here that we are neither musicians nor computer scientists. Also, he does not care about school size, he is open to any location and financial aid is not an issue (we are lucky that my husband’s job pays for a nice share of college tuition).

Here is our thinking so far:

He ruled out stand-alone conservatories (he definitely wants to study CS).

He likes the idea of a BM because he is interested in performance (and music theory, ensembles, etc). However, that would mean double degree and he is not sure that is what he wants. One reason: he would like to have a normal college life and not a hectic life running from place to place trying to do it all. That is how he imagines life at Eastman/Rochester, CIM/CWRU, JHU/Peabody, etc.

Maybe in a place like Oberlin a double degree is more manageable (I don’t mean “easier”, just “less stressful.” In part because many students are doing the same thing). Not sure about this.

Bard is another option. It seems similar to Oberlin in many aspects but how is CS at Bard?

A double degree is also offered in places like BU. But, like the double degrees at JHU/Peabody, etc, it is described as “a 5 year program only for people with extraordinary time management skills” (not my son).

DOUBLE MAJOR: BA in music/BA in CS
Initially, he did not like the idea of a BA in music. At some schools a BA seems to be designed for non-performers (for example, the BA in music offered at Northwestern and the one at BU). At other places it seems like a “consolation price” (Rice students cannot apply to a BA. The BA is open only to BM students that no longer want a BM).

In other places, the double major option is perfect. The Blair school of music at Vanderbilt offers a Bachelors in Musical Arts that focuses on performance and is flexible enough to allow him to double major in CS.

UMichigan, also offers a BMA in performance and Rochester offers a BA in music, both of them focus on performance and are designed for students who want to do coursework outside the music school.

BA in CS/MINOR in music
BU offers a Minor in Music Performance and USC offers a Minor in Musical Studies that focus on performance. Students take private lessons, participate in ensembles, and study music theory etc. They are clearly designed for students with substantive music training. Both schools would be great for CS. But we are not sure what to think about the fact that music is only a minor. I guess he can take more music classes if he wants?

For a safety school we were looking into UIUC (ok music and top CS) but then noticed that the admissions rate for CS is separate and way too low to be a safety. We then looked at Indiana (music is amazing, CS is ok). Colorado at Boulder seems to be ok for both music and CS. Any other suggestions?

I would welcome any comments about anything I said. But my main questions is: can anyone suggest more schools like Vanderbilt and Rochester? Schools that offer a BA in music designed for kids who want to focus on performance and flexible enough to allow kids to double major?

One last thing. I am totally new to CC. I started reading CC a few weeks ago. So I would also welcome comments regarding where or how to post my question so that I reach the relevant audience. Thanks!

For an additional direction, you may want to research schools with excellent general academics and inherently flexible curricula, such as Brown, Amherst and Hamilton. Among other colleges you haven’t mentioned, Skidmore, Wesleyan and St. Olaf would be worth considering for their notable music programs, which can be combined with CS. Of schools you have mentioned, URochester’s B.A. in music program seems very good and suitably flexible.

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I’d see if either Tufts or Carnegie Mellon seems like a fit as well. The options you are considering seem solid.

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From what I have learned during the last few years on CC, that is the norm rather than the exception for public schools, so you may want to look at smaller privates, preferably need aware, for matches and safeties.

St Olaf has been mentioned, supposed to be great for music and math, there is also Lawrence, supposed to be great for music and physics. Both subjects that my non STEM brain associates with CS, but that may need a little more digging.

Schools that my brain associates with percussion: Bard, Wesleyan, UNT Denton.


Orchestral percussion makes me think: very few seats. And also: what if he can’t get one?

If it is very important for him to play in a big symphony or philharmonic orchestra, maybe that is the best starting point for your search: where are the orchestras he’d want and can he get in? If the school has a conservatory or conservatory-type school of music attached, does he need to be a BM student to get a chance? Are there schools that happen to graduate a lot of percussionists next year? Maybe it’s possible to contact conductors?

Once he has a list of desirable orchestras he has a chance to get a seat at, then check the overall music situation (BM, BA, double degree, double major, credit for ensemble playing, private lesson availability and so on).

Then rank the desirable orchestra schools for their CS offerings and admissions selectivity.

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Are you familiar with the CS+X option at UIUC? One of the options is CS+Music, I believe. Those combined CS majors are easier to get in compared to the stand-alone CS major housed in the College of Engineering, although admission is still competitive, so, as you pointed out, it’s not a safety by any means.

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Do you have Boston University on your list?

You may want to look at Kalamazoo. Not sure how strong it is in CS or percussion but it is a place that does a good job of mixing musical performance and academics.

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At IU Bloomington, Jacobs School is incredible and admission by audition is very very competitive. CS at IU is solid – and very competitive within the major – we live in Indiana and know very successful CS majors from IU, so I wouldn’t let any concerns about CS at IU hold a student back from application.

At the same time, many students who love music and want to continue studying and performing in college, but do not see a post-grad career in music, manage that by being double majors or a major and a minor etc. That process is more straightforward at LACs where CS doesn’t require separate admission into an overcrowded department.

Why the push for a double degree for this student – is it to preserve the option for a career in music?

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In other words, he’s a typical liberal arts student. He doesn’t need a conservatory or even a fine arts degree in order to pursue a passion. IMO, what he needs is some mentoring and the opportunity to find his peep, in or outside the classroom. And, a good career guidance center. The OP’s instincts are good regarding Oberlin; lots of non-Conservatory students there with a passion for playing and making music. Bard certainly comes to mind. And at Wesleyan there are a plethora of percussion partisans:
Javanese Gamelan, Music - Wesleyan University

Korean Drumming, Music - Wesleyan University

Taiko Drumming, Music - Wesleyan University

Steel Band, Music - Wesleyan University

West African Drumming, Music - Wesleyan University

South Indian Percussion, Music - Wesleyan University

And, one of the best regional orchestras in the country is only a half-hour away: Hartford Symphony Orchestra | Connecticut’s Premier Musical Organization

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It seems you have already been on the music major forum (and read Lane’s essay) and I would continue to post there.

Oberlin has enhanced their music BA with increased access to the conservatory resources. Musical Studies Department | Oberlin College and Conservatory

The Oberlin program is intended for kids like your son. Oberlin is also very supportive of double degrees, and music kids are well-integrated on campus. Bard requires a double degree of all conservatory students.

I honestly think you should start looking at schools that do NOT have a BM program. It is a common tendency in a situation like this to look at “schools good for music” but in many cases, the universities and colleges with conservatories or schools of music are not the best choices for a student who wants another intense major like CS.

Instead, find schools that fit for price, location, size, academics (CS and music), and “vibe.”

He can major in CS, an intensive and sequential major, and continue lessons and extracurricular performance. Some schools that do not have a BM program have excellent music programs. Amherst (and other “little Ivies”_ google this) would be a possibility, with the resources of the 5 college consortium nearby and the open curriculum. Brown (other Ivies?) too. Tufts has a great music dept. and also a double degree with NEC> He could start with a BS in CS and add NEC if he so desires. I like Clark University in Worcester MA. There are many schools that would fit the bill for this path.

For double degrees that are integrated into one campus, Oberlin, Lawrence, Bard and Ithaca are often mentioned.

One other thing: I understand his orchestral ambitions. He could certainly get a job in CS and play in an amateur orchestra. I also want to mention the contemporary solo repertoire which he might not know much about. On the Bridge: The Beginnings of Contemporary Percussion Music with Steven Schick – To Be Musical - Bing video

So his options are BM, BS in CS, double degree, double major BA in both or BA/BS, major/minor, and CS major with lessons and extracurricular performance. Often lessons are given for credit and even funded, and teachers can be found on and off campus.

If he does the last option he should submit a music supplement to the common app with recording/video, music resume, and letters or recommendation from teacher(s) or director. He does not have to major in music for that to help with admissions. Generally no audition in that least for admission.

I know people who have not majored in music at all, including CS majors, who did grad school in music. In fact I know one who continued to work in Silicon Valley after his MM. I also know music majors working in CS, one after a post-bacc certificate.

The real point is that there are many paths and nothing is written in stone. And he can apply to many different options at once and decide in late April.

But I would start looking at different schools because so far you are thinking about a BS in CS at a school with a conservatory or school of music, and generally- there are exceptions like Oberlin- you want schools that DON’T have a BM program on campus to maximize extracurrricular and curricular music opportunities for a CS student.


You might look at USC with their Engineering Plus.

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@momclassof26, I would suggest your son look at Williams: a solid CS department plus a vibrant music program, multiple performance opportunities in 2 orchestras and various ensembles (including a percussion ensemble). Double majors are common and manageable.

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My apologies if I missed this. What is your home state? Are you fine with spending $380,000 if this goes five years?

One thing that occurs to me is that a B.Sc. in CS and a BM in music are going to have relatively less overlap than some other potential dual degrees. This makes me wonder whether taking 5 years to graduate is a possibility. If so, this can stress some budgets. Also, most scholarships end after four years, but if your son attends an in-state public university he will still be in-state for the fifth year.

I have worked in high tech my entire career and have run into quite a few high tech people who take music seriously. This seems to be a relatively common combination.

U.Mass Amherst is quite good for both music and computer science. Waterloo in Canada is of course famous for computer science but is also quite good for music, as are multiple other Canadian universities.

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I cannot speak to percussion, but concur that professional violinists would say that if a kid can imagine doing anything but being a professional musician, to do that, particularly if the “anything but” represents a lucrative field such as CS.

There appears to be an abundance of opportunities for the excellent amateur player, and a total scarcity of opportunities for the professional player that pay well enough to make a good living rather than just getting by with a lot of hustling, driving, night and weekend work and lack of any security.

Apparently, loads of community orchestras in the Bay Area filled with techies who can buy nice houses, raise families, buy expensive instruments, afford lessons for themselves and their kids and play their violins for fun.

This is why I’d focus on opportunities to play - ensembles, and lessons. A good music theory prof will be around, the talent field being much deeper than the available tenured positions. Whether he comes out with a BM, BA, major, minor, certificate, I don’t think it will matter much, because unless he wants to teach, it matters how you play, and he could always go for an MM in the, let’s face it, unlikely event he cannot, under any circumstances, imagine to do CS for a living.

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Music majors work in many fields, go to grad and med, law, business or nursing school, and if they stick with music, may land a good paying job either playing or teaching, sometimes at a university with tenure. For a BA, it is a liberal art major like many others. “Hustling” is certainly not the only outcome.

That said, if the primary interest is CS, there are many ways to continue to include music. Combining two such intensive majors would most likely mean a 5 year double degree unless you can figure out a way to make an open curriculum school work.

Finally @DadTwoGirls mentioned UMass Amherst, which definitely has a good CS program (you have to be admitted separately). However, it has a BM program so I would again advise checking closely to see whether the best teachers and opportunities go to the BM students. If so, as a BA or even as an extracurricular musician, much better to look at schools that do not offer a BM.

This last point is important because again, many people will suggest schools with “good music programs” meaning conservatory or school of music on campus, and in your situation those might be programs to avoid. Not always, but often.

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My son went through this recently, but for brass/psychology (with high-level academics, in general). He also ruled out stand-alone conservatories, and focused on universities where the school of music was geographically integrated with the rest of the school, because he didn’t want to have to be commuting between two campuses.

This is how he approached the search. Realizing that many places offered high level academics and psychology, he focused on finding the right music setting. He looked at the teachers he’d be working with, what was their playing style, were they pleasant to work with, were they spread too thin or would they have the time to work with him, would he have the opportunity to get a lot of attention/playing time. He ruled out Indiana because the studio was hyper-competitive and enormous, and with his dual interest in academics, he’d probably wind up as an also-ran in the studio. He ruled out a number of schools with excellent music and excellent teachers, because the school’s academic level was too low. He looked at a lot of flagship state U’s, with schools of music, plus most private U’s with conservatories and high level academics.

Once he had his list of places that he wanted because of music teacher and music environment, he then looked at ease of access to academics, general academic level/selectivity, good enough psychology department. He also considered the general geographic location and the social atmosphere on campus (Baylor, being a conservative church school with no Jews, was out). As it turned out, willing to go virtually anywhere in the US or Canada, he narrowed it down to only a few schools. BU, U Maryland, U Conn (in-state safety), McGill, all of which given his academic and music credentials were essentially safeties and had incredible teachers for his instrument, plus Harvard (LOR from their conductor) with plans to study privately in Boston and possibly play also in BPYO, Yale/YSM, and Columbia/Juilliard (he already knew the area and Juilliard, and understood their program, and how much commuting would be involved). He wound up with early acceptance to Harvard and took it, didn’t apply to Yale and Columbia. He decided not to apply to NEC also, feeling it would interfere with getting the most out of Harvard. He is now at the stage of trying to ID a private teacher in Boston, and deciding whether he wants to audition for BPYO, knowing that he will already play for Harvard’s very good symphony, plus some small ensembles there, too.

It took a LOT of research, and only he could evaluate the music side of things. He networked with his music teachers, a lot of students from his pre-college programs, and summer programs, and from institutes he’d attended, to find out what they thought of the teachers/music programs where they were now studying.

In your son’s case, a lot of schools will have good enough comp sci. The fact is that nowadays, one can come out of a local state college (not even flagship state U) from any state with a major in comp sci, and instantly have many job offers. As in engineering, after the first job, virtually no one cares where your degree is from - they care what you can do. The trick is going to be finding the place that is right for him, musically, and has decent comp sci.

Wesleyan’s orchestra is not at a level to meet your son’s needs. My kid didn’t want Oberlin because of remote rural location, and I think he said the instrumental teacher wasn’t a good match for him. I didn’t want it for him because of the current radical left-wing antisemitic atmosphere on campus. UMass Amherst’s CS program is very good, has gotten very selective. Don’t know how it is for music.

I don’t think that your son should add in the restriction of avoiding schools that offer a BM vs a BA. As long as a double major option is available, if he winds up getting the CS degree, and gets the music training experience he wants, without actually completing the BM because he’s decided he’s going to get a job in CS right after college, he’ll have gotten the music experience/education he wanted and the CS degree he needed. Remember that many state schools will accept AP and CLEP credits to place out of gen eds, thus freeing up more class time for music and CS.


I believe a BMA is a Bachelor of Music Applied which is a performance degree on a specific instrument. It’s not a BA program (OP mentioned that from Michigan).

BU has the BUMO (Boston University Music Organizations) which provides a number of ensembles for students who are not in the music major programs. That might be a worth considering but it won’t include the coursework…

Lawrence has often been mentioned as a place that deals well with double majors.

Oberlin is a great choice but plan to spend five years there if he does both degrees. He will need to be accepted to both the conservatory and college.

What about University of Rochester? He possibly could take courses at Eastman. Same with Case Western. Worth exploring for courses there through Cleveland Institute of Music.

He may need to be a bit open minded about a music double major or minor along with computer science. My second kid wanted to minor in music with her engineering degree. It just wasn’t possible to take all the courses in both engineering and music, but she did play in the orchestra all four years and took private lessons as well.

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Double degree is better than double major for this combo of interests.

After 14 years on here, I stand by my caution to look into whether BA students on a campus with a BM program, who want high level music, need to look deeply into whether the best teachers and performances and other resources go mainly to the BM students. This caution has many exceptions. The main point is to explore this issue deeply with the department at the school you are looking at.

Some schools don’t even take double degree students as seriously as the BM only students. And some love double degree students. You really have to delve into details.

I would add that looking into community resources is important too. And email departments. We had one school offer to find a teacher for my kid, and others leave you to it. Regional orchestras may make up for a less than stellar school one and so on.


I’m following as my s23 may be on this path. Right now he’s leading heavy towards music education. Personally, I can see him doing finance or econ plus music. My sons problem is that he’s the jack of all trades and master of none. He is in choir and does the musical. He’s in band and decent on his instrument and knows some guitar and piano as well. But GPA is staying around 3.4-3.5 and financially we may look at Jesuits for potential free tuition and there’s not many options for music ed there.

Anyways, I hope your son finds their path because I feel your parental worry.

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Thank you @circuitrider, @compmom, @parentologist and @tigerle. You hit it on the nail in terms of what we should be looking for. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I will follow up with another question and will try to post it in the music major forum.

SKIDMORE seems like a nice liberal arts place and it offers a BA in music. But there is no audition needed neither for the major nor to play in the ensembles. We need to think about this.
WESLEYAN good liberal arts place. Great for music. They have 7 different percussion ensembles but none of them are for classical percussion! Still it is a good fit in many ways so it is hard not to include it. Wesleyan goes on the list.
ST OLAF Solid music school and they have computer science. It goes on the list.
BROWN it seems so much of a reach.
AMHERST Great LAC. Good music program. Not big on percussion but a good fit in all other ways. Amherst goes on the list.
HAMILTON Same as Amherst. Hamilton goes on the list.

TUFTS has a double degree with NEC (one of those programs for kids with superb time management skills—not my boy). Tufts also has a music school and it offers a “disciplinary minor in music” and a BA in “music, sound and culture”. It does not seem the type of BA he wants. But many people recommend it. I may have to look more carefully
CMU is a reach in terms of computer science. They have a Bachelors of Computer Science and Arts major (which includes Comp sci and music) that is a little less of a reach but still a reach. This was a great suggestion. Thanks! CMU goes on the list.

LAWRENCE Solid music place. Great percussion ensemble. And they have Comp Sci. Lawrence goes on the list.
UNT Denton Looks great for music. They offer a BA in music and they have lots of percussion ensembles including 3 for classical percussion. It has CS. UNT goes on the list.
BARD is on the list.
WESLEYAN just added to the list.
@tigerle is absolutely right. Orchestral percussion=very few seats.
Orchestral percussion is what my son has studied for the past 8 years but it does not mean he wants to play for an orchestra. There are other options out there for classically trained percussionists but actually, he has not thought about a job yet. He has not thought about what he will do with computer science either.
I call it orchestral percussion to differentiate it from drum kit, steel drums, and international drumming ensembles. But I believe a better label is “contemporary classical percussion”.

Yes, BU is on the list and one of his top choices!
KALAMAZOO only offers international percussion ensembles. Not as strong in music as other places in the list (same for CS). So we won’t include it… for now.

UIUC definitely stays on the list. Thanks @motherprof for the CS+X info.

Thanks @Midwestmomofboys for info on IU comp sci. IU definitely stays on the list. We are not pushing for a double degree. At this moment it is just one more option. We are considering it just to be thorough and not to forcefully keep the music option open. I think @compmom is right, it is possible to do graduate study in music even if you don’t get a BM. So no pressure there.

@lkg4answers Thanks for the info on engineering plus. Totally the kind of CS program he would like. That moves USC up the list 

Thanks @compmom for the link to Schick’s presentation. After watching it, my son wanted to add UCSD to the list.
BROWN Their flexible curriculum is ideal for double majors specially when they are so far apart. But it seems so much of a reach.
TUFTS A quick look made me conclude is not a good fit for him but several people have recommended it. I will have to look again.
ITHACA fantastic music. But it seems they are in financial trouble: Ithaca College announces faculty layoffs, will eliminate arts majors

We live in Illinois. My husband’s job will help with a large percentage of college tuition for 4 years. So, yes, year 5 would be on us. But given that we get a break the first 4 years, we can handle year 5. Luckily UIUC turns out to be a good option for him.
A BS in CS would make overlap very hard. A BA in CS would make it easier but still the two fields are far apart.
UMASS Amherst good option. It goes on the list.
WATERLOO, MCGILL and other Canadian universities: My son did say that he does not mind location but we need to talk about it.

OBERLIN In many ways it is a great fit. Percussion prof retiring now but another also very good one will be replacing him. My son does not mind the rural location but we are concerned about its reputation as being filled with extreme left-wing students that veer into being close minded. I ok with left-wing students, but I mind close minded students. Does anyone else know anything about it?