I studied music and Italian at University College Cork for my undergraduate degree, a BA in Arts-Music. Several secondary school students have asked me since if I’d recommend studying music at college level. Therefore, I thought I’d pen down some of the advice and tips I’ve given them.
Tip #1 - Pick the right kind of course
Some music courses look for students who play or sing a certain genre of music while other colleges look for students from a variety of musical backgrounds. I recommend you look at a courses website and specifically the modules they offer to students before applying for any course.
While you might play the classical violin and want to attend a music course that offers expert tuition in this area, I’d recommend having a look at the full spectrum of modules that a college course provides. While it’s great to take modules led by highly trained teachers in your area of interest, studying music at college is a great opportunity to also take up new instruments, explore and experiment with new genres and collaborate with musicians you might not typically think of working with.
In my experience, I felt that the UCC music department was quite liberal and offered a broad range of modules that really appealed to me. Furthermore, they didn’t really seem to place an emphasis on pushing one genre of music in particular and therefore I felt it was an ideal place for me to develop musically.
To learn more about a specific course, I would also recommend talking to someone who has completed the course you’re interested in, going to an open day at the college or talking to the director of a course (via email, phone, in person etc.).
Tip #2 - Decide if you want to study music on its own or with another subject
I decided to study Italian alongside music in college as I felt it would give me more options career wise after I’d graduated. While I haven’t used Italian in any jobs to date aside from when I au paired in Italy, I still have it in my back pocket if I want to use it as part of a job in the future. If you’re someone who is a little unsure or nervous about studying music as a single subject in college, I’d definitely recommend doing it as part of an arts degree so that you can study music and another subject during your time at college.
Tip #3 - Find out if music lessons are subsidised
When looking around at different music courses, it’s worth checking out whether music lessons are subsidised for students. College can be expensive, so it’s really helpful if a music course is willing to cover some of the costs of your music lessons. I can’t remember exactly how music lessons worked in UCC, weather they were partly or fully subsidised, but we definitely got a contribution towards music lessons during our time at the college, which was fantastic.
For anyone considering studying music in Cork, I’d definitely recommend checking out Voiceworks. They provide vocal and instrumental lessons to students who are interested in a range of musical genres. I went to Voiceworks for singing lessons during my time at UCC.
Tip #4 - Understand the positive impact that self-discipline can have on your music
I didn’t have as many class hours as some of my friends who studied subjects like food science or medicine. Therefore, I had a lot of free time between lectures. If you use this free time wisely, you can really spend quality time improving your technique, expanding your repertoire, exploring new genres and collaborating with other musicians.
When you start college, you gain a massive amount of independence and freedom. For many students, it can be difficult find the self-discipline to make valuable use of this time. I’m not going to advise music students to spend every free hour they have in the music department. Let’s be realistic, students want to go out, sleep in and try other things outside of their academic courses. However, I would advise music students to dedicate some of their free time to work on developing their musical knowledge and skills.
When studying music at college level you’ll likely have creative classmates and knowledgeable lecturers, as well as decent practice facilities. Make the most of these things while you have them - not just during class, but in your own free time too. It took me a while to cop on to this after starting my degree. Try to recognise this from the beginning and you really will reap the rewards!
Tip #5 - Find out what the application process for each course involves and apply on time
It’s important to note that many music courses hold auditions and entrance exams for prospective students well in advance of the Leaving Cert. Most colleges hold auditions and entrance exams at different times so I’d advise you to contact your college of interest for specific entry requirements and application deadline dates. Again, the entry requirements and application deadline dates for music courses can vary, so get in contact with individual colleges for relevant information. Some deadline dates can be as early as the end of January or the beginning of February, so do make sure you check these dates!
The thought of prepping for auditions and entrance tests for a college music course can be daunting, particularly when you’re busy studying for the Leaving Cert. However, prep for these exams can really compliment the study that you are already doing for your Leaving Cert music practical and written exams. If you use the same performance pieces for your audition as you plan to use for your Leaving Cert music practical, you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone. Furthermore, the written entrance tests for music courses are usually theory based (although entrance exam content can vary from college to college – so inquire with each college on this). As I only took up music in fourth year in school, music theory was not really my strong point. However, I found that studying theory for college entrance tests really improved my overall understanding of it, which really helped me out in my Leaving Cert music written exam in June.
Tip #6 – Apply for more than one music course
If there are a few music courses that you're interested in, I’d advise you to apply for all of them. I didn’t get accepted into all of the music courses I auditioned and completed entrance tests for, but I did get accepted into some of them. If you have a bad experience doing an entrance test and audition for one course, don’t let that put you off going for other music courses you like!
Tip #7 – Go for it!
Finally, if you really like the idea of studying music I’d really encourage you to go for it. Don’t waste your time and money doing a course that you really don’t think you will enjoy in college. I know there can be pressure on students to do certain courses that will provide solid job opportunities after college. However, I believe that life’s too short to spend three or four year’s doing a course that makes you miserable. If you’re worried about job opportunities after college, don’t dwell on what you won’t get from a music degree. Instead, think about what you’ll gain. In my case, studying music helped me to develop a creative and critical mind-set which I now apply to my work in marketing.
I hope this post has been a little helpful!
For info on my music course at UCC:
Other music courses around Ireland include:
Use Qualifax (http://www.qualifax.ie/) to find more music courses that I may not have included in the list above. Feel free to comment about music courses you would recommend to prospective students!