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Music Students: Is a Double Degree Right for You?

If you're a musician who wants to study music seriously in college but is also committed to academics, a double degree might be a good fit for you.

A double degree, sometimes called a dual degree, is not the same as a double major at a college. A double degree involves simultaneous enrollment in two degree programs and leads to two diplomas at graduation.

For those pursuing music, a number of schools offer the opportunity to simultaneously pursue a Bachelor of Music degree—which concentrates heavily on a specific area such as Music Performance or Composition—and a Bachelor of Arts degree in an academic field. If you are a musician who wants to study music seriously in college but is also committed to academics, a double degree might be a good fit for you.

To be clear, you certainly don’t have to get a double degree in order to play music in college or study another field at a music school! To figure out what kind of balance between music and academics would be right for you, ask yourself:

  • Do you want to get involved in music performance/composition outside of class or as a secondary part of your education, as you’ve most likely been doing so far in high school? Most schools offer extracurricular music opportunities, which allow you to engage with your love of performance on a less intense scale. Some schools will even let you minor in Music Performance/Composition.
  • Do you want to study music with less of an emphasis on performance/composition and instead explore music more broadly? Many colleges offer a Bachelor of Arts in Music, which would allow you to get a comprehensive liberal arts education while focusing on music and considering its place in human history and culture.
  • Do you want to mostly study music performance/composition but also explore a specific academic interest? Some schools will allow you to minor in an academic field while enrolled in music school. A selection of schools allow you to get a Music degree while also fulfilling the major requirements of an academic degree; two examples are Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University and Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington.

If you truly want to pursue music performance/composition at a very high level along with a full academic degree—with all its major/minor, general education, and elective credits—a double degree might be right for you.

But obtaining a full double degree is no small feat; you have to really want it. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about doubling.

Related: Choosing a Performing Arts School

It’s a lot of work

You have to be prepared to keep your nose to the grindstone; completing two four-year degrees in five years is hard. In a Bachelor of Music program, the expectation is usually for students to practice several hours a day. Combine that with several hours of homework a day, and it’s not a walk in the park.

It might be difficult to find programs

You might need to get creative and not be afraid to be assertive about what you want. There are a few famous college/conservatory double-degree programs, such as Oberlin and Bard, but they are few and far between.

Some universities have well-established double-degree programs, such as Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, or the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University. But even in the absence of an official “double-degree program,” a large university with a music school may allow you—if you’re crafty and have dogged persistence—to pursue music and academics simultaneously across two schools in the university.

For example, in the Music Performance program at NYU Steinhardt, you can fulfill all the requirements for a degree in the College of Arts and Science while enrolled in Steinhardt but technically be called a double major instead of a double degree; thus, you can make your education at Steinhardt equivalent to a double degree, though NYU doesn’t advertise a double-degree program.

It will probably take more time and might be more expensive

Most college/conservatory double degrees are five-year programs, but not always; at McGill University, for example, it takes six years to earn a double degree. It may be possible to complete two degrees in four years, but it is usually not recommended.

An extra year at school will mean an extra year of tuition; in an established double-degree program, your financial aid package will often extend to the fifth year, but this isn’t always the case in a university setting where you are independently pursuing two degrees across schools. Figure out how the school will help you pay for a double degree, and then decide if you are financially capable of adding that fifth year.

Not all schools (or teachers) encourage double degrees

If you choose this path, you have to be determined and willing to put up with people who don’t support you. Even if the school doesn’t object to your studying both academics and music, they may not roll out the red carpet to help you make your class schedule line up or your degree plan iron out flawlessly. And unless it’s a famous double-degree program like Oberlin, your private lesson teacher might not be super thrilled that you’re spending time doing homework instead of practicing 25 hours a day.

It might be logistically challenging

You should be prepared to deal with inconveniences you wouldn’t have to contend with in a traditional four-year degree program, like when you’re scheduling your classes or planning out your degree. Even within established, well-trodden double-degree programs, schools may not always work cohesively with each other.

For example, Eastman is a 20-minute shuttle ride from the University of Rochester’s main campus, and Juilliard and Columbia run on opposite schedules. This means getting from one school to another, planning your degree, or getting your courses to line up might be difficult. Despite the fame of the Columbia/Juilliard Exchange, almost no one obtains a double bachelor’s degree from that program because the scheduling is so problematic; most students who want to pursue the Columbia/Juilliard Exchange will complete an undergraduate degree at Columbia with lessons at Juilliard and then return to Juilliard for a master’s degree.

It’s an arduous application process

You will have to do the work for two applications: you’ll have to write an application for the academic program but also prepare a portfolio for Music Composition or play an audition for Music Performance. The double-degree application process can be confusing and might be different for each school, so make sure you’re organized. Check all the deadlines twice; often the music school deadlines will be different from the academic deadlines. If you decide a double degree is right for you, be ready to do twice as much work for applications as your classmates applying to traditional four-year programs.

Related: What Are Music School Auditions Really Like?

But it is possible

Yes, it is definitely possible! If a dual degree with music is something you really want, don’t give up. You can do it!

Start searching for music programs on CollegeXpress.

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