Advice on graduate performance study and university teaching careers

March 15, 2017

My university students are mostly undergraduate music education majors, but many at some point inquire about graduate school, including a performance degree path and eventual university teaching. Here are some things you should know about graduate performance studies if you’re an undergraduate music major.

  • Graduate performance degrees are best suited to students who practice a lot. Undergraduates who are squeaking by on as little practicing as they can get away with are not good candidates. Self-motivation is key, and it’s not something you’re likely to spontaneously develop once graduate school starts.
  • It is definitely possible to transition from, say, an undergraduate music education degree to a graduate performance degree, as long as your playing is very strong. There might be some logistical speed bumps, like audition season happening during your student teaching internship semester.
  • Get advice from your applied lessons teacher on good places to apply. Look into the teachers at those schools—for a performance degree, the teacher of your instrument is going to be a very large factor in your graduate school experience. Check out their recordings, writings, accomplishments, etc. and start narrowing down the ones you would like to study with. Some may be available to spend time with you if you visit their campus, and maybe even offer you a lesson.
  • At least a year ahead of your prospective enrollment, find out about audition and application deadlines and requirements. If you have any questions, that’s a great excuse to send the professor of your instrument an email and make some preliminary contact.
  • Consider some “dream” schools, but also some more practical choices. Your state or a neighboring one probably has a flagship public university with a top-flight faculty, ensembles, facilities, and opportunities. Often the sought-after, name-brand schools turn away huge numbers of incredibly talented applicants because there just isn’t space. A “backup” school can turn out to be just as good an experience, or better.
  • Be aware that the market for university teaching jobs is glutted with qualified candidates. Graduate degrees take a lot of time and money, and a job at the other end isn’t guaranteed. Even if you’re the cream of the crop, there might not be any openings that year that are a fit. Know the risks.
  • Teaching experience is huge in getting hired for many university teaching jobs. A graduate assistantship can sometimes provide the teaching experience to get your foot in the door for a job interview. In that way, assistantships (essentially part-time jobs with usually some tuition reduction/waiver and/or a small paycheck) are incredibly valuable, and an assistantship offer should play a large part in your graduate school decision.

Good luck!

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