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How to Seek Admission at a College or Conservatory Vocal Program

December 23, 2020

How to Seek Admission at a College or Conservatory Vocal Program

Students who want to get into their top choice college often do things to strengthen their application throughout their time in high school. If they want to get into a highly competitive academic program, they may begin thinking about this from the time they enter high school, and they may go above and beyond in their preparation, taking advantage of every opportunity to make themselves stand out as a candidate for admission. When it comes to seeking admission at a college or conservatory vocal program, the same kind of preparation is necessary. 

Start Early.

I have guided numerous students through the college and conservatory vocal program application and audition process. One of the things I stress above all else is that students seeking to pursue this path must study with a private voice teacher for as long as possible prior to their audition. My most successful students in this process have studied with me consistently for two to four years. The skills necessary to succeed in this process, such as strong vocal technique, musicianship skills, foreign language diction, and performance experience, only develop over time. There is no way to “cram” for a college music audition.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t had students achieve admissions to good programs with less preparation, but I am often left feeling that those students could have gotten into a more competitive program, perhaps with better scholarship, if they had started preparing earlier. 

Be aware of the timeline.

College auditions generally take place in the winter (February and March) of a student’s senior year of high school. It is highly advisable to have the music you plan to present at your audition memorized and performance-ready months before your actual audition date.

However, many of the top conservatories in the country require a video-recorded pre-screening round before students are invited to a live audition. Pre-screening recordings usually have a due date around December 1st. That means your recording must be completely ready to submit, along with the rest of your application, by that time.

If you are making a pre-screening recording, your audition repertoire should be fully memorized, polished, and performance-ready by the beginning of your senior year, so that you can put your best foot forward in this step of the process. As you can see from the timeline presented here, if you plan on starting voice lessons in the fall of your senior year with the hopes of getting into a top conservatory, you are already too late! 

Find the teacher for you.

If you are seriously interested in pursuing voice as a career, your most important relationship during your time in higher education is going to be with your voice teacher. This means that, when considering any school or program, you should be taking a good look at who is on the faculty, and which members of that faculty you think might be most helpful to your vocal and artistic growth at your current stage. It’s advisable to reach out to teachers with whom you are interested in studying, and see if they’d be open to teaching you a trial lesson.

This will help both you and the teacher find out if you’re a good match for each other. You may want to reach out to these teachers at the end of your junior year, or even over the summer, when they may be less busy with work at their respective institutions. Remember that you are not just looking to gain admission into a school, but also into a specific teacher’s studio, so you want to make sure you find the right fit! 

Choose audition repertoire wisely.

Most schools will require you to present between two and four selections for your audition. These selections should represent music from a contrast of time periods, musical styles, and languages. These pieces should show your voice at it’s best, as it is right now in your development. This means that you should stay away from music that requires a more mature instrument than the one you have currently. Nothing should feel like a stretch.

These should be pieces you can execute confidently. You should also choose music you enjoy, because you will be living with it and singing it over and over for quite a while! Another thing to consider is that many schools are now requiring students to present at least one piece written in the last few decades. This is an excellent incentive for students to get to know the music of living composers! 

Find a program that is the right fit for you.

It is necessary for students seeking to pursue careers in music to do some introspection and figure out what kind of environment would make them the most happy, and most successfully foster their growth. Not many students have a “finished product” vocally at the age of 18, but everyone is at varying degrees in terms of what they need out of their undergraduate studies.

Going to a big conservatory vocal program might sound like the no-brainer if you want to be successful, but consider that undergraduates at these schools may have fewer performing opportunities than their peers at liberal arts colleges or state schools. Also, students must ask themselves if they will be happy studying music at the exclusion of almost everything else, or if they’d rather not give up some other academic or artistic pursuits.

Additionally, students need to evaluate factors such as their grades and their financial situation when choosing potential programs. Perhaps the state school with a gem of a voice teacher that offers you a full ride is a better investment than another, perhaps more competitive school that wants you to pay the full price tag of a hefty tuition.

These are all just a few factors for those seeking college or conservatory music programs to consider.

As someone who has guided many students through the process of finding and getting into the right college and conservatory vocal program, I can say that it is a highly individualized journey. Just as it is important to find the right fit for a teacher for your undergraduate studies, it is important to find the right person to guide you through this process while you are still in high school.

Find a teacher who is knowledgeable about what schools are looking for right now, and what level of proficiency will get you into the place you want to be. Find someone who can nurture your journey towards your goals and help you present the best of yourself as a singer and artist. No matter what stage you are at in your development, support from the right person can make all the difference! 


Praised for her “rich dramatics” (The Boston Globe), Pamela Stein Lynde is a versatile singer, composer, and music educator. As a singer, Pamela has built a career working with contemporary composers of all levels, from students to internationally recognized artists. She has performed with Beth Morrison Projects, American Opera Projects, Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Rhymes With Opera, Helix New Music Ensemble, Nouveau Classical Project, Saratoga Fine Arts Festival, Yamaha Concert Artists series, New Music New Haven, and Unruly Sounds Festival. She appears as a vocalist on minimalist composer Alexander Turnquist’s album Flying Fantasy, released on Western Vinyl. She was a 2017-2019 composer fellow with American Opera Projects Composers & the Voice Workshop. Her opera-in-progress, The Interaction Effect, has been workshopped and performed by Manhattan School of Music. Her music has been broadcast to audiences nation-wide on American Public Media’s Performance Today, and has been featured on festivals across the country.

Pamela Stein Lynde