The 20 Best Music Schools in the U.S.

TBS Staff Writers
Updated June 12, 2024
The 20 best conservatories on this list offer some of the best music programs in the country. Read to find this information and more about music schools.

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Ranking the Best Music Schools for Musicians

Students with a passion for music must decide whether they want to devote their lives to music and thus attend a college dedicated to training musicians, namely, a conservatory.

In choosing a conservatory, music students seek a program that will provide them with the skills and opportunities needed for them to grow and flourish as artists. At the same time, they want a program that prepares them in a practical way for a career in the music world.

The 20 conservatories on this list offer some of the best music programs in the nation. They are located across the United States.

Some, like Juilliard and Curtis, are well-known training grounds for students of classical music. Others, like the Colburn School or Musicians Institute, prepare students for careers in the contemporary music industry.

The schools in this ranking were selected on the basis of educational excellence, strength of faculty, reputation, and record of accomplishment by alumni/ae.

The 20 Best Music Conservatories in the U.S.

1. Juilliard School

(New York, New York)

Founded in 1905, the Juilliard School can easily be considered the most prestigious music conservatory in the country—and for good reason.

Located in New York City’s Lincoln Center and known for its high-expectations, Juilliard has produced many musicians who have become household names: from Miles Davis to Yo Yo Ma to Renée Fleming.

The school offers a Bachelor of Music, a Master’s of Music, and a Doctorate of Music Arts, as well as various combinations of the three.

Admission is highly competitive and requires a live audition. Each year, only about five percent of vocalists and 16 percent of instrumental musicians are accepted. About 600 of Juilliard’s 650 students are music students (there is also a dramatic arts program). Because the school is so small, it has no problem attracting top talent. Juilliard musicians tend to be competitive students who are happiest as soloists or as members of top-ranked music groups.

First-year students are required to live in student housing, almost all of which is ideally located around the Lincoln Center area. Although Juilliard has received some criticism for its limited availability of practice space, the school is currently in the process of adding additional practice rooms on campus and in residence halls.

2. Curtis Institute of Music

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Founded in 1924, the Philadelphia-based Curtis Institute of Music has produced many notable alumni—especially composers, including Leonard Bernstein, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, and Nino Rota. Other famous alumni include conductors Jaime Laredo and Alan Gilbert, violinist Jascha Brodsky, organist Alan Morrison, and pianist Lang Lang.

Curtis is likely the most selective conservatory in the country. Live auditions are required, and only four to 11 percent of applicants are accepted each year. The entire undergraduate student body consistently hovers around 150 students, 100 percent of whom receive a full-tuition scholarship (though housing costs are not included).

The rigorous music education students receive at Curtis is seemingly successful at propelling students into musical careers. Students can participate in any of the four campus ensembles, all of which are led by an elite faculty.

Vocal graduates have gone on to sing with the Met, La Scala, and other internationally famous opera companies, while Curtis musicians currently occupy principal chairs in every major American symphony.

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3. Manhattan School of Music

(New York, New York)

Located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the Manhattan School of Music is a competitive environment that offers its students a number of valuable opportunities.

Founded in 1917, the conservatory is especially respected for its jazz department, which has produced a long roster of notable alumni, including Harry Connick, Jr., Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masakela, and Herbie Mann.

But the conservatory isn’t just about jazz. In fact, the Manhattan School of Music boasts strong programs all around, all of which are headed by a first-class faculty that includes members of the New York City Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

All students take classes in Music Theory, Music History, and a variety of performance arts. Popular degrees offered include Doctorate of Music Arts and Master of Music in Classical Studies, Jazz Arts, and Orchestra Performance, among others.

The school itself is moderately selective. Forty percent of applicants are admitted to join the undergraduate student body of about 400. First-year students are required to live in student housing, and approximately 55 percent of all students receive some sort of financial aid.

4. Berklee College of Music

(Boston, Massachusetts)

Unlike many of the conservatories on this list, Berklee is firmly focused upon the study and practice of contemporary, as opposed to classical, music.

Founded in 1945, it was the first music school in the United States to include jazz in its curriculum. Berklee consistently ranks in the top 10 of American conservatories.

With 4,131 students, Berklee is one of the biggest schools on this list. It offers students the choice of certificates, Bachelor’s, and Master’s in several different programs, the most popular of which include songwriting, general music performance, music management, music teacher education, and music therapy.

Berklee calls itself the “world’s premiere learning lab for the music of today—and tomorrow.”

The College’s long list of successful alumni include composer/producer extraordinaire Quincy Jones, jazz-pianist legend Keith Jarrett, film composer Howard Shore, and countless Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winners.

5. Mannes College-The New School for Music

(New York, New York)

Founded in 1916, Mannes College joined The New School for Music consortium in 1989. Since then, it has solidified itself as one of the top choices for serious young music students.

Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, Mannes’s student population hovers around 350, making it one of the smallest conservatories on this list.

Both undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered in departments such as classical music performance, voice, composition, jazz, and more.

Mannes’s elite faculty includes a number of well-respected composers, as well as past and current members of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera.

6. New England Conservatory of Music

(Boston, Massachusetts)

Located in Boston, the New England Conservatory of Music is one of the largest conservatories to be located in an urban setting. In fact, the college community that is Boston remains a huge draw to prospective Conservatory students.

Nearly half of the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have ties to the school, while Boston itself is a vibrant music community with several regional orchestras and performance ensembles.

Admissions into the New England Conservatory is moderately competitive, with approximately 30 percent of applicants offered admission each year. The most popular programs include composition, jazz, and strings.

The Conservatory has recently received positive press for its newest program, Entrepreneurial Musicianship, which is designed to assist students in establishing successful careers in the music industry.

The Conservatory, which was founded in 1867, is also home to the 1,013-seat Jordan Hall, a National Historic Landmark and “one of the world’s most acoustically-perfect performance spaces.”

7. Boston Conservatory

(Boston, Massachusetts)

Founded in 1867, Boston Conservatory offers Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Music, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Music, artist diplomas, and certificates in such departments as music, musical theater, and music education.

It is also one of the few conservatories offering instruction in all major instruments, including collaborative piano, harp, marimba, and vocal pedagogy.

Boston Conservatory offers admission to approximately 40 percent of its applicants, and boasts a yearly retention rate of more than 85 percent.

Student housing—a requirement for freshmen—is a series of traditional Boston brownstones. Students share cafeterias, campus restaurants, and gyms with nearby Northeastern University.

Boston Conservatory alumnae include classical guitarist Lily Afshar and the luminous Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whom many considered America’s finest mezzo-soprano until her tragically early death in 2006.

8. Cleveland Institute of Music

(Cleveland, Ohio)

Cleveland Institute of Music may be smaller than most of the conservatories on this list, but it boasts a number of benefits and opportunities that should appeal to the serious music student.

Most notably, Cleveland’s lower cost of living results in lower tuition and housing costs.

Like most other colleges and conservatories, first-year students are required to live in student housing. Admission is competitive, with only 30 percent of applicants offered a place.

Cleveland Institute of Music has a good reputation across the board, especially when it comes to their strings and woodwinds departments, both of which are led by top faculty.

Thanks to the Institute’s focus on training undergraduates, students have plenty of performance opportunities. Half of the school’s faculty are past or current members of the world-class Cleveland Orchestra, and Severance Hall is located mere blocks from campus.

9. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

(San Francisco, California)

San Francisco Conservatory of Music is a smaller conservatory located in the city’s Civic Center—a mere stone’s throw from the San Francisco Symphony and Opera House.

Though the city of San Francisco remains a big draw for prospective music students, the Conservatory remains one of the least competitive on this list. Approximately 40 percent of applicants are invited to join the school’s 450 students each year.

A whopping 95 percent of students receive a scholarship of some kind, and student housing is located throughout San Francisco’s many desirable neighborhoods.

The Conservatory’s programs are widely respected across the board, though its graduate chamber music program stands out as one of the top programs in the country.

Students of all degree levels are given a number of performance opportunities in and around the Bay Area, and an impressive one-third of the Conservatory’s faculty hails from the world-renowned San Francisco Symphony.

10. Peabody Conservatory-Johns Hopkins University

(Baltimore, Maryland)

Peabody Conservatory is a division of the Peabody Institute, which is itself a division of Johns Hopkins University.

It is no surprise, then, that Peabody’s stature is commensurate with the larger university’s stellar international reputation.

Located in Baltimore, Peabody has been training students for professional careers in music for more than 150 years. The Conservatory has produced numerous respected artists.

Though music is of course the main focus of the curriculum, Peabody’s programs also stress civic responsibility. Students are expected to learn to be leaders both in society and of their careers.

Unlike many other top conservatories in the area, Peabody encourages student collaboration, as opposed to constant competition.

Degrees offered include Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, Master of Art, and performance diplomas. Popular majors include performance, jazz performance, computer music, music education, music theory, and recording arts and sciences.

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11. Eastman School of Music-University of Rochester

(Rochester, New York)

Though Eastman School of Music is a true conservatory, students have the option of taking academic classes or pursuing a minor through Eastman’s sponsor, the University of Rochester.

Eastman consistently ranks among the top-rated conservatories in the nation.

With a student body of only 900 students, it’s one of the more selective conservatories, accepting fewer than 30 percent of applicants.

Nearly every student receives a scholarship, which is an important benefit, considering Eastman is also one of the most expensive conservatories.

Eastman is known for having an outstandingly rigorous program. Its graduate program is especially respected, drawing a number of prospective students from other conservatories.

Eastman has produced many successful alumni, and has former students in every major orchestra in the country.

12. Oberlin Conservatory of Music

(Oberlin, Ohio)

Oberlin Conservatory of Music is the oldest conservatory in the country. Associated with Oberlin College, this is a truly unique school.

Most students at Oberlin Conservatory opt for the traditional, four-year Bachelor of Music degree program. However, about 30 percent of students choose the more rigorous, five-year, dual-degree program offered by the Conservatory in conjunction with highly selective Oberlin College.

Upon completion of the five-year program, students receive both a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College and a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory. Many of the students admitted to the demanding five-year program manage to complete their studies in fewer than five years.

Oberlin Conservatory maintains an excellent reputation, and is especially well known for its programs in contemporary and baroque music, as well as its unique TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) program.

Located in rural Ohio about an hour southwest of Cleveland, Oberlin Conservatory has fewer than 600 students. Approximately 25 percent of applicants are offered admission, 90 percent of whom are also offered tuition assistance.

Oberlin has graduates in every major ensemble in the United States.

13. Academy of Vocal Arts

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

There may be no better place for aspiring opera singers to perfect their art than Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA).

AVA was founded in 1934 by Helen Corning Warden, a Philadelphia socialite who wanted to establish a place where talented singers could train without suffering the financial burdens of the Great Depression. While the Great Depression is long over, AVA remains dedicated to providing free higher education to future stars of the opera.

Not surprisingly, AVA is highly competitive and only 28 singers are accepted per year. The curriculum is centered around a one-on-one approach with conductors and vocal coaches.

In addition to vocal lessons, students also take classes in French, German, Italian, movement and dance, stagecraft, history of opera, care of the professional voice, stage combat, and professional development, among others.

Recitals and performances are frequent, and students are often given the opportunity to audition for visiting companies in the U.S. and abroad.

14. Jacobs School of Music-Indiana University

(Bloomington, Indiana)

Jacobs School of Music is a music conservatory that is also a part of Indiana University Bloomington. Established in 1921, it is the largest accredited music school in the nation.

A live or recorded audition is required for entrance into Jacobs, and approximately 25 percent of undergraduate applicants are offered admission (about 200 students per year).

Students are required to participate in at least one ensemble each semester. Choices of ensembles range from 13 choirs, to eight bands, to seven orchestras.

Jacobs offers Bachelor of Music, Master of Arts, Master of Music, and Doctor of Music degrees, among others, in a wide variety of musical fields.

Jacobs consistently ranks among the top music schools in the nation, and Jacobs students are frequent winners in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York City each spring.

The school’s 180+ full-time faculty members include a number of performers of international renown. Alumni include superstar violinist Joshua Bell, conductor Leonard Slatkin, songwriter/producer Booker T. Jones, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, cellist Paul Katz, singer Sylvia McNair, and many others.

15. New World Symphony

(Miami Beach, Florida)

New World Symphony is the world’s only full-time orchestral academy. Founded in 1987 in Miami Beach, New World prepares students for careers in symphony orchestras and ensembles.

New World is an intensive three-year program. In addition to training and education, the school presents a full season of concerts from September to May, including full orchestras, a chamber music series, ensemble, and more.

Students are given a number of performance opportunities both in the United States and abroad, and are even encouraged to design and present their own concerts.

New World has produced approximately 900 alumni who are currently working in 170 orchestras in 17 countries.

16. Los Angeles College of Music

(Pasadena, California)

Los Angeles College of Music is a private, for-profit music school located in Pasadena, California.

Founded in 1996, the school focuses on providing its approximately 150 students with the hands-on knowledge necessary for succeeding in careers in the contemporary music industry.

The unique six-quarter program results in students’ receiving a non-transferrable professional degree in drums, guitar, bass, or voice.

Every member of the faculty is a current industry professional, and frequent master classes are offered with a long list of well-known artists.

As of Fall 2014, LACM offers a Bachelor of Music (BM), accredited by NASM, for Drum, Bass, Guitar and Vocal Performance, as well as Music Producing & Recording. Other programs debuting Fall 2015 are Brass & Woodwinds and Music Business, which will be B.A., not B.M., programs.

Alumni of Los Angeles College of Music have gone on to work with artists such as Paul Anka, Ricky Martin, Chick Corea, Jeff Beck, Natasha Bedingfield, the Black Eyed Peas, and many more.

17. Bard College Conservatory of Music

(Annandale-on-Hudson, New York)

Founded in 2005 under the auspices of Bard College, this conservatory is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

The school’s unique, five-year, undergraduate degree program allows students to obtain both a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in a subject other than music.

Bard boasts an elite faculty, many of whom also teach classes at Juilliard and Curtis Institute. As a result, programs are rigorous, but come with plenty of performance opportunity.

Popular undergraduate programs include the standard orchestral and chamber instruments, as well as composition. Popular graduate programs include vocal arts, conducting, and collaborative piano.

18. McNally Smith College of Music

(Saint Paul, Minnesota)

Founded in 1985, McNally Smith College of Music is a private, for-profit institution. The school is widely known and respected in the music industry for its intimate setting, access to studios and practice space, and small class sizes with one-on-one attention.

McNally Smith offers Associate and Bachelor’s degrees in subjects such as music business, guitar, bass, drums, voice, keyboard, brass and woodwinds, strings, live sound production, songwriting, and much more.

Every faculty member at McNally Smith is a current industry professional, many of whom have resumes that include gold and platinum albums, Grammy awards, and Broadway work.

Notable alumni include singer/songwriter Ari Herstand, This World Fair guitarist Zack Carroll, and Quietdrive guitarist Justin Bonhiver.

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19. Colburn Conservatory of Music

(Los Angeles, California)

Located in downtown Los Angeles, the Colburn Conservatory of Music is ideally located next to the Museum of Contemporary Art and across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The Conservatory is a division of the Colburn School, which was originally founded in 1950 as the Community School for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Southern California.

The school changed its name to the Colburn School of the Performing Arts in 1986, and moved to its present location in 1998. Finally, in 2003, the Colburn Conservatory of Music was created within the Colburn School.

The Colburn Conservatory of Music has a comprehensive curriculum that includes one-on-one lessons, music theory, music history, ear training, orchestra, and a rigorous chamber music program.

Admission into the Colburn School is highly competitive, with only approximately eight percent of applicants accepted each year. Each and every Colburn student receives a full-ride scholarship, which includes free tuition, room, and board.

20. Musicians Institute

(Los Angeles, California)

Founded in 1977 in Hollywood, the Musicians Institute (MI) is a college of contemporary music which focuses on helping its students build the creative skills necessary to develop successful music careers.

The school has a 96 percent admissions rate and—with 1,425 students—is one of the largest music schools in the country.

MI offers a variety of accredited programs ranging from Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees, to certificates and alternative non-degree programs.

Students interested primarily in instrumental performance can choose from bass, drums, guitar, piano, keyboard, or vocals programs.

Those interested primarily in the music industry can choose either the audio engineering program or the independent artists program.