Berklee & Boston Conservatory of Music


Type: Conservatory
Size:  Large† (4,402 Undergraduate);
Style: Factory with good networking
Affiliations: 19 International Partner Schools and a campus in Valencia, Spain.
Student Body: Undergraduate/Graduate
Testing: No SAT/ACT Requirement 
Admissions: 19% Accepted out of approx 5500 who apply
Students of Color: 29.9%
Freshman Retention Rate: 86.1%
Freshman Graduating After 4 Years:  40.8%
Travel Cost/Time/Airport: Low,Moderate Boston Logan (Major Hub)
Location: Boston, Massachusetts (Northeast)
Best For: Performance Majors, Jazz (Global Institute – Sep. Admission);  Engineers & Producers

There are two ways of looking at Berklee, which is in the process of absorbing the Boston Conservatory of Music, which has struggled, with declining patronage for all arts and fierce competition from local rivals like Boston University and New England Conservatory:  It’s too big or it’s a career slingshot.  While it may seem odd that this conservatory can be both, read on.

Berklee is not the conservatory of old, a small, intimate place with 600-800 of the world’s top musicians. They received a world-class music education, one and all. The only problem with that, as most conservatories have found over the last forty years, is that, without the deep pockets of a Lincoln Center, for example, it is very hard to keep a conservatory afloat.

Some schools find other ways, like the feeder programs that do high school enrichment, or they open satellite campuses in Europe or Dubai to attract more students who don’t want to live in the U.S. or can’t get in because of our visa restrictions.

Berklee, on the other hand, beefed up their campus to a whopping 4,193 students. That’s not even including the Boston Conservatory students yet.  There were, by one count, more than 1400 guitar students, with four in principal faculty and five graduate students.  They claim that they are on a 12:1 student-to-faculty class ratio, but remembering that not all 606 faculty members teach instruments, the actual instrumentation ratio may in reality be much higher, in some cases, like guitar, up to 160:1.

On the plus side, it  is the most dynamic, trend-savvy conservatory in the world. It is a phenomenal school for peer-to-peer networking that has lead so many of its graduates to great success in the music industry.  It has some of the most modern facilities, and offers courses, including those in the more practical aspects of the music business, that have no parallel in conservatory or college music education.  They are a cutting edge school for tech and trends in the music business. About four years ago, Berklee added a new building and beefed up faculty for their general education component, and a new dormitory building.

They offer more courses in advanced technology, and practical survival skills than other conservatories. They tackle popular music forms shunned by most conservatories. Their alumni network has been developed to be a networking source that lasts students long after college.  With a massive list of alumni who are GRAMMY® winners and nominees in a wide range of music, they are reaping dividends from their method.

Size presents problems: There are 316 practice rooms. That’s 13 students per room, roughly.  If they managed that time perfectly on a 24 hour day, that’s 1.8 hours per day per student.  On a twelve hour day that’s an hour. Most dedicated students put in anywhere between 3 and 8 hours of practice in a day.  The assumption is that students won’t use the space, or find other spaces, but for the possible max of $60,456 for tuition, housing, food, and health insurance, that is ridiculous.

The program seems to be based on funding the school through students with an ability to pay who help provide the $35M in merit aid and the funds to continue to build out the school to meet the needs of the same 600-900 students who have a high likelihood of turning into something special, with probably 60-90 who actualize their dreams of a performance career, and possibly 100-300 who find careers in engineering, producing, or the promotional side of the business.

Auditions are not selective. Have the fee and a pulse, and you’ll get a Berklee audition. They don’t pre-screen.  It lets them collect a lot of money, and attract some of that second-tier of students who pay the school’s bills. Berklee auditions are not a joke though.  If you show the kind of promise that lands you big scholarship money, the audition is the primary point to make that impression.

They have a 81.6% freshman retention rate, which is not stellar for a conservatory that doesn’t bounce a lot of its students for poor performance.  Their 40.8% graduation rate after four years. Most students take five years to finish.

Berklee DOES have a specialized Jazz program, under separate admission called The Global Jazz Institute. THAT program is what is advertised about a great conservatory. Low size, high quality, and a mentorship by top names in the music.

Their music production/engineering program is excellent, and worthwhile.  It is much smaller as well, and, because of Berklee’s social networking component, Berklee’s engineering students find themselves connected to the school’s most motivated performers because they need them to get work done for their student recordings. These relationships have been demonstrated, over a couple of decades now, to have turned into profitable careers for production/engineering grads from Berklee all over the world.

Vocal offers one of the few opportunities to prepare for a career in popular music in a conservatory setting.  If you are good enough, and a resourceful person who can get what they want out of Berklee’s system, you can do quite well. The shy, timid, and poor communicators will find themselves struggling quickly, however, to reach the levels that they need to be successful, in our opinion.

They offer both a baccalaureate degree and two-year professional degrees which are a huge waste, in our opinion, of $120K.

You can study in other countries. If you do it at a Berklee facility, you stay on track. If you attend another school, it may add time to your conservatory career because units may not all transfer.

Housing got a huge refresh a few years ago with a new building. The physical plant is the most modern of most of the conservatories.  Their acquisition/merger with Boston Conservatory should provide a large shot in the arm for the “other” BC, and provide Berklee students, who have already enjoyed cross-enrollment, with good access to top classically-trained faculty at BC.

Bottom line: The scholarship is the thing. The more you get, the more likely it is that Berklee will invest in educating you, exposing you to opportunities, and providing you with the resources you need to proceed to a professional career in one of the modern popular music forms or Jazz.

The addition of Boston Conservatory will put the school under Berklee’s management. The faculty is expected to remain largely the same. Class sizes, practice room availability, and other aspects of the conservatory’s status quo are still very much TBD.  We would expect, if they use the same model that they’ve been using to be financially viable and forward-thinking about

Our recommendation for students serious about pursuing a professional career in performance (not education or therapy) of music outside of is to visit Berklee, or take one of their Summer Programs to see if their method fits you. Audition. Most, if not all, of performing arts school students are admitted. See what financial and merit aid they offer. If they are giving you a full ride, or a near full ride, then you are in the golden inner-circle.  If they don’t give you much, or anything, and you aren’t hugely aggressive and already booking a bazillion gigs on your own NOW, or producing other people’s music NOW, seek out another school. Being part of the second-tier, at Berklee prices, is not the quality of mentorship that you will need to succeed.  We drop them two stars for affordability, for the majority who don’t get a lot of merit money, and quality of education, for the size of the school relative to its ability to service the needs of 100% of its students at the same levels.


† Conservatory size ratings are relative to other conservatories.