By Shane Griffin
This is the first in a multi-part series about Graduate School Preparation. I made many mistakes when preparing for Graduate School, and would like to help prevent others from doing the same.
The first, and perhaps the most important, step in this process is to make a list of schools where you are interested in applying. When I was making my list, there were several factors which I thought were quite important in evaluating my decisions. These included, but were not limited to, teacher chemistry, performance opportunities, and post-graduation placement.
Teacher chemistry may be one of the most important elements in this equation. You must be able to work with your teacher in a way that makes you a better player. For some people, this means someone who is going to pile on a workload and relentlessly “hound” them into a becoming better player. For some people, this means a laid back teacher with who focuses on self-motivation and self-guided studies. For some people, it’s a quiet, stern approach, and for others it’s an animated, enthusiastic approach. In any event, you must find schools that have professors you can work with. You can get a great deal of information from your current professor, other people in the industry, and even current students and alumni of the institutions you are pursuing. I highly recommend taking a lesson before your audition, but do understand that this is not always possible. If your audition day is your primary interaction with the professor(s), then remember that you are auditioning them, as much as they are auditioning you. Try to gain as much insight as you can into their personalities during your audition and interview process.
The second element on the list, at least for performance majors, is performance opportunities. If your end goal is either to perform or to teach others to perform, you should be somewhere you can experience this element of the field on a very regular basis. You need to have an outlet for this creative energy, and you need to make sure you are at a school that values this element of your education. Specifically, you need to be sure that the schools you are applying to offer the types of performance opportunities you are looking for. Like world music? Make sure you have an outlet. Love percussion ensemble, then why apply to a school that doesn’t even have one? Schools, especially smaller schools, often focus on different types of playing opportunities. This can be great if it is the focus area you love, but detrimental otherwise. Be sure the schools you apply to have the ensembles you want and need. After all, how can you expect to be a member of a successful chamber group if your graduate school never had a percussion ensemble?
This brings us to post-graduation placement. While it is true that statistics mean nothing to the individual, the current positions of past graduates can be a great indicator of the opportunities that may be presented to you upon graduation. For example, are all of the graduates now freelancing successfully? Do some have symphony gigs? How many went on to pursue more advanced degrees? If some did, where are they studying? Are they flipping burgers and waiting tables? All of these factors can help you see what this education is preparing you for. You are getting ready to invest a great deal of time and money into this new institution, so you must be certain that you are going to get a return on your investment.
It is also important to examine the level of competition you are up against at these prospective schools. Honestly, how do you stack up? It is expensive and time-consuming to visit, apply to, and audition at graduate schools all over the country. You don’t want to waste your time, money, and energy on schools that won’t challenge you to become a better player or on schools that are way over your head. This is not to say that you should not reach for schools, and in all honesty, I only applied to schools that I thought were a “reach.” However, I was told by my undergraduate instructor (a very wise man) that they were definitely attainable goals, and it turned out that he was correct. Get the opinions of your teachers, your peers, and other people in the field, and generate a balanced list of schools.
What other factors did you find extremely important when generating your list? Are you going through this process right now? What do you want to know from people who have gone through this process? There are many more elements that can be discussed, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Originally posted on DrumChattr on October 1, 2010 by Shane Griffin.
The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Ruud van Eck on Flickr.com.