Guest Article: Applying and Auditioning for Music Degrees – A Timeline and Checklist

This RMS guest article is written by Jenny Maclay, American clarinetist and blogger based in Quebec.


Applying to university or conservatory music programs is stressful and overwhelming, whether you’re in high school and applying to schools for the first time, or you’re a college senior and planning on auditioning for graduate schools in music. Here is a timeline for juniors and seniors (in high school or undergraduate) to help you stay organized during the entire process.

Junior Year

  • Make a list of potential teachers. Write down anyone whose pedagogy, performances, or other attributes you admire – don’t worry if some seem out of reach for now.
  • Make a list of potential schools. Consider the school’s teacher-to-student ratio, resources, performance opportunities, ensembles, freelance opportunities in the area, and other factors which will influence your decision.
  • Compare and narrow your lists. Although there is no “right” number of schools you should apply to, I would avoid more than 10 on your preliminary list. Decide what factors are most important to you and streamline your list to reflect this.
  • Email potential schools and professors to introduce yourself and schedule a lesson. Keep your emails short and professional, and make sure you’re using a professional email address. If they are unable to meet for a lesson, search for any articles, blogs, or videos they’ve published to get an idea of their teaching and performing philosophies.
  • Visit as many schools as possible to take lessons. Schedule visits and participate in honor bands so you can meet faculty and current students. During initial lessons, remember that although you will be auditioning for the professor, you are also holding your own “auditions” to discover the best teacher and school for you.

Senior Year


  • Finalize your list of schools. Your list should contain at least one safety school and one dream school. Most music students apply to 4-6 schools so that they can adequately prepare for every audition. Remember that each school will probably require a live audition, not to mention application fees, so only apply for programs you are seriously considering.
  • Choose your audition repertoire. Use the same repertoire as much as possible to avoid having to learn a completely different program for each school.
  • Plan for any pre-screening recordings. Some schools require pre-screened recordings to advance to the live round, so look up the requirements and deadlines and leave yourself plenty of time to re-record if necessary. Reserve a venue, date, audio/video engineer, and anything else necessary for a fantastic recording.


  • Get started on applications. Gather any additional documents you will need, such as letters of recommendation, curriculum vitae, repertoire lists, audio recordings, headshots, and personal statements.
  • Research scholarships. See if any scholarships are offered at your schools and if they require a separate audition or application. Research non-music scholarships offered through local businesses, your place of employment, or other sources. Don’t forget to look into work-study opportunities for musicians, such as working in an orchestra library or overseeing the music technology lab.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. Give each recommender all pertinent information – name of school, name of program, how long the letter must be, is it submitted online or through post, and most importantly, the deadline. Approach your recommenders at least a month before the deadline so they have enough time to write a quality letter.


  • Submit applications. Leave yourself plenty of time to revise and proofread each application.
  • Finalize dates and repertoire for live round auditions. Purchase any music (never audition or perform using photocopies) and find accompanists.
  • Book all travel and lodging accommodations for your live auditions. Create accounts with popular airline and hotel chains to start accruing points for your upcoming travel.


  • Practice, practice, practice! Maintain a regular practice schedule during winter break so you’ll perform at your best during audition season.


  • Auditions! Trust in your preparation, take a deep breath, and break a leg!


  • Review acceptances and scholarship offers to make the big decision. Make a pro/con list for all the schools to which you are accepted. Include tuition costs, scholarship offers, performing opportunities, and any other information which might influence your decision.
  • Send your confirmation of acceptance. Make sure you submit any official documents or paperwork to confirm your acceptance into the school. Email the other professors and schools to let them know your decision so they can offer your spot to others on a waiting list.


  • Send thank you notes to everyone who has helped you throughout the process. Don’t forget private music teachers, professors, school counselors, parents, and friends.


  • Start practicing the placement audition repertoire for your school. Ask your professor when placement auditions will be and what repertoire you should prepare.

I hope this timeline helps you throughout your application and audition process, and I wish you the best of luck during this musical journey!