“If you’re dedicated to becoming a professional, you have to prepare to compete in the marketplace.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 300
If you aim for a career in music, your educational choices will profoundly affect your future.
Here are 10 guidelines to help musicians make informed decisions about graduate school.
10 Reasons to Pursue a Graduate Degree in Music
1. You’ve learned that working in any profession other than music would leave you dissatisfied.
Your commitment to music fills you with motivation. Conversely, if you feel ambivalent about whether you want to work full-time as a musician, invest in self-discovery before considering graduate school.
2. You’ve developed a consistent work ethic.
You practice, study, and perform or compose regularly, maintain positive relationships with fellow musicians, and read about developments in the music industry. If that doesn’t describe you, reevaluate why you’re interested in professional music training and whether you hold realistic career expectations.
3. You have sufficient professional experience to have forged a clear vision for your future.
By working during and after your undergraduate years, you’ve learned about aspects of the music industry and acquired the wherewithal to work part-time while earning a graduate degree (e.g., by teaching, gigging, recording, etc.). In contrast, if you’re completing your undergraduate studies but have little experience in the real world, you might want to hold off going to graduate school and work for two or more years, learning about yourself and the music scene.
4. Your total student debt upon completing your graduate education won’t exceed $30,000.
Music degrees bring abundant intrinsic value but limited economic value, so it’s unwise for music students to take on loads of debt. Given that those who finish graduate degrees commonly earn about $30,000 their first year out of school, that’s the maximum debt figure not to exceed. Better to limit education debt to $20,000 or less.
5. You’ve been offered a sizable scholarship/assistantship or you have ample financial resources.
If you’d have to overborrow to enroll, don’t. Work instead, build professional know-how, take some private lessons, and reapply to grad school later on when your improved knowledge and skills can win you more funding.
6. You’ve researched the employment outlook in your field and have a plan to compete successfully.
Too many music students sign up for graduate programs believing that having an advanced degree promptly leads to a college faculty position. Not so. Especially given that few faculty jobs open each year and graduate curricula don’t equip candidates with comprehensive qualifications. For more on that subject, see my post Applying for Faculty Positions.
7. The graduate programs you’re considering offer artistic and career preparation geared to today’s world.
Research a school’s curriculum, faculty, and alumni, and then opt for programs that include career preparation courses and workshops. It no longer suffices for students to choose programs based solely on studio teachers; aspiring musicians need far more know-how than studio teachers can provide if they’re to thrive in our rapidly evolving music economy. Also try to take a lesson or two from a prospective studio teacher so that you can gauge your fit.
8. You’re interested in working in more than one arm of the music industry – performance, composition, teaching, church music, recording, administration and so forth.
Young professionals typically take up portfolio careers and may specialize later on, once they’re established. It’s sensible, therefore, for students to acquire broad-based skills.
9. You’re comfortable with technology or are motivated to gain facility with technology as used by 21st-century musicians.
Musicians need fluency with technology and Web culture in order to establish their artistic identities, create online content, and build communities of followers. Plus, tech skills expand musicians’ career prospects.
10. You intend to earn a Masters or Doctoral degree and not a certificate unless you can easily pay the costs of earning a certificate or you win a scholarship for an elite program.
Plenty of employers require job applicants to hold master or doctoral degrees, but no position announcement lists a graduate music certificate as a condition of employment. Economically speaking, it seldom makes sense to incur student debt for the sake of earning a certificate.
Bear in mind that these general guidelines may apply differently in distinct situations. If you’re thinking about graduate school, consult a career counselor or mentor who can offer objective advice.
See The Musician’s Way for strategies to gain inclusive artistic and professional skills.
© 2015 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © A. Pekour, licensed from Shutterstock.com