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How music boarding schools prepare you for college and career success

From world-class faculty to expert audition preparation to college-preparatory academics, music boarding schools can help you prepare for the career of your dreams and stand out in a competitive college and conservatory landscape.

Interlochen Arts Academy harp student performs in orchestra

Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions of your life—especially if you plan to pursue a career in the competitive music industry.

Whether you want to attend a state school or an elite conservatory, the decisions you make during your middle and high school years are keys that unlock the path to the college of your dreams. As college music programs become increasingly selective, more and more high school students are considering a music boarding school to help them navigate the application process and become more attractive applicants.

Below, we share a few of the ways that a boarding arts high school can set you up for college and career success.

“Intellectual, conceptual, creative”: A college admission representative’s perspective

In the video below, college and conservatory admission representatives explain how Interlochen students are uniquely prepared for the academic, artistic, and social challenges of college life.

Admission representatives from arts-focused colleges, universities, and conservatories share why they’re excited to see Interlochen Arts Academy on an application.

World-class artistic faculty

If you take a look at a professional musician’s biography, you’ll notice a list of the artist’s primary teachers. That’s because the instructors you study with are an indelible part of your musical identity.

With so much emphasis placed on your musical pedigree, it’s important to find an instructor who aligns with your personality, skill level, and professional goals. Boarding school faculty are often a perfect fit: most are working artists with real-world experience in the music industry and a deep passion for training high school-age artists.

Your private lesson teachers are responsible for preparing you artistically for the rigors of college auditions and study. Music boarding school instructors foster a professional environment within their studios, modeling the discipline and commitment needed for success as a working artist. Instructors frequently leverage their connections to help you forge relationships with professional musicians and college faculty in your instrument, voice, or musical specialty.

In addition to your private lesson instructor, you’ll also work with a team of music faculty that includes ensemble directors, collaborative pianists, and other instructors.

Opportunities to build your musical résumé

While your instructors are a key component of your musical résumé—a list of skills and successes that you’ll share with colleges and future employers—you’ll want to add a variety of other experiences to your list.

Music boarding schools offer many different opportunities to flesh out your résumé. Music ensemble participation is the primary vessel of many of these opportunities. In addition to large ensembles such as bands, choirs, and orchestras, most music schools also have a wide variety of smaller ensembles such as jazz combos, string quartets, brass choirs, and rock bands. By enrolling in multiple ensembles, you’ll be able to rehearse a diverse selection of classical and contemporary repertoire and gain exposure to a variety of musical styles. Depending on the repertoire your ensemble is performing, you may also have the chance to learn to play a specialized instrument related to your primary instrument, such as the alto flute, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, or English horn.

Music schools also offer supplementary classes in subjects such as music theory, composition, music business, and conducting, allowing you to discover new passions and get a jumpstart on your college coursework.

Faculty often encourage students to pursue recognition both on and off campus through concerto, scholarship, and chamber ensemble competitions. Music school students routinely place well in prestigious national arts competitions such as YoungArts and the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

If your school has a recording studio, you may also want to consider making a demo reel. This experience is especially valuable for contemporary music students, as it allows you to gain familiarity with the recording process and studio etiquette while creating a professional-caliber recording to share with record labels.

Frequent concerts, performances, and tours

Performances and tours are the heart of a career in music. Boarding schools for music prepare you for this reality by providing regular opportunities to share your music with others.

On-campus concerts provide supportive spaces for practicing your stagecraft skills. Surrounded by friends, you’ll be able to get constructive feedback on your performance and try new things. You’ll also discover how you respond physically and mentally to the pressure of being on stage. If you struggle with performance anxiety, your instructors and peers can suggest strategies for dealing with stage fright.

Touring also enables you to develop key professional skills. You’ll learn how to travel with your instrument, load in/out of performance venues, adjust to unfamiliar concert halls, and more—all while getting a taste of what life on the road is really like.

Guidance from experienced college counselors

Your private lesson instructor is an integral part of your college search and application process, but they’re not your only resource. Each arts boarding school student also has the support of an academic and college counselor, who will help you chart your course from the first semester at your new high school to college move-in.

Counselors at music boarding schools have years of expertise working with young musicians and can offer guidance on everything from choosing your next math class to recording a video audition. Your counselor will lead you through the process of determining what type of program is best for you and suggest institutions that align with your personal and professional needs.

Once you’ve chosen your prospective programs, your counselor will help you build your musical résumé, complete your applications, plan campus visits, and schedule auditions. If you want to apply for financial aid, they can also guide you through federal financial aid processes and teach you how to find and apply for independent scholarship and loan programs.

Expert audition preparation

Auditions are rites of passage for musicians, marking pivotal moments in your life and career. At a music-centered high school, you’ll have abundant opportunities to practice auditioning and get personalized audition coaching.

You’ll get your first chance to practice before you arrive at your new school. Most music-focused high schools require some kind of audition—such as a pre-recorded video, a Zoom audition, or an in-person audition—as part of the application process. Regardless of what type of audition your school requires, it’s a great opportunity to gain first-hand experience with processes you’ll see again at the college, conservatory, or professional level.

Once you arrive on campus, you’ll work with your private lesson instructor and college counselor to develop a winning audition strategy. Under their guidance, you’ll identify audition requirements for your prospective schools, choose your repertoire, participate in mock auditions, discuss tried-and-true audition techniques, and record pre-screenings (if necessary).

Get Interlochen Art's Academy's Eight Tips for Learning a New Piece of Music to nail your next audition!

College-preparatory academic classes

Even though you’ve made the decision to pursue a career in music, it’s not time to close the book on academics just yet.

Academics play an important role in the college admissions process, particularly if you wish to attend a liberal arts college. Music students at liberal arts colleges and state universities take classes in math, science, history, and other academic subjects alongside their musical studies; as a result, these types of institutions tend to place a greater emphasis on grades and test scores when making admission decisions. Even if you want to attend a conservatory, it’s a good idea to keep working hard in the classroom in case you change your mind about where or what you want to study.

Music boarding schools set their students up for success at all types of post-secondary institutions by offering rigorous, college-preparatory academic classes. Academic instructors at music boarding schools are cognizant of the demands placed on young musicians and adjust homework loads during peak performance and audition seasons. Many also liven up their lessons by encouraging students to explore the connections between music and academics.

A supportive community

For many young musicians, one of the most transformative aspects of studying at a music boarding school is forging friendships with other students who are passionate about the arts.

At a music-focused school, you’ll be surrounded by peers who understand the unique challenges of pursuing a career in music. From swapping audition stories to comparing favorite composers, you’ll be able to connect with your fellow students on a deeper level. The friendships formed at music schools often last decades after graduation, offering ongoing support and encouragement throughout the course of your college and professional careers.

Your peers also provide endless opportunities for collaboration. Performance majors can form their own extracurricular ensembles; composition students can gain valuable feedback and leverage their peers to create recordings of their works for college and competition applications. If you choose to attend a school that offers a variety of artistic disciplines, you may also have the chance to explore interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations.

Lastly, boarding arts high schools provide early exposure to dormitory life in a safe, nurturing community. You’ll have around-the-clock support from a dedicated team of instructors, counselors, residence life staff, and house parents—a safety net that isn’t available at most colleges. Throughout your boarding school journey, these staff members will instill important life skills such as how to budget your time, how to do your own laundry, how to plan your class schedule, and how to handle disagreements with your roommates.

If you plan to pursue music at the college and professional level, a music boarding high school may be the right choice for you. From world-class faculty to college-preparatory classes to expert audition guidance, music boarding schools provide valuable lessons and artistic and academic advantages that will prepare you to excel in college and beyond.

Want to learn more about studying music at a boarding arts high school? Discover Interlochen Arts Academy and start your journey today.

Get Interlochen Art's Academy's Eight Tips for Learning a New Piece of Music to nail your next audition!