The 20 Most Prestigious Music Degree Programs in the World

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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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 not merely passes 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 and 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, 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 schools world wide that arguably are the most prestigious institutions to study music, offering the finest in musical education.

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The Juilliard School

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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. 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.”

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Curtis Institute of Music

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Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and founded in 1924, Curtis Institute of Music is one of most prestigious places to study music. 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. 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.

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Berklee College of Music

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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. Berklee is a distinctively contemporary music school. Its philosophy holds that music can be best taught through the music of the time. This approach, marrying surrounding culture with musical composition and expression has resulted in alumni winning more than 250 Grammys and, for example, Howard Shore, multiple Oscars. 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. 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.

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The Royal Academy of Music

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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.

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Conservatoire de Paris

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The Conservatoire de Paris in Paris, France is the oldest school of music on our list. 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. 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.

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Eastman School of Music

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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.”

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Yale School of Music

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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. As a graduate professional school, 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.

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USC Thornton School of Music
The USC Thornton School of Music is one of the premier music schools in the United States and in the world.  Founded in 1884 it is also one of the oldest which makes it one of the richest cultural centers of Los Angeles and the West Coast. It has over 1,000 students with a 20% acceptance rate.  USC Thornton offers degrees in the areas of Classical Performance and Composition, Contemporary Music and Professional Studies. Thornton alumni include film composers David Newman and James Horner, Jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour and singers Jessica Rivera and Rodney Gilfry who perform regularly with the Los Angeles Opera.  In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter named the USC Thornton School of Music as one of the country’s top music schools, and a “springboard to the industry.”
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University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna
The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna is one of the oldest and largest music schools in the world. It was established in 1817 in Vienna, Austria, also one of most beautiful cities in the world. Musicians like Brahms and Mahler studied at this cultural center of arts and music. Even though it has around 3,000 students it still has 4.7 students to each instructor.  Its students have won many international competitions in all areas of music including Conducting, Organ, Voice and Film and Media Composition.
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New England Conservatory
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The oldest independent school of music in the U.S., the New England Conservatory (NEC) was founded in 1867 in Boston and has played a major historical part in the musical life of the world. It is the only music conservatory named as a National Historic Landmark.  It consists of 750 students with a student to faculty ratio of 5 to 1 and an acceptance rate of 28%. NEC also offers a unique 5 year program together with Harvard University, conferring upon students degrees from two of the finest institutes in the nation.  It also offers degrees up to the doctoral level.  New England Conservatory’s students go on to fill concert chairs, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts positions throughout the world. Almost half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra consists of faculty and former students of NEC.
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Jacobs School of Music
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Located in Bloomington, Indiana, the Jacobs School of Music is well known for the success of its students.  It was the learning place of violinist, Joshua Bell and opera singer Richard Cowan, and includes on the faculty the pianist Andre Watts.  There is a 25% acceptance rate of incoming students, and around 1600 students that attend the school. The Musical Arts Center that seats 1,460 people features acoustics and technical abilities that are some of the best in the nation as well as a world class opera stage. The Jacobs School of Music also has a 400 seat music hall that has a high beamed ceiling and side terraces. The school offers more than 1,100 performances a year, including 7 fully staged operas and 3 ballets. Jacobs School of Music has the facilities, reputation and faculty to offer students one of the best musical educations in the world.
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Oberlin Conservatory of Music
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As the only music conservatory awarded the National Medal of Arts, Oberlin Conservatory of Music is certainly renowned for its quality of musicians.  Established in 1833, in Oberlin, Ohio, the conservatory accepts about 38% of its applicants.  Oberlin offers Bachelor, Master and Artist Diplomas and also has a unique relationship with Oberlin College which offers a 5 year dual degree program.  With a faculty to student ratio of 6 to 1, at Oberlin the students have easy access to professors of the highest musical ability.  The music rooms, 150 of which have windows, boast a total of 233 Steinway pianos. “Together, the campus and community create a place of urban sensibility reflecting the music, art, and cultural richness of the world.”
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Moscow Conservatory

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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.

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Manhattan School of Music

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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.

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Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler

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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. The Hochschule für Music presents over 300 musical events annually and has produced composers and professional musicians of the finest quality.

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Sibelius Academy

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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.

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Guildhall School of Music and Drama

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Founded in 1880 in London, England, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has 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.

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Mannes School of Music

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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.”

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Peabody Institute

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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.

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Cleveland Institute of Music

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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.