Music Composition Programs for Screen/Media Scoring

Hello, everyone. I’m so glad to have found this forum!

My son just finished his Junior year in high school. He has always been interested in composition and orchestration, and one of the bright sides to the pandemic was the extra time at home provided the opportunity to develop his craft. He’s been very busy in his home studio; he is now certain that a career in media composition is the path for his future.

We come from a small town, so the opportunities for formal training in this area have been limited. It has been hard to gauge his level of talent/experience/aptitude in a niche field. He participated in a Junior Composition camp last summer through the University of Minnesota that went very well. This summer, we jumped in further and he participated in the online screen scoring camps through NYU and the professional critiques were a wonderful experience to better understand the profession and hone his craft. In a week, he’ll be spending two weeks on campus at Berklee to join the High School Composition Intensive to further prepare for the admissions process.

Does anyone have insight into new admissions considerations for composition programs since the pandemic? As general programs are pulling back on requirements related to standardized test scores and GPA requirements to account for 18 months of disruption - Are we seeing the same for composition and music schools? I’m hoping that these summer programs will help to offset a year where my son wasn’t allowed to work with a live orchestra. He lost the chance to score for the drama department, couldn’t record a piece with his high school band, etc.

Thank you for any tips or advice as we navigate all this! Any advice would be welcome.

He has already participated in the U of Minnesota, and NYU programs, and will have three pieces recorded at the Berklee program with live musicians. So he should have a portfolio already done. And he can include work he does in his home studio.

Generally high school bands either cannot play new composer pieces, or the composing is affected adversely by the level of playing. So that really is not a loss. Ditto drama score. But he can write about the lost opportunities due to COVID which everyone will understand.

More complicated is where to apply to school. “Composition” covers a lot of ground these days but is still essentially classical or, should I say, concert-oriented. Many many young people want to composer for film, video games and so on but this is in a way a sub-genre that is also related to music technology, studio production and so on.

USC Thornton is a top grad film scoring program but they still require a foundational traditional composition degree for undergrad (which usually does involve some tech/, electronic work).

Berklee is another great school for this, but your son can also look at Boston Conservatory, which is smaller and more personalized but since the merger with Berklee, offers access to film scoring there.

Miami Frost is also often mentioned, NYU, U of Denver, Columbia College Chicago. Cal Arts…I can send you a list. But it seems you already know quite a lot about the field so maybe that is not needed.

Peabody has a program called “Music for New Media.” That might interest.

Anyway I am going beyond your question here. He should be fine with whatever he has from his formal programs as well as whatever he has done at home. He just needs to decide on the direction he wants for undergrad. And understand that many composers-most- do grad school!

PM’ed you


The pandemic has not increased the number of seats at a given university, not has it decreased the number of high school graduates. So, the level of competition will be largely unchanged. Admissions criteria are shifting, and it is entirely possible that a student who pre-pandemic would get into X but not Y, post-pandemic will get into Y and not X.

This is a really, really, really competitive field. USC has a very strong program, but I believe it is grad-only. But if you look at their faculty, you will quickly realize that every year they graduate more students than the number of movies they scored.

The consensus is that composition is more competitive than performance, and performance is brutal. Neither is particularly credential-driven either.

I think you need to a) cast a very wide net, and b) come up with a Plan B now, and consider how colleges fit into Plan B.

Bud Herseth played principal trumpet for the Chicago Symphony for more than half a century. His degree was in math.


Very informative post.

However, I am not sure that your opening sentence reflects the current environment due to Covid. While the number of high school grads has probably remained constant, some programs (not aware of any specific music composition programs) have increased seats to accommodate those who elected to defer entrance.

Forgot to suggest, as usual, reading the Double Degree Dilemma essay in the Read Me thread closer to the top of this forum. It is really about different ways to study music.

I would add, as implied by @MITPhysicsAlum , that one option, perhaps especially for composers, is to do a BA program (see Oberlin’s Musical Studies) or even major in something else and continue with lessons, electives and extracurricular or informal music activities.

Your son will have the portfolio for application to freestanding conservatories, conservatories on college campuses, and schools of music at universities. These will involve portfolio and interview, and sometimes audition.

If he applies to a non-BM program he can still submit pieces as part of a music supplement that would also include music resume and letters of recommendation from teachers relevant to music.

Screen/media scoring is a sub-genre of composition. Most composition programs are still for concert music, though most all include some music tech./electronic work/multimedia work/installations and so on. Some more than others (see TIMARA).

I think there is a good argument, as USC makes, that a foundational curriculum in concert composition (for lack of a better term) along with some tech work in scoring, may be the best preparation for grad school.

Look perhaps also at schools with film programs like SUNY Purchase, for instance, or LAC’s with good fit majors in film and music.

But if he wants to go directly into film scoring and music for new media, there are programs specifically geared to those. I sent you a list.

Would love to see the list. Are you willing to post it ? Thank you.

Yes, We would love to see the list, Thank you

It’s not really a list for composition, more for studio production type programs.

Thank you, everyone, for the great advice and considerations.

The other challenge that we have to balance with my son is the competitive nature from an academic standpoint for many of these schools.

Any thoughts about the balance between audition materials vs standard academic measures at the various programs? We are discussing all the options, but I feel fairly confident that a BM is the right path for him. In that case, is his time best used to focus on boosting his academic credentials (e.g., a really strong Fall term, maybe some ACT prep work?) or continuing our efforts to demonstrate his musicianship (e.g., scoring for the Fall musical, putting more energy against his portfolio)?

Thanks, again, for your advice here!

First, while some programs have increased seats, others have reduced them because not as many upperclass students graduated. I think it would be a mistake to conclude this year will be substantially less competitive than the past.

As far as academic vs. portfolio, that depends strongly on the institution. This is why figuring out Plan B is so important.

Let me be blunt - your son might be the best screen composer of his generation, and still not be able to make this his career. He might be the best qualified, and do nothing wrong, and still not land his dream job. What then?

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what would be Plan B? like a minor in Business or some other academics?
Thank you

I think that’s up to the son.

Focus on the musicianship. No need for Plan B. I will PM you again.

I’m well aware that this is a very niche market and few people get to succeed in this profession (one reason I’m so grateful for this forum for additional perspective). I’m not naive to that - just trying to help my son navigate an uncommon path for the potential.

Given how much he loves the technical aspect of composition in addition to the musical aspect, I feel confident that he will find an avenue for his talents in some form of production (that, for now, is our Plan B). At this early age, our plan is to support his musicianship where we can.

Thank you!


what would be the average SAT score to get into USC /NYU Steinhardt type of music composition colleges. I heard scholarships are based on SAT score… is this right?

What do you mean by “technical aspect”? Are you referring to theory, or to digital audio workstation work or…?

At this point he will be well-prepared for application to a traditional concert composition degree, but he had also being working in a home studio/daws so I am curious what his focus is now in his applications for undergrad. Concert composition or music for new media or studio production?

By technical aspect - I meant his use of DAWs, MIDI, mixing, production, both music and film editing… he is drawn to learning new technologies as well as musical composition. That is why scoring for media is so appealing to him as he could (potentially) marry his passions for music composition with his interests in technology.

If you’re applying to a BM at a truly elite (I.e. consensus top 25) university, music (portfolio + audition) and academics (GPA + ACT/SAT) are equally important, so use your best judgement on how to help your child balance both needs. You could be the next Mozart, Stravinsky, or John Williams, and it won’t matter if you’re not at or above the mean/median GPA and ACT/SAT scores for schools like USC Thornton, Northwestern Bienen, or NYU Steinhardt (among others). Even a school like Miami Frost, whose academic standards aren’t quite as high as the three I just mentioned, still won’t consider you unless you have a 29 ACT (or SAT equivalent) and you’ll probably need better than that

The most noteworthy exception to the above is Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins. They have a completely separate application process and you don’t have to apply to the main campus. As such, the emphasis is overwhelmingly put on music, and GPA/ACT/SAT are much less critical. They have to be reasonable, but don’t need to be JHU levels. And once they’re Peabody students, they’re still able to take classes at Homewood (the main campus) if they want. (And the New Media program is awesome, as is its Director, Thomas Dolby).

My recommendation is to get the exams out of the way by September if they haven’t been completed already. That will give you ~3 months to put together all parts of the application, including all audition materials, essays, letters of recommendation, etc. Different schools will have different requirements for those things, so plan accordingly now so you can use those 3 months most efficiently before application deadlines (mostly in December).

Hope that’s the kind of input you were hoping to get.


For both USC and NYU, you’ll almost certainly need a 32 ACT or 1420 SAT plus a 4.0 to have a chance. To be competitive, you’ll probably need a 33 or 34 (1480+) and a 4.25+. That’s on top of being a strong musician so that Thornton or Steinhardt will want you


Regarding @nagayatham 's question (which could be a separate thread) all the schools mentioned by other posters are on the test-optional list: USC, U of Miami, Northwestern and NYU.

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NOTE: This list includes bachelor degree granting institutions that do not require recent U.S. high school graduates applying to start classes in fall 2022 to submit ACT/SAT results. As the end notes indicate, some schools only exempt students who meet minimum grade or class rank criteria; others use test scores solely for placement purposes. Please check with the school’s admissions office for details

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