So, I lied
I said in an earlier post that I wouldn't talk about picking a school.... Yet here I am, About to jump in and tell people what to do! Really, I have advised a large number of high school and college students as to their next steps. I tend to write in smaller, quick chunks, so this will likely take up a few posts - here we go:
I can recall just this year spending a day with a prospective student, I could tell they were having a hard time deciding between Mason and another in state school. Cost wasn't an issue ( academic scholarship from both institutions) and proximity to home wasn't an issue ( this can often be a deciding factor for students). As we spoke and I asked her some of these questions, we both realized that a school right outside Washington DC, with a large ( 24 majors) and competitive program with other students who do festivals and DCI corps wasn't really her bag. She wanted something entirely different and would have been miserable at Mason. I was happy to spend the day with her, and even more happy to help her decide on the right school for her.
This is a big point - it isn't the 1980s or 1990s anymore! In 1994, when I was looking for a college, I had 4, maybe 5 realistic options for a serious music performance degree. Now, I think there are 15-20 legit undergraduate programs that can offer high level, symphonic, contemporary chamber music programs to a motivated undergrad. This is great, but also means that the choice is much more personal, and focused.
When selecting a school you are likely going to be drawn by the person who teaches percussion - you met them at PAS, saw a youtube video, a friend went there, they are "famous" or perhaps someone you admire in the business studied with them. They do ( or did) what you want to do, so you are drawn to them - perhaps they have a dynamic personality, high profile in the field etc...
And ask these questions, either as you read someone's bio, or in your conversation: what are they doing and how involved are they in the business now? Are they still performing? How often? Where? How often are they on campus and how regularly will you see them for lessons, master classes and studio class. Are they full time, adjunct? Do they teach at 2-3 different schools?
There is no correct/black/white answer to any of these questions - all you are doing at this point is "fact finding". I didn't care that my teachers in undergrad were all "adjunct" I cared where they played!
Something will resonate with you, and will lead you down another path of questions. Questions like:
What are your graduates doing? Will I always see you for a lesson, or will I have to study with a grad assistant?
Remember when you are talking to the professor, they are making evaluations of you as well - always be respectful, and get as much information from their bio BEFORE YOU E MAIL THEM!
Sometimes, you cannot speak directly to the professor....
and you end up talking to admissions people, or someone in the school of music office. These folks are trained to sell you on the school - Look at all the glossy, fancy websites, print advertising and social media. Then, largely ignore it. Watch the videos, listen to the admissions pitch, and then ask:
1. What are you scholarship opportunities, and how do I apply for them?
2. Can I see your practice facilities? How much time does each percussionist get in each practice room? What kind of access do I have to equipment? How late is the building open?
3. Can I get a lesson with the teacher(s)?
4. Where can I find audition information?
* a note about the word conservatory....I've often joked with my colleagues at Mason that if we decided to one day change our name to the Mason Conservatory, we would triple our enrollment overnight!! Just having the word conservatory next to a school's name doesn't mean a thing. Really. Be careful on this one.
Next up - PARTICIPATE. Visit the school, attend a summer program, and take a lesson. Oh, and GRADES.....