It is that time of year again; people are looking for schools for horn study. Last spring I had a specific question come in from a reader that involved choosing between two different schools in another part of the country. I did not know personally either of the teachers involved but one of the options under consideration was a large state school with a good program and the other a smaller school with a teacher they were more familiar with as they had worked with them in high school.
Choosing the right school is tough and even with all the specifics laid out can be extremely hard to answer. Overall the short version for anyone is the right answer is mostly geared around the teachers involved. In the case of the original question posed I was not familiar with either teacher in question. Many students will want to change teachers between high school and college, but I actually did not, I studied with the same teacher from late high school into college. (An aside: a mentor I respect a great deal told me early in my career not to teach too many high school students as they on the whole will go on to study in college with other teachers. The advice I think has held up as generally correct).
In our articles linked above the topic of teachers comes up pretty high on the list. The topic must be considered carefully and is one that I would hate to get much more specific on than I have previously, at least in any public forum. Speaking of public forums though, as an aside, I recently spent a little while looking for currently famous horn teachers in Rate My Professors and could not turn up anyone. This is good because when people are listed it tends to be because there are students that are really unhappy or have an axe to grind over some situation or event. I don’t think there is too much need for a “rate your horn teachers” site.
While I feel pretty sure the student involved in the initial question that came in would have done fine at either school, there are several big pictures to consider. While finances is one big item to consider clearly, fairly or unfairly overall people will look at you who don’t know you and make a judgment based on which school you went to, with the “better” school (and teacher) giving you the more favorable judgment. It is not fair but some things in the world just are not fair.
Recently I was talking to someone outside of music but in the arts about their school choice. They had opted for a famous school in their field with the idea of making connections. Which is true, you can make connections by going to a famous school, but at the same time you can also run up a huge debt and maybe not make any connections that actually do you any good professionally depending on how you use your time and opportunities there. I am pretty sure the person I was talking with had some talent in their field or they would not have gotten in and advanced in the program they were in, and they were clearly proud to have been in such a high level program (it showed how good they were after all) but I worry that the specific person I spoke with may later look back and think the choice to go there was based on the wrong criteria and goals. The famous school may be the dream but it may not be a good reality. There is a lot to balance.
The final note for the year is if you are applying or mentoring someone who is applying to schools this season please be sure that applications are in early. Application deadlines have crept forward in recent years (related ultimately to staffing cuts in admissions departments I think) and there is less flexibility out there as well. It is a hard process to choose the right school but get moving on it now and good luck!