Conservatory vs. Liberal Arts

At some point in your college search you will undoubtedly come across “Conservatories”.  The conservatory setting in most situations is different not only in name, but also structure.  The conservatory structure places a higher emphasis on practical performance training and experience than academics.  Conservatories pride themselves on turning out world class performers whereas liberal arts schools strive to turn out well rounded individuals or academics.  Conservatories have a lower number of general education requirements, often by counting music classes in subjects such as music history as history courses whereas a liberal arts program would expect you to take both music history and medieval history.  When I went to undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the general education requirement consisted of English 101.  Everything else was covered in the conservatory.  Where I currently teach, Shenandoah Conservatory, our students take six general education courses, everything else is covered within the musical theatre curriculum.

The conservatory set-up gives students a definite advantage if they are 100% focused on performing.  While your colleagues at other universities are taking three extra credits of math, you will be able to take three extra credits of dance.  The same for science, history, psychology, and English which all can take credits away from the study of your art.  However, for a student interested in possibly pursuing a master’s degree in Law, Medicine, Business, or another field, missing these classes can prove problematic.  Graduate schools will want to see your undergraduate transcript before admission.  If they see holes in your transcript that most liberal arts programs would have filled in, they may require you to make up those undergraduate courses before beginning your graduate courses.

This is not always an easy decision to make when you are a senior in high school.  There are some conservatories such as CCM that have curricula with a much stronger liberal arts focus.  The training is top notch, but its not necessarily the typical conservatory setting.  By doing your research, planning for the future, and talking with others, you will begin to discover which plan is best for you as you go forward with your career.



  1. Does Shenandoah have a classical voice program? My daughter is a junior in high school. She is a soprano and is interested in a classical voice performance education. We have been told by several voice teachers (classically trained and currently performing – opera – that she is very talented and has the “chops” to make a career of it.
    If Shenandoah doesn’t fit, do you have any recommendations?


    Harold Levin

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