The Ultimate Guide to Acing Your College Music Audition
For many high school music students, the summer recess provides an opportunity to prepare for the college auditions that will determine your life after graduation. Whether you’ve dreamed of attending Julliard since childhood or envisioned a career dancing on the Broadway stage, there are a number of critical steps to take in order to set yourself up for success in the college admissions process and beyond.
- The Ultimate Guide to Acing Your College Music Audition
- College Audition Timing 101
- 7 Tips to Nail Your Pre-screen Audition
- You Advanced to a Live Audition
- When Things Don’t Go as Planned
College Audition Timing 101
Good music teachers prepare students early and keep them focused on the end goal of college acceptance. By the time you’re applying to college, ideally you will have spent years growing your musical résumé through competitions, choir, band, orchestra, performances, summer programs, and/or private lessons. But even for those who’ve just recently decided to pursue music after high school, with hard work and organization, it’s not too late to earn yourself a coveted spot in a college music program.
The first step is knowing the timing of college applications.
Early Decision, in which your acceptance is a binding offer to attend that school, usually has an application deadline around early to mid October, with notification of your acceptance status in early December.
Regular Decision application deadlines typically fall around early December with notification anytime from March through April.
Every school is unique, however, so students must do their own research and confirm specific deadlines. Additionally, most schools require students to apply to both the university or college and their specific music program. Whichever deadline is earliest should guide you — don’t risk getting excluded from the music program because you failed to complete the main application on time.
7 Tips to Nail Your Pre-screen Audition
Now that you’ve got the timing down, it’s time to position yourself for the outcome you’ve been working toward: acceptance into a collegiate music program! For many programs, this begins with a “pre-screen” audition, typically filmed at home (or in a suitable space, like a music studio) and submitted with your application. Throughout my career, I’ve supported hundreds of students through this process with these tried and true tips that can work for you, too:
Get Your Head in the Game
There’s no sugarcoating it: the process you’re about to go through is tough. But you can do it! Imagine where you want to end up, and picture yourself getting there. Set the tone for yourself early in this process with positivity — it just may help more than you think.
Organize. Organize. Organize!
Before you begin filming or planning your audition repertoire, create a spreadsheet for yourself listing all the schools you wish to apply to and their respective deadlines, entry requirements, and application fees. If your family is able, spend some time visiting campuses and see if the environment and department feels right to you. Can you picture yourself there? Using this time to do research and get organized will help you keep track of due dates and ensure compliance with application requirements.
Prepare a Budget and Plan With Your Family
College application fees cost anywhere from $45-100, but for future music majors, this expense is only the beginning. Applicants also incur costs associated with travel to and from auditions, accompanist fees, lesson costs, outfit selection, and instrument maintenance. It’s essential for families to budget accordingly early on in the process. Additionally, getting early buy-in from parents or caregivers regarding your pursuit of a music degree establishes the support system you’ll need to embark on this tough and competitive (but rewarding!) career path.
Cast a Wide Net
When applying to collegiate music programs, I always tell my students to apply to multiple programs. For the very competitive voice or musical majors, I advise applying to at least 18 schools. For others, we aim for a “lucky 13,” which often include “dream” schools as well as a few back-up options that offer a high degree of confidence you’ll be accepted. Don’t be afraid to dream big here! You’ve got to be in it to win it, so don’t shy away from tossing your hat in the ring at your dream school — you never know what could happen.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Now that you’ve determined where you’ll apply, it’s time to film your audition. With the help of your teacher, you should choose selections that will show off your talents. Many students will submit their pre-screen audition via video — meaning you should be prepared to film with good lighting, angles, and sound quality. You’ll want to prop your phone or camera on a steady surface, such as a tripod or stack of books, as opposed to having someone hold it.
Submit and Confirm Receipt
Clicking the submit button on your application may feel nerve-wracking or like a giant weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Either way, I encourage my students to take one final step: call the admissions office and confirm receipt of their application. While this may feel redundant, I have had the misfortune of counseling students who thought they had submitted everything, only to find out the school never received their materials. A simple phone call can prevent this unfortunate outcome from happening to you!
Once you’ve confirmed receipt of your application, there is only one thing left to do: wait. Take comfort in knowing you did everything you could to position yourself for success. You’ve worked hard and should feel very proud of all you’ve accomplished thus far. Enjoy these few months and know that you’ll hear from schools soon enough!
You Advanced to a Live Audition
Now what?! At last, the news has arrived: you’ve advanced to a live audition! Congratulations! All the preparation you did for the pre-screen audition will serve you well as you get ready for the next round, but you’ll have to be even more buttoned up this time as you perform for a live panel. It’s important to remember that those who audition you want you to succeed. You’ve worked hard, you’ve practiced, and you’re ready to wow them.
Here is your checklist to putting your best foot forward on audition day:
- Practice, practice, practice: Muscle memory will serve you well and help combat any nerves in the live audition. Leading up to the live audition, challenge yourself to perform your piece in situations outside your comfort zone. Consider inviting family and friends to your home for a presentation. Ask for their honest feedback as their perspective can be very helpful!
- Choose your support system wisely. Making your audition day game plan includes deciding which member(s) of your family will accompany you. Ask yourself, who makes you feel the most relaxed and confident? Choose them to tag along for this one.
- Get proper rest. Getting a good night’s rest the night before your audition is essential. It’s natural to feel anxious the night before a big event like this, but establishing a consistent sleep routine in the weeks leading up to your audition can help you remain on track for a sufficient amount of shut-eye the night before your audition.
- Expect the unexpected. This is a big moment, so you should aim to keep as much in your control as possible. If you’re flying to your audition, pack your outfit in a carry-on suitcase and avoid checking your instrument. On audition day, arrive at campus early so you have plenty of time to navigate parking and directions. The last thing you want is to be rushing (or worse, late!).
- Be polite. From the moment you enter campus, consider yourself “on the clock.” You never know who you are interacting with and how simple manners can make a lasting impression. As you enter the audition room, make eye contact and greet the panelists. Speak slowly and clearly to project confidence. Always remember to thank your accompanist when you finish.
- Send thank you notes. In an increasingly competitive field, finding small ways to elevate your application among decision-makers is critical. One such way is to email any professors or department staff you met at the audition to thank them for allowing you to participate and reiterate your interest in their program. This easy, quick token of thanks shows dedication and maturity — two qualities that any program would be lucky to have in its students.
When Things Don’t Go as Planned
Rejection is a part of life. Students should know that this is a possibility — and even likely — when applying to college. Acceptances are a mutual decision: you’ve decided you can see yourself at that school, and the school has decided you would be a good fit for their program. Trust this process to work out in your best interest.
You may want to know why certain schools rejected your application — and it’s ok to ask, politely of course. Send a follow-up note to any contacts you made at your audition and ask if they can offer any feedback. It won’t change the outcome, but it can give you some closure and guidance on what to work on for your next big opportunity.
Finally, know that you have options. Some students take a gap year or defer admission. Others may enroll at a school with the intent to transfer after their first year. Regardless of what you choose, remember that where you get accepted or denied does not define you as a person or a musician. It may not feel like the outcome you wanted, but you might also be surprised to find yourself thriving there in no time — and unable to imagine your college years any other way. But what if you get into the school of your choice? Congratulations on a job well done! Goal accomplished and what comes next is enough for another post!
AUTHOR: Dana Vachharajani
Dana’s multifaceted career has been marked by singing in top venues, founding and teaching in her own private music school, Dana V Music, as well as consulting, and advising to further develop music education. As the teaching advisor for Ensemble Music Schools, she oversees the positive recruitment, retention and development of the many talented and nurturing teachers that are at the heart of our organization as well as oversees the pedagogical growth in each of our schools. A graduate of The Juilliard School and Carnegie Mellon University, she has been a featured soloist in Carnegie Hall, and Alice Tully Hall, as well as a touring artist and soloist with major orchestras around the US. Dana is a mother to three incredible children and also currently teaches voice at Dana V Music, the original Ensemble Music School.