College search update

Dec 27, 2016

After an embarrassingly long yet strangely typical hiatus, let’s try to get back on track with something that will be interesting to my future self, the story so far in the college search round 2.

This time last year, and all the way through the spring, you couldn’t get Justin to talk at all about looking at colleges. It’s somewhat understandable that the thought of making such a big commitment is scary at that age, and as Beth pointed out at the time, he was already top dog in his current environment, so why ponder changing the status quo?  This is in contrast to Chloe, who was also stressed out about the thought of deciding her future but at the same time couldn’t wait to graduate and get out of the boro.

But at some point over the summer Justin came to terms with his fate and I had put together a preliminary list of schools, based on the premise that he really wanted to pursue music in general and jazz in particular. His dedication to practicing and his immersion in many of the famous practitioners’ styles and recordings makes a compelling case that this is what he wants to do, regardless of his straight A’s in academics and various other interests, so while I half-heartedly would try to offer up an alternative career path, there didn’t seem to be much point.  Unlike with Chloe, music has been a main focus for him since second grade, and so even while he held back on investigating the college options, his high school strategy made that path inevitable.  There’s also some debate in jazz circles as to whether jazz should even be taught or be a degree program at the college level, that the real way to “learn” jazz is by doing.

In the fall of junior year we went to a college fair at BU for performing arts, and got to talk to several school representatives. I did most of the talking.  This past summer he spent two weeks at UMass Amherst at their annual jazz camp and was in his element, although he came out of it with an unfavorable impression of UMass.  From looking at various websites and confining our focus to the northeast, the short list of schools I came up with included NEC, Berklee, SUNY Purchase, Rutgers, and Temple (and UMass, which he then nixed), to which Justin added Juilliard (well why not), New School (kinda pricey, even compared to NEC and Berklee) and Hartt School (surprising since his predecessor in lead alto goes there). So four conservatories and four universities, I’m still in favor of the universities not even so much because of the inherent fall back options, which I don’t think will be an issue with him, but mostly to get a more typical college experience, plus they’re all cheaper than the conservatories, even with out of state tuition.  The front runner changes periodically, it was NEC, and then it was one of the NY schools, lately he says it doesn’t matter.

Chloe only applied to 4 schools although we visited several more, and the ones she focused on all used the common app, plus there were still portfolios to assemble, upload and review, with different requirements for each school. With Justin’s list it was more complicated, only half of them use the common app, a few wanted a pre-audition video, again with different requirements for each school, but Justin did a good job in keeping track of all the various requirements and deadlines and mostly came to us only for help with an essay or when he needed a credit card to pay the application fee.  BTW, Berklee wins the application fee sweepstakes with $150, which you pay before you even get to page 2 of the application.  Harvard meanwhile is $80 or so, by comparison.  The universities typically want you to apply to them first, then once you’re accepted you apply to their music school, with separate application fees (and deadlines) for each.

I’m a fan of using a tour or open house to help acclimate yourself to a school prior to applying. NEC didn’t seem to warrant a tour, since it’s mostly in one building, and their website even says as much and why don’t you just come to a concert instead.  We did an open house at Berklee on a Saturday morning that hosted a ton of people with no free food and no good place to congregate, so on arrival you just lined up outside on the sidewalk and they divided you off for a tour, which covered the outsides and lobbies of several buildings but not much of the interiors.  Their focus seems to be directly on pop music, but it’s a big school, so even a relatively small jazz program for them is still on the bigger side compared to other schools.

Justin and I went to an open house at University of Hartford on a Saturday morning, they put on a good show, he wasn’t impressed with the campus.   We took a trip to New York to have a tour at New School, where everyone else was there to see Parsons so we got a private tour and got to talk to the student tour guide at some length about the search process and strategy.  The New York schools seem to have conspired to schedule their tours at overlapping times, so we couldn’t see Juilliard the same day, and does it really matter what it looks like on the inside, it’s Juilliard.  We just walked around the lobby and went to the bookstore.  Instead we took the train to the upper west side for a tour of Manhattan School of Music, which wasn’t on the list but had the connection of being the alma mater of the coach Justin had at UMass last summer, after that tour he added it to the list for applying.

On a separate weekend we drove to New Jersey to an open house at Rutgers’ Mason Gross school for performing arts, which started at 4pm when it was already almost dark, sort of unusual to do a campus tour at night, but it was in conjunction with a orchestra concert that evening that we were able to get in on. Mason Gross is in a separate, more modestly sized campus just outside downtown New Brunswick, much less intimidating than the enormous main campus across the river, which we saw by car on our own.  The next day we had a general tour at Temple in Philadelphia, followed by a meeting with an admissions guy at their music school.  Philly has the advantage of having a decent jazz scene and not so many music schools, and Temple is right in the middle of the city, with food trucks lining the streets everywhere because there’s no one building big enough to hold everyone.  Since it was a general tour we saw some things like the computer lab and the science building which Justin would never see again, but I think he was pleasantly surprised by both schools.  Never did make it to SUNY, and then Justin realized he’d misread the application deadline, which was earlier for their music school than the school in general, so we took that one off the list, but it was a longshot candidate anyway.

At the moment, Justin has been accepted by Berklee, the only school to have a live audition in December. That was kind of fun, there were a few hundred kids there on a Saturday to audition, mostly for voice and guitar.  They had you hang out in a small concert hall with a list projected on the back wall of the stage to show when your number was called, while a student combo entertained the masses.  Justin felt both the audition and interview went well, and he was proven correct.  The same day he heard from Berklee he got an e-mail from MSM saying don’t bother to come audition in person, it’s no fun to get rejected but there’s no way to know why, was the pre-audition video not sufficient, or did they not need that many altos?  Since they were a late addition it wasn’t a big deal, I probably had a more favorable impression of MSM than New School since it’s more of a traditional performing arts school, where New School is still in the process of integrating their recent acquisition of Mannes into the main campus, much like Berklee with Boston Conservatory.  Probably should start hearing from the others next week when everyone is back from vacation.  Temple is kind of my favorite right now, but they could easily be replaced by another school that undercuts their price.

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