Applying to Music Schools

November 21, 2014

Or, How to Win Auditions
and Influence Faculty

The Cleveland Institute of Music has put together this comprehensive list of hints, tips and FAQs for students (and their parents) who are applying to and auditioning for a Conservatory or School of Music. We hope you find this information helpful.

[Download a printable version]

THE DOs and DON’Ts


  • ASK QUESTIONS…if you don’t understand what is required/needed to apply. Call or email the admission office well ahead of the deadline. They’d rather help you up front than have incomplete or error-laden applications.
  • VISIT the institution, if possible, to see the campus, classrooms, meet people and get a feeling for the campus.
  • GET an early start—don’t wait until the deadline.
  • COMPLETE all sections thoroughly—as accurately and articulately as possible.
  • PROOFREAD everything. Twice!
  • CONNECT online via social media to learn more about the community and campus culture.


  • READ all of the audition information thoroughly and ask questions in advance, if you need clarification.
  • RESEARCH the organization and confirm their location, parking availability, etc., in advance of your visit.
  • TAKE A DRIVE to the audition location, if possible, ahead of time. If you can’t, make sure you have the correct street address programmed into your GPS, and find out about nearby parking.
  • LOOK UP rest stops and restaurants en-route and nearby to avoid arriving hungry, thirsty or in urgent need of the restroom.
  • PROGRAM the school’s number(s) into your phone AND print a copy, in case of an emergency.
  • PRACTICE. And practice more. Be as prepared as possible with your audition piece(s).
  • PREPARE for answering questions about your training, your background and yourself.
  • CHECK with the admissions office beforehand to see if you’re missing anything, such as a transcript or test scores, and if you are, bring it with you to the audition or have it sent immediately.


  • BRING extra copies of any paperwork received, requested or previously submitted. You never know when you’ll need to refer to them.
  • DRESS neatly in clean and pressed clothing that flatters. It’s not only about presentation but feeling confident.
  • ARRIVE ON TIME – though a little early is even better, if you can. Come prepared to warm up.
  • LISTEN to instructions and do your best to comply with requests.
  • MAKE eye contact and speak articulately. If you are asked to repeat yourself, this is an indication you should speak up, out and more clearly.
  • CONTINUE playing even if you make a mistake, unless or until you are asked to stop.
  • THANK the audition panel or faculty before leaving the room.
  • TAKE a deep breath, let it out and then pat yourself on the back for doing your best.


  • WAIT until the last minute to apply. Not only does it give a questionable impression, you don’t want to be in a rush or risk something going wrong with internet connections, forms, etc.
  • WING IT. If you are asked to submit a performance video, don’t just practice the piece—rehearse how you will sit, look and speak on the video and do a few takes to get comfortable.
  • SKIP proofreading — TWICE!
  • FORGET to review and include all required items that are necessary for the school to take the next step (i.e., pre-screening video, test scores, transcripts, etc.).
  • MAKE the admission office follow up with you multiple times to obtain required paperwork or files.


  • BE A NO-SHOW. Call in well advance to cancel/reschedule if your plans change.
  • WEAR wrinkled, stained or unflattering clothes, ostentatious or otherwise distracting jewelry or watches, etc.
  • ARRIVE late. In case of an emergency, call the school as soon as you know that you won’t be arriving on time.
  • MUMBLE or speak too softly. If you are asked to repeat yourself multiple times, you may need to speak more clearly or louder.
  • BE FAKE to try to “impress” anyone. Faculty want to see and hear the real you.
  • ACT conceited or arrogant. Confident is one thing — cocky is another!
  • DISTRACT others waiting to audition. Leave quietly and keep thoughts and comments (positive or negative) to yourself.
  • FAIL to provide any additional requested forms, materials, etc.
  • BEAT yourself up if you made a mistake. It happens to everyone; no one expects you to be perfect; take the opportunity to learn from it.


Conservatories, like the Cleveland Institute of Music, will often schedule a series of audition days in a short period of time. That means that there may be hundreds of students auditioning on any one of those days.

You can expect there will be:

  • CHECK IN tables or rooms
  • A GROUP SESSIONS or introductory meeting
  • WARM-UP spaces and times allocated
  • An ASSIGNED TIME for your audition
  • TESTING or interview requirements

Additionally, be prepared to:

  • WAIT. Waiting is the hardest part for students AND parents, but everyone does it. Plan for the downtime.
  • PLAY only part of what you practiced. Because of time constraints, you may not finish an entire work. Be ready to play all of it but don’t be surprised or worried if you are asked to stop.
  • FIND the nearest coffee shop or restaurant for a quick break or pick-me-up.
  • FEEL nervous. It’s normal and natural — just don’t let it rattle you.


Hopefully everything will go off without a hitch with getting to and performing at your audition, but it never hurts to be prepared for the unexpected.

  • BRING extras of anything you plan to need or use — extra strings or reeds, copies of music, an extra outfit, etc. If it can get dirty, damaged or lost, you should have a back-up.
  • MAKE A LIST of local music/instrument stores nearby in case you need extra supplies, repairs, etc.
  • FIND nearby parking and make sure you know the route and approximate time it will take to get from where you are staying to the parking and/or school — making allowances for things like construction, weather, etc.
  • WATCH the weather forecast and the school’s policy regarding for cancellations should a storm hit.
  • CHECK with the airline, if you’re flying, on policies regarding traveling with your instrument. If you plan to check your baggage, plan to bring some extras with you in a carry-on bag just in case your luggage is delayed.
  • RESEARCH public rail/bus systems or book other ground transportation from the airport to where you’re staying, and, if you’re not renting a vehicle, from where you’re staying to the school.


  • Can I use the Common Application to apply to music schools? Many universities and conservatories do not use the Common Application, students should check the website of each school to confirm.
  • What information should I include in essay? The purpose of the essay is to give the admissions’ counselors, the dean and the faculty members a glimpse of who you are, where you are at as a musician, what you want to be and how you plan to get there. Learn more about tackling the essay question at
  • Do I need performance recordings? Depending on major or instrument, prospective students may need to submit a recorded audition or pre-screening video.
  • What should I do if I’m running late or can’t make my scheduled time? Notify the school as soon as you know you’ll be late, have to cancel or postpone your audition. Most schools have waiting lists of students who applied. This means making sure you have the school’s phone number with you or otherwise accessible in case you have to call while you are traveling.
  • What should I expect to do when I arrive? This will vary some based on the school; a typical audition day at CIM begins with you being directed to a check-in table and/or a secure coat check room where your coat and other belongings will be safely stored. Usually there will be a short welcome or introductory session that explains the process and/or shares information about the school before the auditions begin.
  • Do schools have a secure place for me to store my belongings or will I have to carry everything with me? Some schools, CIM is among them, will provide a secure coat and bag check room where you can leave your belongings without worry. It is a good idea to check with the school ahead of time if you have concerns.
  • Will snacks or meals be provided? If not, will I have time to grab a bite to eat? Again, this varies by institute, but CIM provides some options and has vending machines on that are easily accessible. Our Women’s Committee, an all-volunteer organization, makes hot lunches for students and their parents with vegetarian, vegan and even some gluten free food options available. The Coffee House of University Circle is just a short walk away for anyone needing additional sustenance or just a break for the activities in the building.
  • How long will the audition take? A typical audition will last around 15 minutes, give or take. That said, you should clear day, regardless of the audition length, to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Who will be in the room with me for my audition? Typically, an audition will include faculty and possible other administrative staff. At CIM, each member of the faculty for that instrument  (a list of which can be found on our website) will be present for each audition. For some departments, this may mean one or two faculty, for others it could mean more than five or ten.
  • Besides test scores and transcripts, what do music school applications require?
    • References: Names and contact information for individuals who will recommend you.
    • Music Education Background: Names of your instructors, years and area(s) of study as well as highlights.
    • Personal Essay: Your educational and professional goals and how you plan or expect to achieve them by attending a conservatory such as CIM.
  • Should I prepare more than one piece to play? Consult the school’s website for audition music repertoire – most schools will provide a list online. Prepare at least one selection from that list.
  • How many copies of my music should I bring? Bring a copy for each audition reviewer. As explained above, at CIM, this means each member of the faculty for that instrument (a list of which can be found on our website) will be present for each audition. For some departments, this may mean one or two faculty, for others it could mean more than five or ten.
  • Will I play the entire work? Because of the quantity of students auditioning in a short period of time, it is unlikely you’ll play a piece from start-to-finish. Plan to play through but don’t be surprised if you are stopped.

Admission counselors want you to have all the information you need to succeed in applying and auditioning. It helps you and enables them to do their job of matching students to schools and faculty. If you don’t understand instructions or feel like you’re missing information, don’t be afraid to ask questions and/or check on details when applying or preparing for your audition.

Good luck to you!

[Download a printable version]

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