12 College Vocal Programs You Should Know

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College is around the corner, and you’re beginning the arduous audition and application process. You’ve set your sights on carrying your star turn as a high school vocalist into a career as a professional singer or performer—which means your shortlist of schools should include the best vocal performance programs across the country.

You might dream of someday treading the boards of the Sydney Opera House, or maybe you’re set on pursuing a career as a recording artist. Since training programs have varying specializations, be sure to research the vocal genres and styles each program offers before applying.

Another step in narrowing down the application pool is to decide whether to audition for a BFA or a B.A. program. Conservatory programs, or BFA programs, offer degrees with course credits that constitute the majority of the curriculum. If you’re looking to supplement your time in the rehearsal hall with studies outside of music, a B.A. program might be a better fit. Keep in mind that many professional vocalists, particularly opera singers, also pursue master’s degrees.

If you’re hoping to narrow down your list even further, here are a few more things to consider about any program for singers: whether the school offers master classes and guest artist-led workshops, how many performance opportunities there are for students, and how programs prepare graduates for the stage—whether there are business classes, networking events, or showcases to help bridge the gap between student and professional.

Based on these criteria, we’ve compiled a list of the top vocal performance programs in the U.S. Each school is analyzed based on three categories: which vocal techniques and skills they teach, the number of performance opportunities for students, and how well they prepare graduates for professional life. From Berklee to Northwestern, here are 10 colleges every singer should have on their radar.

(Please note: Many vocal programs’ curriculums are likely to have changed in light of COVID-19 restrictions. Visit program websites for the latest information.)


Berklee College of Music

Skill-building: Berklee College of Music gives vocal students pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Performance the opportunity to hone their chosen principal instrument. The program offers training in a variety of genres, including R&B, country, jazz, and more, allowing students to experiment with different artistic styles. 

Performance opportunities: More than 350 ensembles gather weekly to work on performance skills and techniques, with concentrations ranging from blues to contemporary Indian music. As part of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, students can participate in chamber choirs, opera scenes, studio recitals, and more. Each year, the school presents more than 1,500 concerts and events showcasing student performances on campus and in the Boston area.

Post-college prep: Vocal majors receive private vocal lessons and intensive sight-reading training throughout the four-year program. Berklee offers students a spectrographic analysis and courses to ensure that students can maintain vocal health throughout their careers.

Notable alumni: Aimee Mann, John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Steven Tyler

College-Conservatory of Music

Skill-building: The College-Conservatory of Music is an institution at the University of Cincinnati that offers voice and opera students the intensive focus of a conservatory on a sprawling campus with more than 40,000 students. Students receive weekly private lessons with faculty and a holistic approach to the profession that includes language instruction. 

Performance opportunities: CCM vocal students have opportunities to perform as soloists, in ensembles, and in mainstage opera and cabaret productions each year. Students can participate in CCM’s audition choirs, and the program presents master classes, studio recitals, and opera scene workshops every semester. The program has relationships with local organizations including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

Post-college prep: In addition to a capstone solo recital, students benefit from informational talks by visiting opera company managers, program directors, and performers. A number of national opera companies hold auditions at CCM, and the school’s state-of-the-art Music Hall hosts performing arts events with artists around the world. 

Notable alumni: John Holiday, Daniel Okulitch, Tamara Wilson

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Curtis Institute of Music

Skill-building: What’s unique about Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music? For one, tuition is free. The program comprises just 175 students, allowing for individualized training and mentorship. Students also have the opportunity to enroll in classes at the University of Pennsylvania, free of charge, once major requirements are met. Vocal students primarily train in opera, song literature, and chamber music. 

Performance opportunities: The philosophy of the Curtis Institute is learning by doing. There are more than 200 student performances each year, including student recitals, which begin freshman year, and ticketed performances with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and the Curtis Opera Theatre. Students also have opportunities to perform at various venues in and around Philadelphia, including the Barnes Foundation, Longwood Gardens, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Post-college prep: Students have the chance to experience life as a traveling artist with Curtis on Tour, an international performance series that travels the globe. The program’s community engagement and career studies program provides insight into industry trends, entrepreneurship, and tools to build a career as a working musician in the 21st century.

Notable alumni: Meredith Arwady, Layla Claire, Juan Diego Flórez, Amanda Majeskig

Courtesy of Eastman School of Music

Eastman School of Music

Skill-building: Part of the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music is a small institution with a 6-to-1 ratio of students to faculty members. The Applied Music (Performance) degree track offers undergraduate students lessons and ensemble-based learning, as well as course studies in music history and music theory. The program prepares emerging opera and concert vocalists, studio teachers, and soloists.

Performance opportunities: The Eastman Opera Theatre mounts at least three fully staged opera productions each school year, which are cast blindly with students from all classes and degrees (starting junior year). Vocal students can also perform as part of studio productions, opera scenes, and outreach events.

Post-college prep: Through its Institute for Music Leadership program, Eastman offers students training in arts leadership and entrepreneurship.

Notable alumni: Renée Fleming, William Sharp, William Warfield

Indiana University Bloomington Jacobs School of Music

Skill-building: Students at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington receive individualized training paired with the broad educational offerings of a state university. Vocal students have weekly individual lessons and are also required to achieve proficiency in piano. 

Performance opportunities: In partnership with the Jacobs School of Music Opera and Ballet Theater, the program presents up to five fully staged operas and one musical annually. There are more than 1,000 performances each academic year that showcase student work.

Post-college prep: The Jacobs School of Music provides students with career advisers to help them develop press kits and portfolios, understand intellectual property rights, and develop networking skills. Student-led initiative Project Jumpstart organizes networking events and entrepreneur workshops, and offers peer support.

Notable alumni: Angela Brown, Bruce Hubbard, Elizabeth Stanley

Courtesy of Manhattan School of Music

Manhattan School of Music

Skill-building: Voice majors at the Manhattan School of Music can choose to focus on either classical or opera theater training. The school’s jazz program also offers a voice track. Students in the voice department learn aural skills, diction, and music theory, and are required to attend concerts each semester both on and off campus.

Performance opportunities: In addition to on-campus recitals, performance opportunities for students encompass collaborations with music and arts organizations throughout New York City, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Philharmonic, and National Sawdust.

Post-college prep: The school holds juried recitals to assess progress sophomore year and to better prepare students for performance careers. More than 70 master classes with musicians and vocalists of all disciplines are held on campus each year, and graduating students cap their training with a senior showcase.

Notable alumni: Kate Aldrich, Lauren Flanigan, Brandon Jovanovich

New England Conservatory

Skill-building: The voice program at Boston’s New England Conservatory teaches students a variety of vocal styles, including opera and lyric theater. Vocal health and safety is a central tenet of the program, and students receive one-on-one technical training with faculty. Students also have access to the school’s Voice and Sound Analysis Laboratory facility, where they can research vocal science.

Performance opportunities: Opera scene programs, choral concerts, workshops of new operas, and opera productions are just some of the ways students can build performance skills at NEC. Opera students can also audition for the Undergraduate Opera Studio ensemble for additional musical coaching and stagings.

Post-college prep: New England Conservatory’s Community Performances and Partnerships Program gives students the chance to conduct workshops, perform, and network with local schools and organizations. The program’s Music Referral Service provides opportunities for students to find paid gigs at various venues in Boston, giving them a leg up come graduation.

Notable alumni: Allegra Levy, Luciana Souza, Linda Watson

The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University

Skill-building: The Voice and Opera program at the Bienen School of Music teaches students technical skills through weekly lessons. If you’re looking to expand their education, the Voice and Opera program encourages students to pursue double majors at Northwestern outside the music program.

Performance opportunities: Vocal coaches provide weekly musical preparation sessions, and students also participate in studio classes, master classes, recitals, and fully staged operas. Students are also permitted to take advantage of performance opportunities in Chicago, which is only 12 miles from campus.

Post-college prep: The Bienen School of Music welcomes visiting artists and ensembles to teach and perform with students. As a celebratory send-off, graduating students perform solo recitals.

Notable alumni: Matt Hanscom, Madison Leonard, Amanda Majeski

Courtesy of the Juilliard School

The Juilliard School

Skill-building: The Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at the Juilliard School is a holistic program that prepares students for all aspects of a career in performance, including everything from analyzing text to preparing for demanding roles. While there is a core curriculum, the small class size allows students to work at their own pace.

Performance opportunities: Students perform at the school’s concert hall, at Lincoln Center, and at venues across New York City. The program has close relationships with both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Post-college prep: Beginning freshman year, students partake in weekly coaching sessions and residencies with industry leaders. The opera, recital, and early music programs bring students together with renowned musicians and creative teams. Another bonus: Leading opera companies hold auditions at the school.

Notable alumni: Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, Risë Stevens

The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University

Skill-building: The Shepherd School of Music in Houston, Texas, offers degrees in voice and opera studies. With just 36 students admitted to the opera department each year, the school offers individualized training. Freshmen and sophomores participate in comprehensive performance seminars, and all singers learn language skills through the Margaret C. Pack Language Institute for Singers. 

Performance opportunities: Choristers can join the Rice Chorale, a 120-member ensemble open to all Rice University students. The opera program presents two fully staged operas each school year with a full orchestra. Scenes programs, accompanied by piano, are also presented annually. Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to perform as part of the school’s Opera Workshop.

Post-college prep: The Shepherd School of Music’s Aleko Master Class/Recital Series brings notable singers from around the globe to campus, and Rice’s Houston location offers plenty of opportunities to engage with the city’s cultural offerings.

Notable alumni: Meghan Kasanders, Thomas Glass

University of Michigan

Skill-building: The University of Michigan trains students interested in pursuing a variety of different paths, including performing on the concert stage, church solo work, opera performance, and music education. The conservatory-style program is housed within a major research university, giving students access to one of the largest music libraries in North America and state-of-the-art audio recording studios.

Performance opportunities: There are nine choirs at the University of Michigan, as well as opportunities to learn about performance art technology, sacred music, opera, and new music. The school’s opera track produces workshops and opera scenes programs, plus two mainstage and two studio productions each school year.

Post-college prep: The University’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship Career Empowerment & Leadership (EXCEL) Lab provides students with individualized mentorship and resources for career planning. 

Notable alumni: Roberta Alexander, Sean Panikkar, Nicholas Phan

University of Southern California Thornton School of Music

Skill-building: The Thornton School of Music’s Music Opera Program gives students the opportunity to study opera history and literature, role analysis, coaching techniques, and body movement for singers. Courses include vocology, keyboard instruction, and language skills in Italian, French, and German.

Performance opportunities: Students flex their performance muscles with weekly recitals. As part of the program’s opera track, students can join the repertory opera workshop, which presents excerpts and full performances of operatic works both on and off campus.

Post-college prep: Visiting artists and resident faculty members present workshops and master classes, and the Thornton School’s community outreach program provides opportunities for students to teach music to local elementary and high school students in Los Angeles. As part of the Chamber Opera of USC, a student-run group, undergraduates can collaborate with graduate students on producing new works and traditional chamber operas. Capstone performances include a mentored project and a recital.

Notable alumni: Joseph Lim, Angela Meade, Kelley O’Connor

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