The Interlochen Advantage: Admission tips from Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music

Assistant Director of Admissions Christina Calamaio shares how to have the best possible audition experience, what younger students can do to prepare, and how an arts boarding school can set you up for success as a college music major.

An Interlochen Arts Academy percussion student plays a bass drum

An Interlochen Arts Academy percussion student plays a bass drum during the Festival 2023 Percussion Ensemble performance.

Each year, thousands of aspiring musicians apply for admission to the nation’s most prestigious colleges and conservatories.

In this competitive admissions landscape, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. But whether you’re a newly minted freshman or a rising senior, there are a few things you can do during your high school years to make yourself a more attractive applicant.

To help you have the best possible college application and audition experience, we sat down with Christina Calamaio, Assistant Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music. Below, Calamaio shares what admission representatives wish students knew about the matriculation process, what younger students can do now to prepare for their future, and how an arts boarding school can set you up for success as a college music major.

What are some of the things Blair School of Music looks for in a prospective student?
We look for students who are inquisitive and are pursuing excellence in many different areas. Blair students are typically high-level musicians who have a strong academic background.

A certain percentage of our students also have interest in multiple areas of interdisciplinary study, though that’s not a requirement. Many students at Blair pursue music as their sole, primary major.

What types of extracurricular programs or musical experiences stand out on a student’s application?
We take a holistic approach to our admissions process. We encourage students to include non-music related activities—such as involvement with a summer camp, place of worship, community engagement activity, or hobby of another kind—in their application materials.

We also understand that musicians have busy rehearsal schedules, and that your activities will often include arts-related activities, clubs, organizations, and community service. We take this into consideration when reviewing extra-curricular activities.

What about Interlochen? What sort of weight does Camp or Academy participation carry on an application?
We treat each Blair application holistically, which enables excellent music students from a broad range of backgrounds to apply and be considered for admissions.

When we look at a school such as Interlochen, we like to see that students have taken advantage of the unique opportunities available there, that they have challenged themselves, and that they are thriving in their musical and academic pursuits.

From an admissions perspective, what are the advantages of attending a dedicated arts boarding school?
The performance experience and confidence that are built by being a part of an arts boarding school allow students to go into their college applications with a lot of performance, music, and music theory exposure that isn’t usually available in a regular high school arts curriculum. Students admitted to a college music program from an arts high school often have broad toolsets and musical experiences that empower them to be successful as a music major.

What do you wish more students knew or understood about the application and audition process?
Start your audition repertoire preparations early, so that by senior year, you are polishing your repertoire and can go into the pre-screening and audition process with confidence. We encourage students to complete their pre-screening recordings prior to the start of their senior year. That way, they aren’t trying to set these up during an already-busy school year.

What can students do to ensure the best possible audition experience?
Preparation is key. I suggest playing or singing pieces that are so well-learned you could almost perform them in your sleep.

I also recommend pursuing sample lesson opportunities with faculty at programs to which you will be applying. While this is not a required part of the application or admissions process, interaction with studio faculty will help you decide which program is a good fit for you. You will also get a sense of the instruction and experience you might have as part of a specific studio.

What are some things that younger students (like freshmen and sophomores) can do to be a stronger applicant come junior/senior year?
Enjoy your music, and use this time to develop your technique and decide if you want to pursue music as your college major. Music theory classes are helpful, and provide excellent support and preparation for both the audition process and the rigors of a college music curriculum.

At Vanderbilt, we review both your musical and academic background. Applicants interested in this program should demonstrate strong performance in both a challenging academic course load and in their music courses and activities (within the context of the school’s offerings and/or other groups available in their community).

The other thing I recommend is to be involved in activities and hobbies—outside of music and the classroom—that are meaningful and refreshing to you. This could include a club or organization at school; a community group; babysitting; a part-time job; or summer camp participation, among other things.

However, we do not expect students to overcommit. We want to learn about the things you are currently doing, what makes you “you,” and how you will contribute to our community and campus with your unique background, experiences, interests, and perspective.