Study Music in College?

Music Degrees – Reviewing the Options

Choosing among several possible music degrees, considering a conservatory or music school or music department, as well as whether you’d like to graduate with a BM, BFA, BME, BA or BS in music depends on what you want to study, which school might fit your goals best (and how it labels the degree program), and what you see yourself pursuing after you graduate.

Do you want to go on to graduate school in music or leave the door open for getting an advanced degree in the future? Find out what credits you’ll need to have under your belt in order to meet the entrance criteria when you are ready to apply.

Is it important that you graduate in four years? If so, seek out periodic guidance and support from your music school so that your decisions and choices keep you on that track.

Bachelor of Music (BM) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Music schools see the BM or BFA degree as an intensive program that prepares students to be professional musicians. As a BM or BFA candidate, you’ll embark upon your four-year curriculum starting on day one (an important consideration for students considering transferring or changing their major). Music classes will take up two-thirds to three-quarters of your classes, depending on which school you attend.

Music schools offering BM or BFA degrees within universities will require you to take specific music and non-music classes. This pushes you to maintain your writing and reading skills and gives you an opportunity to round out your education. As a BM or BFA candidate, you’ll perform a recital in your junior and/or senior year.

Some schools will give you credit for AP or IB exams taken in high school. You may also be able to test out of lower level requirements. But in general, the BM or BFA degree requirements are lengthy and limit the number of electives you’ll have room for in your schedule.

BM and BFA music students who want to graduate in four years may have a hard time fitting study abroad into the regular school year. They should also realize that friends who are pursuing degrees in other areas may be able to start college as sophomores, thanks to high AP/IB test scores, but that the BM and BFA degrees are typically non-negotiable four-year programs.

Bachelor of Music Education (BME)

The BME degree prepares you for a career in teaching K-12 vocal and instrumental music, along with the preparation necessary to gain state licensure. Be sure to check licensure requirements in the state where you think you’ll want to work, as this may inform your decision about where you’ll want to go to school.

As a BME student, your curriculum will include a combination of music education courses, conducting, music theory, aural skills, and music history. You will study a major instrument, take methods courses, and gain experience through observation and supervised teaching in classroom situations. You will student teach, attend workshops and events for current and future teachers, and gain exposure to a host of professional development opportunities. You will also take a required number of liberal arts courses as well as music technology classes.

Bachelor of Arts in Music (BA)

If you want to study music but also want the flexibility to prepare for a career in another field or in a field of music not addressed by other programs or departments, you may consider the BA in music degree. Approximately one-fourth to one-third of your credits will be in music, depending on the school you attend. The other requirements will be in musicianship, general education, and electives, based on your interests. Because there is more flexibility with a BA degree, you are more likely to be able to take a semester abroad during the school year, while still graduating in four years.

Bachelor of Science in Music (BS)

The BS degree is offered at some schools where the emphasis is more business-oriented. Music business and music industry majors are likely to find themselves getting BS degrees. Some schools also offer the BS for music education and sound recording technology.

Double or Dual Degrees

Universities that house their own music colleges, conservatories or schools typically make it possible for students to get a music degree in conjunction with a degree in a separate field.

Some independent conservatories offer degree programs in conjunction with universities (e.g., New England Conservatory + Harvard University; New England Conservatory + Tufts University; The Juilliard School + Columbia University). Check to find out whether these are four- or five-year programs.

? Some of the questions to ask each school:

  • Are there additional fees for students getting double degrees?
  • Will getting a double degree affect scholarships, merit awards, or my date of graduation?
  • What are the logistics of getting a double degree if classes are held on two different campuses?
  • How many students successfully get double degrees at this school?
  • How easy/difficult is it to get into required classes if I enroll in a double degree program?
  • Are there students successfully getting double degrees with whom I can have a candid conversation?
  • Are there advisers available who focus on the needs and concerns of students getting double degrees?
  • Will getting a double degree allow enough time for required ensembles, bands, private lessons, and practicing and still leave time for having a life outside of school?


Minoring in a related but separate field from your major can be a good complement to your major and may open up additional career doors when you graduate. Your minor will require fewer courses than your major, yet it still conveys a serious interest in a particular field when it comes time to look for a job or internship. Acceptance into a minor program may be based on application, audition, interview, and GPA, depending on the school and the program.

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