Choosing the Perfect Grad School: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at faulty assumptions that many musicians make when seeking a graduate school.

So, if you decide to pursue an advanced degree in music, what question should you ask above all others?  In my opinion, this is the most important one:

How will this next degree advance my life goals?   

Many musicians never ponder this angle before applying to schools, let alone attempt to answer it.  They just try to improve on their instrument and cross their fingers that life will magically work out.  As a result, they garner degree after degree, yet have no realistic idea how to create a viable life through music.  Upon graduation, these individuals are barely closer to having a career than they were as a high school student. 

Finally in the real world, without the benefits and resources of a music school, these musicians have no choice but to start from scratch to build their career.  They are forced to develop essential skills that were neglected during the college years.  Or give up music altogether.  Hmmm…maybe it’s time to go back to school in another field…

Yet music graduate school can absolutely propel your career and life goals, positioning you for greater success. At least if you’re a savvy student.

Many of the resources available through music school cannot be found in any other environment.  Obviously, they provide a framework for focusing intensely on art and craft.  They allow you to improve weaknesses and hone strengths.  There are ample opportunities to network.  Faculty members, even ones with whom you don’t study, are readily accessible.  Student colleagues are often willing to rehearse for long hours without compensation; if you’d like to become a professional chamber musician, this is an ideal place to start a group that will continue beyond the school years. Academia is the ultimate environment for experimentation, as the consequences for failure are low. 

In fact, most skills that contribute to success in the outside world–marketing, attracting new audiences, developing your voice, differentiating your work, exploiting technology, colloaborating with others, using music as a tool for transformation and change, etc.–can be developed within the pearly gates. If these things are not part of the requisite curriculum (and they often aren’t), it just takes vision, creativity, and pro-activity on your part. (In future posts, I will outline specific activities and approaches that savvy students can take.)

Graduate school can be a wonderful and valuable experience.  Personally, I loved my graduate years.  And when approached in a savvy way, it can be one of the best tools for propelling your career and life in music. 

So before contemplating where you should attend, what would look most prestigious on your resume, and who’s the best teacher, do some soul searching. Ask some different questions.  What do you truly want to do with your life, and how can an academic experience help you realize those aspirations?  How will your studies help position you for future professional and personal success? What will make your graduate experience significantly different than your undergraduate one?  If this is your point of departure, you may make a very different kind of decision about where to study and how to approach the experience.

Only after answering these queries should you begin considering schools.  The “perfect grad school” is one that has the potential to help you achieve those objectives.  

The specific school you choose is important.  The people, culture, experiences, and resources that surround you will undoubtedly have a lasting impact. 

But, in all honesty, it’s possible to attend an ”imperfect” institution and benefit immensely. Also possible (and all too common) is signing up for Heaven University, but not using the experience to the greatest benefit.  Because even the best school can’t make you successful.  Only YOU can do that.

Whether or not your graduate experience works is in your hands.  After enrolling, go to great lengths to ensure that your environment helps advace life goals.  After all, you—and no one else—are in control of your own education.


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