Musical kid but doesn’t want music school

Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but I know in prior years, some kids applied to both music schools and liberal arts colleges/universities and ended up not at the music school.

My kid has focused on music as her extracurricular, has some great awards and recognition under her belt but doesn’t want to major in music. Great academics including advanced classes but doesn’t know what she wants to study.

Are there any schools in particular where her music accomplishments might give her a hook and/or merit? I don’t think she’s interested in pursuing music except as an extracurricular but also don’t want to close that door entirely because not every 17 year old knows what they want at this age… I think we assumed that she was going to change her mind before the app process since music has been her thing since middle school.

It seems like so many kids these days have such focus and know what they want, which makes the college search easier (her older sib is at music school so we’ve been that route).

Just putting this out there for possible ideas. Thanks!


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If your daughter is nationally recognized and has won awards that the admissions committee will know, then she should consider the Ivy League colleges and alternative top-tier colleges. Other schools will not consider music as an extracurricular besides schools such as Oberlin and some liberal arts colleges. The Ivy leagues take many musicians, specifically HYP, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown. I am not entirely sure about Penn and Cornell as they do not give specific weight on music and talent ability and are more conservative.

Most musicians who are nationally recognized through YoungArts make an emphasis on their music as an extracurricular. These top-tier colleges understand that not all musicians are going to continue pursuing their musical careers. What impresses colleges is the fact that these musicians have dedicated hours on end with painful practice alongside their academics and have demonstrated sincere accomplishment.

As long as your daughter has some strong academics as a complement to her music performance, she can aim for these top colleges. Perhaps minor or double major when applying to these colleges and list a principal major of STEM or humanities based on her interests.

If she does not know what she is interested in, she should immediately find out what it is she is passionate in. This is required. She will be able to find it with the right guidance and she will realize what she is passionate about when she cannot stop talking about the subject. I am sure she will find it.


My daughter was a state ranked musician on an “endangered” instrument. She did not want to major or even minor in music. But she did want to continue to play in a college orchestra and continue to take private lessons. Of all her criteria, this was the hardest to fulfill. She made many calls and sent many emails to music department chairs, orchestra directors and the private instructors on her instrument. These folks were very happy to give her the information she needed about their college.

She found:

  1. Some programs welcomed students from any major to audition for an orchestra seat.

  2. Some programs had ensembles for those who were not music majors.

  3. Some programs had no performance ops for folks who were not music majors.

  4. Some places offered private lessons for non-majors. Some didn’t. And at some there was a fee for these lessons and at others there was not.

  5. Some places offered non-majors private lessons with the applied faculty, and others with students who wanted to teach.

My kid was not an Ivy League candidate and she also didn’t win any national awards. But she found three colleges that would have allowed her to continue playing and take lessons. She went to Santa Clara University as a STEM major. Played first chair in their orchestra all four years. Had free lessons as long as she continued to play in the orchestra with their applied faculty. Got a $250 per quarter performance award all four years.

Do I think this helped her get accepted to the college. It didn’t and we know this because we actually asked. The music department had no leverage at all with admissions at any of the colleges to which she applied.

But having said that…there are others on this forum with different experiences about this.

I would strongly suggest your daughter start reaching out to these music faculty now if she is a junior in HS. This will help her know the lay of the land at schools where she is interested in applying.


My son is only a sophomore and he’s not “the best” at anything but is involved in choir, band, musical and plays some instruments (1 pretty well, 1 okay, 1 in process of relearning) . Right now he does think music education may be his major (being a high school choir teacher) but he could change his mind.

The short story is I’ve read the pinned threads and such but might be in the same situation as well. His main concern is being able to financially support himself with the degree he earns and he knows he isn’t the tippy top in music to have it be a big money maker. Yet, as he said, he can’t imagine not doing music at all anymore.

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So curious, does attending pre-college at Manhattan School of Music or possibly Julliard count in this top level? My S24 is currently at MSM pre-college and loves it but is considering auditioning for Julliard next year partially because he thinks it is more prestigious. My S21 did audition based performance so I am out of the loop with what is considered prestigious for
regular" schools

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Juilliard is better. However, solely being a student at Juilliard does not really hold significant merit. There is competition in the pre-college as well and certain individuals will stand out more than others, so that is something to look out for. MSM is a great pre-college too. I know two students who were incredibly gifted who went to the MSM pre-college. One is at a top-ranked ivy league college and the other is a student at Juilliard. It all depends. Pre-colleges such as MSM and Juilliard are great gateways to many musical opportunities.

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Our kids both did Precollege wind ensemble and orchestra at the Hartt School. They loved it.

One is a professional freelance musician, and while not rich and famous, he can pay his bills.

The other still does music as a relaxing hobby.


Thanks for the advice. The one thing that I did learn from this experience with my older one is that the whole process does not totally make sense. My S24 has been at MSM since he was 10 and loves it. I am inclined to encourage him to do what he wants, and not what he thinks will look good. He plays a very competitive instrument which only has a small number of students so moving may be quite difficult!

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My son said that he heard from other students that Juilliard precollege was highly respected by Ivies. He attended it (and many other programs), and he got into a top Ivy early action. He was not the top student academically in his school, although he had a very good GPA and a 36 overall ACT.

I don’t know if they hold MSM or other precollege programs in as high regard, but I would think that they would look positively on them.

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For non tippy top schools that offer merit to non major musicians look at Lehigh and St Olaf.

Case Western would also be worth exploring.

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First I suggest that you read the Double Degree Dilemma essay posted under the "Read Me’ thread closer to the top of this forum. Second, I always add the option of doing a BA in music or a BA in something else entirely, and continuing music through lessons and extracurricular performance. Many schools give credit for both as well.

There is no need to know her major or career goals yet. She can decide at the end of her sophomore year after exploring.

If she goes the BA route, she should submit a music supplement with recording/video, music resume, and letters of recommendation from music teacher and/or director (two is fine). These supplements can indeed increase chances for acceptance at top schools.

Attendance at conservatory prep programs also seem to increase chances. MSM is very well respected. To the other poster, no need to change programs due to “prestige”, but if there is a problem with a teacher or classes only offered at Juilliard, those might be reasons for change. I would stick with MSM.

Harvard is moving away from the traditional classical curriculum, or, rather, diversifying it so that music concentrators who haven’t done years of conservatory prep don’t suffer. Just fyi. However, in past years it seems conservatory prep students have high admit rates.

Oberlin has enhanced their music BA, in their Musical Studies major, with increased access to the Conservatory. Otherwise, for a kid who is not doing a BM, it can be better to avoid schools with a conservatory or school of music, because the best teachers and opportunities go to the BM students (this may also include some state U’s). There are exceptions.

Tufts, Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Clark, are all schools with good music programs. There are many many more. Bard requires a double degree of conservatory students but look into resources for BA students in terms of music.

Many young people don’t know what they want, and many change their ideas for a major (and a career). I think having some time to explore is really healthy. Your daughter sounds like a hard worker and that is respected everywhere.


Re: Juilliard and MSM precollege music…and acceptance to elite schools…

Consider also the demographic group who is able to participate in these high school ensembles. They are not free, and require traveling to NYC (if you don’t already live there…we know musicians who do this commute from our state). While it’s possible that their participation in these groups is viewed very positively, it is also very possible that they were strong applicants anyway.


Participation in conservatory prep plus certain musical accomplishments can certainly contribute to admission, regardless of demographic. In fact, a kid from a lower socioeconomic situation would have even more of a chance at admission. Holistic admission looks at the class as a whole, not just the individual, and young musicians not only contribute needed skills but contribute to the desired mix of a class.


First of all, @compmom always has great insight.

Secondly, FWIW, we have a family friend who was a very good woodwind player in HS. Easily could have majored in music but decided to major in engineering instead. Went to USC Viterbi and also minored in music through USC Thornton where, among other things, he was in the studio of a musician from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His musicianship definitely helped him get into USC.

He’s now in his late 20s and a very successful engineer who still plays his instrument and loves music.

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My daughter is a dancer (also does music but her intense training is dancing). We are at the decision time now. She applied to a few conservatory programs & a few colleges with no audition but a dance & theatre department. And from our experience any school that allows a creative supplement will seriously consider it. She’s gotten into a few of those & they all gave her talent/merit money.

And now if I may, hijack the thread a bit

@thumper1 I noticed your child goes to SCU. That is one of the schools that has give my D talent money. What has your child’s experience been there? What is the quality & opportunity of the performing arts?

@WestOfPCH I noticed the Peabody icon. (That is another school my D has been accepted to.) So, I assume you have a child there? What has your child’s experience been there in terms of academics & art? Also, we finding it very difficult to learn much about Peabody. What is the core curriculum? How many courses do they take at homewood? Do they feel a part of JHU?

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While it’s true that pre-college Juilliard is highly respected, that alone isn’t a sufficient EC qualification at top colleges where musical excellence can play a significant role in the admission chances along with other qualifications. There are many students who are friends of my son at Princeton, for example, with the pre-college Juilliard background, and they all have about a half dozen competition wins at least. It’s these concrete and proven evidences of excellence that are needed at colleges where hundreds and thousands of applicants with musical background are applying each year.


Hi, @Snowynyc! — Yes, my son is currently a Peabody student. He specifically chose it because of the combination of the musical opportunities and the awesome faculty in his department combined with the academic quality of Johns Hopkins and the opportunity to take classes at the Homewood campus. In fact, he only applied to universities with good-to-great academic reputations (as opposed to pure conservatories like NEC, Juilliard, MSM, Colburn, or SFC).

I’ll start by saying Homewood classes are available to whomever wants them. They requires extra effort (registering, getting to and from Homewood, and academics) and most Peabody students aren’t interested for one reason or another. Frankly, the majority of Peabody students seem to view the academic courses as things to endure and survive (at best) that keeps them from studying, practicing, and performing as opposed to something they embrace or search out. (In fairness, I think you can say the same thing about most college students and the required core classes outside their major).

Peabody requires four core humanities courses; while it’s theoretically possible to fulfill these requirements via Homewood classes, most take them at Peabody. The focus of the subject matter changes from semester to semester and even within the same semester between the various instructors, but in general, always tie in to music and/or the arts. For some examples, check out the profile and courses taught by Dr. Oliver Thorndike, a particularly awesome humanities professor (and I say that based on my son’s feedback as well as my own observations surreptitiously sitting in one of my son’s Zoom classes):

Certain majors have different humanities requirements (e.g. voice performance majors have to take foreign language courses in Italian, German, etc).

There are also upper division humanities electives as well as open electives, all of which can be taken at Peabody if preferred or at Homewood if interested.

My son was eager to take a lower division class at Homewood and took one which he found interesting, rewarding, and challenging. He was the only Peabody student in the class and was treated well by the students who thought it was cool to interact with an actual music major. The professor was very welcoming and encouraging. The class didn’t have a prerequisite so my son was eligible; however, it was typically taken by the Homewood students in that major as their 2nd or 3rd class of a sequence, which made for a steeper learning curve for my son. He was up for the challenge, but it was definitely a challenge. That said, he was excited to meet and engage with students of other majors and enjoyed the diverse points of view.

He definitely plans to take more Homewood classes but wants to wait until classes are back to being in-person so he can get more of a complete “Homewood experience “ vs just another Zoom-based class.

Registering for Homewood classes was relatively easy, but it did require a few extra steps: Peabody has to give you permission (no issue), the professor has to be willing to have you enroll (which my son handled deftly by proactively reaching out to the professors and expressing his excitement for the class and asking for their support), and Homewood’s registrar has to approve. He picked three classes, ranked them, and gave them to the Homewood registrar. His first choice was filled by Homewood students (it was a very in demand class by students in that major), so he got his second choice which he was thrilled for. And honestly, he would’ve been very happy with his 3rd choice too.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. Happy to DM about it if you’d prefer, and I can get into more specifics; if you need me to initiate the DMs, just LMK.

Hope this helps

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@Snowynyc — Here’s where you can find the curriculum and required courses for all the majors at Peabody:

Peabody Institute < Johns Hopkins University

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@TiggerDad while I respect your son’s experience, I know many talented musicians who don’t do competitions, and who still got into top schools. There are many ways for schools to evaluate talent and experience including the supplement. It is of course helpful to do conservatory prep, and perform outside of school in whatever way challenges and inspires.