Struggling with chances for Music Composition major.... How do we know how she compares?

Hi Everyone - we’ve been lurking here for a while, trying to learn as much as we can from all of you who know so much! It has truly been so helpful. My daughter is now about to start senior year and we are trying to narrow down a well-rounded list with some reaches and some safeties. We know that applying as a composition major, things might be very different than what we see online with chancing calculators and scattergrams from Naviance. How do we get some idea of what her chances are to get into these composition programs?

Some background on her… She definitely wants a BM program, preferably in a liberal arts setting because she has other strong academic interests (English, History, Psychology) that she wants to pursue. So, she isn’t that interested in stand alone conservatories. She also wants more of a campus, and is less interested in cities. We live in central Jersey, so she’s not that interested in NYC, is considering some Boston schools, perhaps, and she liked Peabody when we visited. She is undecided about double degrees but hasn’t ruled them out. She doesn’t want anything more than a 15 hour drive from us.

Her academics are quite strong, but we aren’t so sure how much that will play into the decisions (but hopefully some merit aid?). She has a 4.3 weighted gpa and currently a 1450 on the SAT. Musically, she’s a strong cellist, but not a prodigy. She did place in an online competition this past year, but we know there are way stronger cellists, for sure… Her love and gift is composition. She won first prize in the state composition contest and won a commission contest from a long-standing, professional Philadelphia new music ensemble (stupid Covid has kept us from having the concert, however, which is a huge disappointment). She’s had 2 of her pieces played by local high school orchestras. She’s attended a summer music program for three years (Young Women’s Composing Camp - in person year 1, virtual year 2) and the BoCo Summer intensive this past summer. She also participated in the Curtis Mentoring program this past winter and her mentor said her music was strong. She has a pretty good portfolio at this point, though, and we just need to narrow down which pieces are her best to send.

On her current list, though we know these are competitive: Bard, Oberlin, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, BoCo, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana, U Mich, Peabody, Mason Gross…

I’m feeling like we don’t really have a safety school when it comes to music… I know academically several of these are safeties, but I have no idea where she falls musically. Maybe all the composition major applicants to these schools have similar experiences and awards?

What would be a strong composition program that would be considered a safety school? I was hoping that would be Mason Gross, but I’m even starting to doubt that and the school is 5 minutes from our house and for only that reason I know she’d be a bit disappointed to have to go there with no other options. I know it is a great school.

I’d love some insight from any music comp experts in what her chances might be and what we could use as a less-selective school where she would still get a great education musically and academically. Thanks so much for your help!

I am going to PM you.

She sounds like a very strong candidate, honestly.

If she has academic interests, I am wondering if she wants any of the conservatories on her list, like BoCo, Peabody. Mason Gross. And if she does a BM, she will most likely have only 10 or so classes outside of music, regardless of where she attends.

Would she consider a BA instead? The best options for BA might-with exceptions-be at schools that don’t have a BM program because best teachers and performances might go to the BM students.

Oberlin started the Musical Studies BA for kids like this, who have other interests but need access to conservatory teachers and resources. Bard requires a double degree for conservatory students, but a composer could do a BA there as well because there is a “low wall” between conservatory and college.

Your daughter could apply to some schools like Ivies or “little Ivies” like Tufts, Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams if she submitted a music supplement with recording/video, music resume, and letters from teacher(s) in music. Harvard has a double degree BA/MM with NEC and Tufts has a BA/BM with NEC.

Merit aid can be $15-20k for a kid like her at some of her schools. If your family income is under $150k or even a little more, some of the top schools like Ivies and little Ivies give a lot of financial aid.

Honestly it sounds like you have to let it play out. My S was in a similar situation with acting. We were told he was strong but had no idea at the beginning of the process if that was true. It is very easy to tell in music performance if your kid is good since you can hear it, but with other parts of music it is not as clear. If you are being told by those very impressive people that she is talented I would trust them, and then have her understand if she doesnt get in to the programs she wants that there are other options in the world. Our discussion with our S was that there are other ways into performance and an excellent liberal arts degree will only help. @compmom is all knowing about programs so I have no specific advice on programs but we were there last year and wishing you much luck!

Yes, that’s exactly the problem! LOL Thanks, @helpingthekid73, for your thoughts. I think we probably need to diversify her options a bit in case.

Very grateful for @compmom and her wealth of advice! I love having a kid with such an interesting passion but I didn’t realize how tricky this part of it would be!

I guess we should look into a few strong BA programs as a back up where we can be more sure of her chances.


If she just did BoCo and was happy, that happy immersive experience has a lot of influence on her choices. But by April she may feel differently. It’s hard to tell, so yes, applying to several options, BA, BM. double degree, makes sense :slight_smile:


My son applied to 21 programs, a few pure conservatories, a few bfa within larger institutions and a few BA, again he was acting not composition but it seems the two are similar in how they are addressed! Good luck! Hopefully your D will have the same results we did, lots of options!


@momofmusicgirl I sent you a DM

1 Like

I think 4-6 schools with auditions can be enough (plus a few no-audition schools)!


Which ones are academic safeties? What is her unweighted GPA?

Her unweighted GPA is 3.92. According to the chancing calculators and such, Indiana, Bard, Oberlin, Rutgers are all academic safeties. But I know those music schools/conservatories are much harder to get in. Just so hard to know when you don’t know what level her competition is like. We want a good range of schools without overloading her too much. Thankfully most schools want mainly the same thing with exception of all these supplemental essays!


Would Ithaca be an option? @compmom definitely knows better than anyone here, but that one is on our list for our potential voice major.

Best of luck!


Oberlin is a definite academic safety and this year gave everyone an 10K scholarship. My S had not as impressive academics as your D and was admitted. I dont know much about their program in the college rather than the conservatory but their musical studies department looks pretty wonderful


We looked briefly at Ithaca, but we’ll take another look. Geographically very desirable!

Just started looking at Oberlin’s musical studies program based on Compmom’s suggestion and it does look really great. She could certainly be happy with that! A good target BA option.


For someone pursuing these competitive BM degree programs, who seems qualified, it is good to have two BA schools on the list that are also academic safeties where there are good BA music programs available.

1 Like

I know several kids at Oberlin and they absolutely love it, good luck!

Ithaca would be a great choice, with performance opportunities and visiting professors as well as a great faculty. Ithaca has the traditional Western music curriculum but also has jazz, electronics, film scoring and other media (it is good for studio production type work). Composition (B.M.) | Majors and Minors | Ithaca College

While in the area you could also check out Cornell though the focus on undergrads is a plus for Ithaca. The Music Major | Department of Music Cornell Arts & Sciences

I think it is good to apply for BA programs because composers can sometimes do very well with a BA. Composing is a long haul, almost always involving grad studies, and having a foundational undergrad experience with exposure to art, dance, film, theater, poetry and literature, political science, philosophy etc. etc, can really enrich composition over the years.

It is important to have music played so that is one thing to check for in a BA program, as well as lessons and/or seminars- and then there are summer programs for performance of pieces and networking.


I do not know the current status or impact - if any - on the Music Dept at Ithaca. Last February, several program eliminations were announced:

"Ithaca College will also discontinue the following graduate degrees:

  • Master of Music in Performance
  • Master of Music in Conducting
  • Master of Music in Compositio
  • Master of Music in Suzuki Pedagogy and String Performance
  • Master of Fine Arts in Image Text"

We do know a long-time music prof who has a new job in a new institution following the announcement.

Maybe someone has direct knowledge of the Ithaca Music/Comp Dept at present and can advise. If not, it might be a question to pursue.

That’s why I didn’t mention it at first but I don’t have any actual knowledge of what is going on there, at the conservatory. I have read about their financial issues.

There is info on undergrad for 2021-2 Undergraduate Majors | School of Music | Ithaca College

But I can only find summer grad programs Summer Graduate Application Process | School of Music Admission | Ithaca College

@Musicaspirant I wonder what that “also” refers to! Thanks for providing that definitive list.

I thought the “also” wasn’t pertinent to the Music Dept discussion so didn’t include the entire quote, Ithaca Journal 2/25/21:

"Ithaca College announced Wednesday it approved a plan that would eliminate 116 faculty positions over three years.

In addition, the college will also eliminate departments, programs and majors.

The departments, programs and majors Ithaca College will eliminate will include the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, majors in communication studies and aging studies and 13 undergraduate teacher education majors."