Ethics and College Music Admissions


There are two topics that come up every year in the world of horn and music admissions, both of which are timely in relation to the college admissions scandal that broke last week.

The first is that of teachers pushing students to decide on scholarships early. The NACAC/NASM deadline for decisions is May 1 for all undergraduate students, and the Council of Graduate Schools reply deadline for admissions is April 15. These deadlines mean that faculty must allow students an opportunity to make their decision, and faculty cannot indicate they will take funding away if they do not hear from an applicant by a deadline earlier than these dates.

The Council of Graduate Schools April 15 deadline is spelled out in a Resolution Regarding Graduate Scholars, Fellows, Trainees, and Assistants that you can read in full here. It begins,

Acceptance of an offer of financial support* (such as a graduate scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, or assistantship) for the next academic year by a prospective or enrolled graduate student completes an agreement that both student and graduate school expect to honor. In that context, the conditions affecting such offers and their acceptance must be defined carefully and understood by all parties.

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Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15 and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. … It is further agreed by the institutions and organizations subscribing to the above Resolution that a copy of this Resolution or a link to the URL should accompany every scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, and assistantship offer.

College horn teachers out there who push applicants to decide earlier than April 15 for grad students and May 1 for undergraduate students may be at schools who are not signatory, but it still is of concern to me to see anyone pushed to decide early.

Of course though, if you do decide early, let the teachers know at the other schools you applied to, they may be able to move scholarship funds around to other applicants, it is a great service to them if you communicate decisions early. But I can’t and won’t push for a decision before the actual deadline.

The other big topic – an elephant in the room! – is that of private lessons before admissions. There is a place for private study with teachers who have college studios. However, myself, I have long had a rule that if you are applying to study at ASU I want to give you a lesson at no charge as part of your audition. If it were multiple lessons and beginning long in advance of auditioning that is a different story. But if it is a lone lesson very near the date of the audition, and clearly associated with applying to study at your school, charging for that lesson could be seen as problematic.

Of course, some teachers charge for those single lessons. In our modern world, though, I’m thinking teachers need to be cautious about this practice, treating those lessons as part of what you do in your admissions process rather than an income source.

In the case of both of these topics I’ve probably got the attention of a few horn teachers out there, and maybe made a few new enemies even, but students need to be aware of best practices in these areas.

I would add just one final point. Sometime, maybe soon, some big time music professor of most likely violin or piano or voice will get busted for excessive charges for lessons related to admissions to their studio at some famous school. I have no idea who the teachers will be or where, but it is a fine line between lessons and bribery, especially the teachers that charge very large sums for lessons and then make decisions about admissions, with parents putting a lot into those admission outcomes. Horn teacher lesson charges are not nearly so steep, but it would still be a really good idea for horn teachers to be very aware of the rules of your institution, and follow them carefully.

Finally, for those reading this far, a tip. If you are an undergraduate applicant, don’t decide before April 15! Because after that date (the graduate applicant deadline) the horn teacher may be able to move some leftover funds around and improve your scholarship. Good things come to those who wait.

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