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15 Best Value Small Colleges for a Music Degree

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By BVS Staff

January 2017

Careers in music are as varied as the notes on a grand piano. Music graduates can pick from a wide range of concentrations and careers, and a music graduate might go on to be a:

Your career in music starts here, at our list for the 15 best small colleges for music majors on a budget. In order to land a spot on our list, the programs below had to stick to our criteria:

  • Two relevant programs for students seeking a Bachelor's degree in music or a related area
  • Overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%
  • Annual costs of less than $35,000 a year (as reported by College Navigator)

By accomplishing everything on our list, these colleges proved that they're dedicated to providing a quality affordable education for their students. Scroll down to #1 to see the least expensive.


Each of these top schools has a minimum of two relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor's degree in music or a related area (including but not limited to music theory and composition, song writing, music history, and music management). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%. Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education - which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $35,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable small college for a music degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!

For more information on the methodology, click here.

15. Whitman College

Walla Walla, WA


For more than 130 years, Whitman has proudly provided a non-sectarian liberal arts education in Washington State's Blue Mountains. Today, it offers a top small college music program that encourages students to learn in a collaborative environment. The music major consists of five separate tracks, all of which require classmates to work closely with their peers and participate in departmental activities. For example, you might complete a group study project, give a presentation with a classmate, or partner with the theater majors to produce a musical. And for the less performance-inclined, Whitman offers a music history track that culminates in a senior thesis instead of a recital.

Net Price: $36,894/yr

14. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

San Francisco, CA


All of SFCM's Bachelor of Music degrees seek to place the study of music in a larger context, using music (and the liberal arts in general) as a lens through which students study Western culture. But the optional emphasis in Historical Performance gives history-minded students a chance to put their interests into practice. If you opt to participate in this unique affordable small college music program, you'll have the opportunity to study period instruments (think harpsichord, fortepiano, or baroque cello), to perform early music (either alone or in a period ensemble), and to take courses focused on early music history.

Net Price: $34,203/yr

13. The Juilliard School

New York, NY


Unsurprisingly, Juilliard dwarfs the other schools on this top college music programs ranking with its impressively long list of music degree options. Undergrads can choose from more than 15 instruments, along with non-performance tracks like composition. Interestingly, Juilliard's Bachelor of Music includes just two required liberal arts courses. As a result, students can focus almost entirely on their music, making this a truly immersive degree program. Juilliard also offers a generous degree-completion requirement, giving undergrads up to seven years to finish the BM degree. This could be one factor that helps Juilliard maintain a 92% graduation rate - the highest on this list.

Net Price: $29,657/yr

12. Trinity University

San Antonio, TX


Located on rolling hills overlooking San Antonio, Texas, Trinity's stately brick buildings and small class sizes foster a traditional small school experience. Music majors can choose from a Bachelor of Arts in Music or a Bachelor of Music, which they can customize with a concentration. One of the most appealing is the BM in Music Education. Program participants choose from three areas of study and have the option to follow up their undergraduate education with a year-long Master of Arts in Teaching. By sticking around for one extra year, aspiring teachers can also earn a certification in all levels of music education. Plus, they can enjoy another 365 days of everything this small music school has to offer.

Net Price: $26,165/yr

11. Elmhurst College

Elmhurst, IL


Although Elmhurst shares many attributes with other top small colleges for music majors (like affordability and small class sizes), its Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies helps it stand out from the pack. Elmhurst hosts a well-regarded annual jazz festival and has an acclaimed jazz band, so it's no surprise that its jazz program is particularly robust. The degree immerses participants in jazz history and fundamentals, and students can expect to take multiple courses focused entirely on jazz improvisation. Combine classroom study with ample opportunities to perform in the Chicago area and you have the perfect program for jazz enthusiasts.

Net Price: $23,688/yr

10. Birmingham-Southern College

Birmingham, AL


BSC's music department has its roots in the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. With its storied history of providing top-notch music education, BSC is recognized today as one of the best colleges for a music degree. Undergrads can choose from three bachelor's degrees, including the unique Bachelor of Musical Arts. The BMA enables program members to pair their passion for music with another non-musical area of study. If you choose this route you'll have two years to decide on your two concentrations, at which point an advisor will help you design an official course plan. Regardless of which degree program you choose, you have the option to apply for one of BSC's generous performance-based scholarships to help offset your degree costs.

Net Price: $23,036/yr

9. Augustana College

Rock Island, IL


Augustana College doesn't just have a strong set of undergraduate music degrees; it also boasts 12 on-campus music ensembles and a Department of Vocal Studies - with its own student podcast! Areas of study at this affordable small music school include music performance, composition, education, and more. Plus, music majors in all programs have ample opportunities to perform: In addition to playing at four on-campus concert halls, touring groups frequently travel both domestically and internationally. (In 2015, the choir travelled to Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.) Ambitious undergrads can also choose to join one of the many student-run music service fraternities and groups, where they can organize or participate in professional activities and service projects.

Net Price: $22,715/yr

8. Anderson University

Anderson, IN


Anderson University's long-standing affiliation with the Church of God serves as a foundation for its many faith-based undergraduate programs, including a major in church music. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, and less religious students will find plenty of fantastic small college music programs to suit their interests, too. For example, Broadway hopefuls can immerse themselves in the musical theater major, which gives participants hands-on experience in producing and performing in shows. And if you'd rather be off stage, the songwriting major will impart the basics of music marketing and licensing alongside music theory and history. Niche options like these help Anderson stand out among its competitors.

Net Price: $21,945/yr

7. Hardin-Simmons University

Abilene, TX


Like many other schools on this best college music programs ranking, Hardin-Simmons offers music education degrees along with its performance-based majors. But this school goes a step further; rather than simply earning their diploma in general music, future teachers can take advantage of concentrated curricula in either choral or instrumental education. Both courses of study include a senior-year capstone project and mandate at least six-credits of student teaching. But even if you don't plan to be an educator, you and your classmates can try out for any one of the school's nine ensembles. You might even consider joining the only-in-Texas Cowboy Band. This group is known its eye-catching cowboy costumes and performance of the up-tempo "cow-step."

Net Price: $20,528/yr

6. Gardner-Webb University

Boiling Springs, NC


A Baptist-affiliated school located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb integrates Christian ethics and values into its education. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the school offers a Bachelor of Music in Worship Leadership, a degree program that encourages participants to "serve others through music." Program members take a deep dive into the theory and principles of sacred music while also fulfilling required performance hours. Graduates leave Gardner-Webb prepared to tackle the challenges of providing compelling and meaningful church music, making this the perfect small college for music majors who want to study music in service of their faith.

Net Price: $20,417/yr

5. Converse College

Spartanburg, SC


Converse's low net price and multiplicity of music programs contribute to its top position on this affordable college music programs ranking. But the benefits of attending this small college don't end there; a fantastic 7:1 student-teacher ratio and theme-based music majors only strengthen its appeal to undergrads far and wide. And the Petrie School of Music truly has something for everyone, whether you're interested in "Performing," "Teaching," or "Exploring" new genres. The school's other themed categories include "Creating," which houses programs in composition and contemporary music/media applications, and "Healing," which includes one of the country's few dedicated bachelor's degrees in Music Therapy. Participants in the latter program must complete clinical rotations and a six-month internship before taking the national certification exam.

Net Price: $17,322/yr

4. North Greenville University

Tigerville, SC


A Christ-centered and Bible-based education is at the heart of NGU's mission. As such, you can expect all programs of study to include survey courses in both the Old and New Testament. These classes will be particularly applicable to learners who opt to major in church music, which prepares graduates to develop music programs for churches, work as a worship pastor, or even become a Christian music performer. Beyond the classroom, students at this top small music school can participate in work-study programs right in the music department or join one of the school's bands — which might help them qualify for scholarships.

Net Price: $15,422/yr

3. Madonna University

Livonia, MI


Madonna University's Crusaders are spoiled for choice when it comes to music programs. Alongside the more typical performance and theory degrees are a few niche options, like the Bachelor of Arts in Music Management and the Bachelor of Music in Film Music Scoring. These unique programs offer an alternative to instrumentation and vocal ability, instead focusing on the technical and business skills that are so crucial to succeeding in the industry today. Students can even partner with cinema and broadcast majors for joint project work. So as far as affordable colleges for a music degrees goes, Madonna doesn't just qualify by net price; it will also save you money by preparing you for a variety of relevant careers.

Net Price: $13,710/yr

2. Curtis Institute of Music

Philadelphia, PA


True to its name, the Curtis Institute of Music is one of the best small colleges for music majors. Aspiring musicians can choose from a wealth of programs, including standout degrees in conducting and composition. But there is one common thread uniting all of Curtis' programs: experiential learning is a must. Aspiring conductors, for example, can expect to lead both rehearsals and performances for one of the many on-campus ensembles. Many also take advantage of off-campus residencies to further hone their skills. Similarly, composition majors start working with faculty members in their freshman year to compose pieces that their fellow classmates will perform during recitals.

Net Price: $13,678/yr

1. Brigham Young University — Hawaii

Laie, HI


BYU - Hawaii is so much more than a fun opportunity to experience island living (although its location is pretty great). Novice musicians in particular will appreciate the school's "family-like atmosphere," which is uniquely welcoming of learners who might not have had much formal music education. Undergrads can choose from a robust array of both performance- and non-performance-based degree programs. In particular, the BA in General Music and the BA in World Music Studies are well-suited for music enthusiasts who might not have the skills for a performance major. This egalitarian approach to music studies and nearly unbeatable net price make it one of the best colleges for a music degree.

Net Price: $10,695/yr

Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable small music colleges? Check out the U.S. Department of Education's Net Price Calculator Center.

See also: 50 Best Value Colleges for Homeschoolers


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