Majoring in Non-Music Field for Undergrad, How to Apply for Music Performance Grad School

I’m a rising sophomore studying engineering at my university because I love it. I also play the viola and love that, but being financially stable is really important to me and so I chose to major in engineering at a university that has little to no music opportunities for me as it was the best deal I got. However, I want to go to grad school for music (it’s not necessary for my field of engineering) and I’m trying to figure out what I need to be a competitive applicant (official classes vs just having the knowledge for theory/history/etc, ensemble experience, chamber experience). Is anyone here able to help me gain more information about this or point me in the direction of who to ask? Can I email admissions counselors at conservatories to ask about this as well or should I wait until I know where I want to go?

Sure, you can email away. But what you are likely going to hear back is that you are not competitive. Who are you competing against? People who spent the last four years preparing for music grad school. Unless you are so amazingly good that you are already better than they are (in which case why not just skip the advanced degree and go straight into a career?) they are going to be more ready than you - they just spent four years to becomes so,

You are unclear about whether you are currently playing in ensembles (“ensemble experience, chamber experience”) or not (“no music opportunities”), but if not, a four year gap is going to make you even less competitive.

Acceptance rates to these programs can be really, really low - like single digits. You might spend some time casting a very wide net to find programs with high acceptance fractions.

Depending on your instrument, you might think about Berklee. It’s not intended to credential you, but it might let you catch up to your pers.

I agree with @MITPhysicsAlum that acceptance into a graduate Music Performance program would be unlikely without a stellar audition. You would be competing against the best violists in the nation/world who have been likely practicing an unbelievable number of hours a day for the past 4 years along with intensely studying music theory, history, piano and participating in master classes, ensembles, festivals and auditions.
There are other ways to grow as a musician without pursuing graduate school, however. It is always possible to pursue private lessons, master classes outside of a graduate program. One can audition for community orchestras and often college orchestras, especially on “rarer” instruments like viola. Theory classes, music history, etc can be taken at community colleges.
While it might not be the graduate school experience you envision, there are many opportunities to explore.


I have to mostly agree with other answers. I do not understand what you are going to do with a graduate degree in music (or any other degree in music).

I have worked in high tech for my entire career (I am mostly retired now, but do a bit of consulting). I have met multiple people in high tech who are very good in music. I have seen several of them get up on stage and play, and play very well.

However, music is a tough way to make a living.

Engineering is a pretty good way to make a living. However, I would be a bit nervous about what would happen if you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, then take two or three years off to study music, and then look for a job as an engineer.

My inclination would be to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and then look for a job in engineering. Meanwhile, keep playing your viola. Once you get a job, then take music classes once a week in the evening. Show up at open mic’s. Play with friends. Look for quartets who are lacking a viola player and who practice outside of normal working hours.

Depending upon where you end up working, you might be able to take evening or weekend classes at a music school such as Berklee. One daughter did take a summer class at Berklee years ago. It was a great class, but it has nothing to do with the career that she is pursuing today.


Your audition is what is going to matter. There still are people who don’t major in performance music undergrad (but who were stellar performers before they went to college, and continued to play during college, and often took private lessons during college) who do go on for a masters in performance music at prestigious conservatories.

Do you still practice daily? Do you still study with a high-level teacher? Do you play in any ensembles? If your teacher says that you are competitive for masters programs in viola, then keep doing those things. Your admission is going to depend entirely upon your audition, so it’s not off the table by any means.


You might want to post this in the music major forum, even though you are not currently majoring in music.

I tend to agree with @parentologist and would ask the same questions. Do you have a well-regarded teacher? How much do you practice? Are you playing in an orchestra or ensemble? I would add: Have you participated in any summer programs or festivals?

I personally know several musicians who did not major in performance OR music at all and went on to grad school. I also know BA music majors (not performance) who took lessons and played in extracurricular ensembles and got in to grad school for music performance.

It really is all about the audition.

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I agree with Dadtwogirls. What is your end goal? Do you want to work in engineering or be a musician?

If you want engineering to be your “day job”, work after graduation in that field and play viola as a hobby. So many communities have opportunities for adults to continue their instrument in ensembles, pit orchestras for community theater, clubs, playing at weddings, etc…

Or you could look to transfer schools to one where you could minor in music for your last two years.

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