“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Musicians will tell the aspiring artist that music education hinges upon the nature and quality of the relationship between teacher and student. The experienced artist does not merely pass on knowledge, but most importantly the musical mentor expresses his or her love and fidelity to musical form and expression, thereby helping to direct students in the forming an expression of this same language, refracted and transposed through their own cultures and experiences. In identifying schools for this list, a primary consideration was faculty to student ratio. Along with this criterion, faculty, acceptance rate, the age of the school, general reputation, the music school’s links to musical tradition as well as alumni success were considered. Interestingly, as will be made clear in what follows, low student to faculty ratio more often than not coincided with the other criteria of identification.
The following is a list of 20 best music schools in the world that offer the finest in musical education.
The Juilliard School
Juilliard, founded in 1905 and located in Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, is one of the most widely recognized names in higher music education both in the United States and world wide. Indeed, it’s considered as the best music school in USA so much so that it’s synonymous with excellence in music!
Both competitive and diverse, with an acceptance rate of just under 7% (6.7), Juilliard boasts of very gifted, motivated and high achieving artists, comprising a student body of around 600 from forty different countries. With a student to faculty ratio of 3 to 1, each student musician has direct access to faculty musicians and instructors. Julliard confers several degrees. On the undergraduate level Julliard offers either a Bachelor of Music or Diploma program. Graduate degrees offered are Master of Music, Graduate Diploma, Artist Diploma, and Doctor of Music. Yo Yo Ma and Bernard Herrmann are two examples of a long list of illustrious alumni. “Instrumentalist-alumni constitute 50 percent or more of Lincoln Center’s (and New York City’s) established orchestras, and approximately 20 percent of the members of America’s “big five” ensembles.” Juilliard alumni have collectively won more than 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 26 Bessie Awards, 24 Academy Awards, 16 Pulitzer Prizes, and 12 National Medals for the Arts.”
In a Juilliard vs Berklee discussion, we must say that Juilliard will win because of its exceptional alumni, as well as its unparalleled programs. Music students are exposed to a wide range of disciplines and inspirations, thanks partly to the fact that its dance, drama and music departments are all in one building. The intense creative vibe that instructors and students generate contribute to a conducive, if competitive, energy for an exceptional education in music, too. Plus, it doesn’t hurt either that majority of full-time undergraduate students receive substantial financial aid.
Curtis Institute of Music
Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and founded in 1924, Curtis Institute of Music is one of best music schools in the US. Its alumni include musicians such as Leonard Bernstein and Lang Lang. One of the most highly competitive music schools, accepting below 5% of applicants, a small student body (165 students) have the opportunity to work closely with Curtis’ decorated faculty (99 faculty members), linking students to past great masters. The opportunity to learn music with the guidance of accomplished musicians in a close-knit community of like-minded individuals make it among the best music colleges in the world.
Although admission is difficult to secure, Curtis is uncommon in that tuition is always completely free of charge. Only Yale School of Music, another member of this list, Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia offer the same benefit to students. Curtis offers several programs of study: the Diploma for post-secondary-school students; the Bachelor of Music, which takes 3 to 5 years; the Professional Studies Certificate; and post-baccalaureate Diploma and Master of Music tracks, which may be completed in 2 to 3 years.
Berklee College of Music
Founded in 1945, Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts, could be said to be renowned equally for its distinctive philosophy of music as for the College’s striking success.
Where is Berklee in rankings? The Berklee school of music ranking is always in the top five of any ranking, oftentimes second only to Juilliard.
But unlike Juilliard with its emphasis on the classical arts, Berklee is a distinctively contemporary music school. Its philosophy holds that music can be best taught through the music of the time. As such, the Berklee college of music ranking can be #1 if contemporary arts are exclusively considered.
This modern approach of marrying surrounding culture with musical composition and expression has resulted in alumni winning more than 250 Grammys and, for example, Howard Shore, multiple Oscars. Among the Berklee college of music notable alumni are Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Kenzie, and Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons.
Although larger than many of the other schools present in this list with a 606 faculty and almost 4200 students, and accepting a higher percentage of applicants than most of the other finest music schools (35% acceptance rate), this seems to have in no way diminished Berklee’s prestige and its draw. Remember that the fairly high Berklee school of music acceptance rate doesn’t detract from its outstanding use of technology in music composition. No other music college has the same commitment to contemporary writing concepts, music synthesis and music engineering than Berklee.
Berklee offers both undergraduate and graduate programs with a wide diversity of subjects. Many undergraduate majors are offered, including but not limited to Composition, Music Therapy, Film Scoring, Jazz Composition, and Music Business/Management. Graduate courses of study include Contemporary Performance in Jazz; Global Entertainment and Music Business; Music Production, Technology & Innovation; Music Therapy; Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games. Berklee also provides accessibility to non-traditional students through a well-developed online program, which allows students to earn a degree or a certificate in music at a distance.
The Royal Academy of Music
The Royal Academy of Music, Britain’s oldest music conservatoire, is located in London, England. It is one of the finest places to study music in England. Founded in 1822 and now a constituent college of the University of London, the Royal Academy has an almost 2 to 1 student to faculty (684 students and 380 faculty) ratio, guaranteeing that students receive close faculty attention and instruction. The Royal Academy of Music has provided training for both popular and classical musicians. Its former students include the conductor, Sir Simon Rattle as well as Sir Elton John and Annie Lennox. Sir Elton John calls the Academy “a place of sheer joy and exuberance, of meticulous artistry where talents are passed on from generation to generation.” The Royal Academy of Music also serves as a link to music’s tradition. Its museum collection includes instruments by Stradivari and the Amati family as well as manuscripts by Purcell, Handel and Vaughn Williams. The Royal Academy offers instruction from childhood through the doctoral level in both performance and research tracks.
Note: While the Royal Academy of Music has a 10% acceptance rate, the Royal College of Music acceptance rate is 18%. But both have similar standing and prestige in the music world. You can choose either school and find yourself in a conducive environment.
Conservatoire de Paris
The Conservatoire de Paris in Paris, France is the oldest school of music on our list. But it isn’t just its 225-plus age that makes it among the most famous music schools in the world!
Founded in the context of the French Revolution in 1795, the Conservatoire has sought to be a center of innovation in music education, aiming to provide musical education for the greatest number possible. The Conservatoire de Paris, born in the context of revolution and admittedly innovative, also has tried to preserve tradition in the context of a new integrative approach to musical tradition. Accepting only around 30 students per year (around a 3% acceptance rate), admission is extremely competitive. In keeping with its reputation as an international music school, the student body and faculty comprise an international range, creating a diverse musical education experience. The Conservatoire is one of the larger music schools to make this list with 410 instructors and around 1300 students. Offering both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, students at the Conservatoire de Paris join a marvelous music heritage, including Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Seans, Berlioz, Boulez, Faure and Messiaen.
Eastman School of Music
A popular motto at the Eastman School of Music (ESM), attached to the University of Rochester, New York, is “Eat, Sleep, Music.” ESM was founded in 1921 by George Eastman of Eastman-Kodak fame. Eastman was dedicated “to the highest levels of artistry and scholarship, to the broad education of young musicians within the context of a university, to the musical enrichment and education of the greater community, and to the promotion of American music and musicians…” Eastman School of Music carries on this vision today in the artistic expression and research of approximately 500 graduate students and 400 undergraduates. Enriched by diversity, Eastman has students from almost every state as well as from other countries, which, in turn, make up about 25% of the total student body. Admission to Eastman is highly competitive with about 13% of its yearly 2000 applicants accepted. Those accepted, however, are able to pursue the undergraduate Bachelor of Music, and graduate students, the Master of Music, Master of Arts or the PhD. In studying, teaching and researching music and the arts at Eastman, students and faculty become members of an august musical family whose alumni include: “the opera vocalist, Renée Fleming; jazz musician Ron Carter; composers Robert Ward, Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie; Annie), and Alexander Courage (Star Trek; The Waltons); and Doriot Anthony Dwyer, former principal flute of the Boston Symphony, and one of the first women to be named a principal in a major American orchestra.”
With a reputation for being among the best music colleges, Eastman is an expensive school. The 2020-2021 estimated total direct costs for domestic students are $77,168 and $79,944 for international students; the indirect costs range between $2,380 and $3,280.
But it also offers generous financial aid with nearly all students receiving merit scholarship. You can’t also place a price on the amazing education Eastman provides for its students, particularly in comprehensive music literacy. Eastman will give the best music universities including Juilliard a run for their money!
Yale School of Music
No list of the world’s top music schools will be complete without mentioning Yale School of Music! Professional musicians who want to secure plum positions in the worldwide music industry flock to it because it’s second to none in this regard.
Yale School of Music is unique among Ivy Leagues Schools, having the only school dedicated to Music. The School of Music, developing out of the 1889 established Yale Department of Music, received a dean of the School of Music in 1904. And, in 1958, the Yale School of Music became a graduate professional school, requiring a BA and conferring only the Master of Music degree. In 2005, a 100-million-dollar gift enabled the Music School to offer tuition to its students, to update all of its music buildings and provide new instruments and venues for the students and faculty. Like each of the schools on our list, admission is very competitive. Only 8-10% of applicants are accepted to join the approximately 200 students that comprise the Yale School of Music student body.
Take note that Yale School of Music is only one of a handful of graduate music schools. Master of Music, Master of Music Arts and Doctor Music Arts programs of study are offered. Joint Bachelor of Arts/Master of Music courses of study are also offered to current Yale College students, showing outstanding ability in music performance or composition. The Music School also confers the Artist Diploma and Certificate in Performance.
USC Thornton is among the world’s most famous music schools because of its emphasis on the possibilities of technology and contemporary music business. If you’re looking for the best school to learn television and film scoring, then this is the place to be! The Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation is as good as being in Hollywood studios, and part of the reason for its status as among the best music schools in the US.
Its inclusion in the top music school rankings is also due to its commitment to a comprehensive music education. Students can study early and world music, contemporary improvisation and jazz as well as classical music. The conservatory even offers training and performance study for people of all ages, from kindergarteners to adults and seniors through its programs. These include the Preparatory School, Community Performances and Partnerships, and Continuing Education programs.
Students and alumni agree that Jacobs School of Music offers the best college music programs partly because of its brilliant voice programs. The diverse student body come from all the states in the US and from more than 55 countries. All students undergo live or recorded audition before they can be admitted into the competitive program.
Oberlin is also among the good music colleges in terms of financial aid and career opportunities. Nearly all students, or about 90%, are offered significant financial aid and most of them become part of the nation’s best ensembles and orchestras. Plus, we love the rural setting that encourages creativity in solitude but there are plenty of opportunities for socialization among the close-knit community.
Co-founded in 1866 as the Moscow Imperial Conservatory by the brother of the famous Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubenstein along with Prince Troubetzkov, the Moscow Conservatory in Moscow, Russia has as rich and colorful a history as the city itself. It is one of the two oldest conservatories in Russia. In its beginning, Tchaikovsky was professor of theory and harmony, and students such as Kabalevsky, Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Sviatislov Richter have studied at this illustrious music school. With around 1,300 students studying in this historic city, the conservatory still produces some of the greatest musicians in the country. The Moscow Conservatory is also known for its prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition, which takes place every four years, awarding titles for the top pianist, singer, cellist and violinist. The Moscow Conservatory offers Bachelor, Master and Specialist degrees.
Manhattan School of Music
The Manhattan School of Music began as a community school in East side New York, bringing high quality musical instruction to the immigrants of New York City. It is now located in West side New York and has continued its mission of excellence. Its founder, philanthropist and pianist Janet Shenck, borrowed the schools motto from Virgil: “Those who excel, thus reach the stars.” The school quickly gained international reputation and within 20 years of its beginning in 1917 offered higher degrees in music. The school has a 40% acceptance rate and consists of 900 students that have the opportunity to work one on one with around 250 faculty. Manhattan School of Music alumni, including Harry Connick Jr. and Jesse Rosen, have gone on to perform in orchestras and opera companies, teach in prestigious universities and are some of the premier recording artists of the time.
It’s also considered as among the top music schools in the US for musical theater aspirants. Starting in fall 2016, the Manhattan School of Music offered a musical theatre program, which made it one of only two conservatories in the US offering the degree – the other one is the Boston Conservatory.
Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler
The Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler is located in Berlin, Germany. It has an interesting political history as it was created in 1950 in response to a need for a music school in East Berlin after the establishment of the German Democratic Republic. It is named for Hanns Eisler, an internationally renowned composer and one of the first teachers at the school. As a student of Arnold Schoenberg, Eisler represents the prestigious beginnings of the school which has been carried on by some of the best teachers in the world. There are around 600 students in the school with over 60% of the students coming from other countries and a 13% acceptance rate. These statistics contribute to its status as among the best music degree colleges to apply in for high-achieving aspiring musicians. The Hochschule für Music presents over 300 musical events annually and has produced composers and professional musicians of the finest quality.
Located in central Helsinki, Finland, Sibelius Academy, is one of the largest and most renowned music academies in Europe. Named for the famous composer, Jean Sibelius, who was born and musically educated in the city of Helsinki, the academy has a history that is rich in great music. The school offers bachelors, masters and also the higher doctorate and licentiate degrees. With an 8% acceptance rate, the school only accepts the best musical applicants. Sibelius has over 1,000 students with 1500 faculty. It has produced many outstanding musicians including the conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo. Sibelius Academy also has an overseas exchange program with another school on our list, the Peabody Institute.
Of the best music education schools in this list, Sibelius Academy stands out as the only music college in Finland. But that’s not all – it’s also an organizer of the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, a well-known competition with high-level competitors. Past winners include Leonidas Kavakos, Viktoria Mullova and Oleg Kagan, all of whom became famous soloists.
Plus, Sibelius Academy has a Junior Academy that welcomes highly skilled young musicians. Here, the students learn under the guidance of top-level musicians/professors in preparation for university.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Founded in 1880 in London, England, the Guildhall School of Music and Dramahas one of the most prestigious music programs in the world. The School was ranked #1 for specialist universities in the UK in the Guardian University Guide for two years in a row with a perfect score of 100. With around 800 students and a student to faculty ratio of 7.8 to 1, Guildhall offers Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees. The acceptance rate for the Bachelor of Music program is around 18%. Guildhall School of Music has produced many great musicians including the flautist, Sir James Galway, Composer, Thomas Ades, George Martin and Fred Astaire. They recently expanded their campus with a brand new concert hall, Milton Court.
Mannes School of Music
Established in 1916, The Mannes School of Music has an amazing faculty whose awards include Pulitzers, Grammys, a MacArthur Genius, a Guggenheim, and an Avery Fisher Prize. Its alumni include the famous pianists Richard Goode and Murray Perahia who both graduated the same year. Located in New York, New York, Mannes School of Music has a 33% acceptance rate. The musicians at Mannes still mirror the desire of its founders, David and Clara Mannes, who looked for students “whose sincere love of music alone prompts them to take up study.”
Mannes’ status as among the best music colleges in USA stems from its adaptability to the changing times, even for its ability to set the trends in the music industry. The current curriculum emphasizes music technology, television and film music composition, and improvisation, which are tied to contemporary music.
Also, Mannes has two academic divisions – the preparatory division for pre-college training for children and teenagers; and the college division for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Facing the Washington Monument Circle, the Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University is located in the historic city of Baltimore, Maryland. It offers degrees ranging from Bachelors of Music to Doctoral degrees. It has been training some of the finest musicians in the world for the last 150 years. With around 650 Students it has a very low student to faculty ratio of 5:1 and a 38% acceptance rate. The institute’s alumni are performing members of more than 30 professional orchestras throughout the world.
Peabody Institute’s status as one of the top music colleges is also based on its outstanding preparatory program, known as Peabody Preparatory. School-age children are welcome to apply and enjoy the enrichment and instruction programs offered. The Peabody Children’s Chorus is a brilliant training ground for children ages 6 to 18 with members provided the opportunity to perform with professional orchestras.
Cleveland Institute of Music
Located in Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Institute of Music deserves to be on our list of the most prestigious music schools. With 80% of the Institute’s alumni performing in major and international orchestras and opera companies or holding prominent teaching positions around the world, student prospects are very good. The institute has a 40% acceptance rate with around 450 enrolled students. Besides Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral Degrees, the institute also offers Artist Diplomas and Certificates. Forty of the highly talented faculty members also form a significant part of the Cleveland Orchestra.
But it isn’t just one of the colleges with good music programs! Students at CIM can also simultaneously earn a degree at Case Western Reserve University, thanks to a cooperative agreement.
Which of these top music schools in the world is right for you? Well, only you can make the choice but it’s important to consider the schools’ prestige, acceptance, retention and graduation rates, and tuition and financial aid. You should also take a closer look at your personal and professional aspirations, and how these fit in with the school’s mission and vision.