Top Ten: Tips for Survival in College

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Top Ten List for Students

When choosing a school for undergraduate or graduate studies, when making choices while in college and after graduation, a young music student has many options to consider. Here is my top-ten list for students. These are in no particular order:

  1. Choose the teacher not the school.
    Years ago when I made my choice for undergraduate study, I chose a school with a big name and knew next to nothing about the teachers there. Fortunately for me I fell into Milan Yancich‘s studio and was taught the basics that I needed to learn. I got very lucky – my “blind date” worked out, but it could have just as easily been a nightmare.
  2. Location, location, location.
    As with real estate, location is everything when it comes to any kind of freelance work. If you are not living in or near a large metropolitan area or within a radius of several medium-sized cities you are kidding yourself.
  3. School is not life.
    Life in school can be a bit delusional. Keep in mind that college life is not reality. While there are many valuable lessons to be learned in school, there are others that are unique to the sometimes odd world of academe. Some professors lead strange and sheltered lives; they sometimes do and say the most bizarre things. Take it with a grain of salt…or to the proper authorities.
  4. Life is not school.
    When you get out into the real world, be aware that sometimes people do not play nice. There are no rules when it comes to interpersonal politics. Check out my series on Negativity and Narcissism for examples.
  5. Strongly consider the bottom line on loans.
    It is all too easy to sign loan agreements and put off responsibility until later. Be sure to understand your loans and what you are signing. (Jason Heath has written an excellent article on this topic.) A compromise considering what is affordable and what is reasonable may need to be considered. Read the fine print and discuss them with your parents or a financial counselor. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Myself, it took nearly 20 years to pay off my student debts. Had I the opportunity to do it over, I may have made different choices.
  6. Take full advantage of school resources.
    When in the thick of academic studies, it can become all too easy to take everything for granted. Universities are overflowing with resources that are not available in the real world: for financial support, study abroad, expanding your mind and body, to name just a few.
  7. If you do not have a career by age 25, consider something else.
    This was a bit of blunt advice told to me by Ethel Merker some years ago. At the time, I thought that this was a pretty harsh and cynical view, but over time I have adopted her words as sage advice. As more and more colleges are hiring adjunct faculty these days, an adjunct university job can be a nice starting point for a freelancer. Full-time professorships are fairly scarce – do not even consider applying unless you have a masters degree, preferably a doctoral degree. Orchestral auditions are highly competitive and whenever given the choice between two candidates of equal abilities, most times the younger candidate will be chosen; this is the way that the world works in almost any profession really. In the freelance and chamber music realm, if you have not established yourself within a network that offers an acceptable living, do not waste too much time hoping it will get better. Find a new city or a full-time or part-time career outside of music.
  8. If you are not happy with your undergraduate teacher or school, consider making a switch.
    While transferring to another school can be complicated, the value of your education is too important to be wasted on anything less than what you want.
  9. Expand your education with a summer festival.
    Attending a summer festival can have wonderful benefits, including: expanding your musical horizons, meeting new people and getting fresh ideas from a short-term teacher.
  10. Attend live concerts.
    While listening to CDs and MP3s of great recordings has its value, attending live concerts is a greater value. This includes the local professional ensembles, incoming/touring groups and student ensembles and recitals.
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