The Double Degree Dilemma
The Peabody Conservatory admissions office is host to many visitors who express an interest in becoming involved with a "double degree" program. At first glance, a double degree program seems to be the perfect solution if you are primarily interested in a liberal arts education, and are also an advanced musical performer. You just do both programs at once, right? After all, you've been juggling both interests all through high school.
The subject is much more complex than that. Actually, pursuing two diverse interests can be accomplished in several ways, and within various educational settings. Which one you choose depends on your interests and your ambitions. There is no one solution for everybody. To help make sense of it all, you first need to understand the different programs available. Then, to see how individual students find a good match for their needs, I will share some experiences I have had with visitors to Peabody. To be complete, this is going to take a while—a bit over eight printed pages of text to be exact. Why not get comfortable, and maybe we will have some fun along the way. I am David Lane, the Director of Admissions at Peabody. I will be your guide. At the end you should have a better idea of what you are looking for, how to ask for it, what kinds of schools are most likely to offer what you want, and where the Peabody/Hopkins double degree fits into the continuum.
Getting the Names Right
One of the sources of confusion when dealing with the various "double" programs available is what to call them. Sometimes I refer to any such program as "cross-pollinated," but if you use that term no one will know what you mean. The reason a generic term would be handy is that almost every option exists out there—from being a pre-med major and simply taking piano lessons for credit, to straddling two different schools in an effort to gain two degrees at the same time. The terms most often thrown around are "double major" and "double degree." There is a big difference between the two, so let's take a moment to clear it up.
Liberal arts colleges offer "majors" within the context of a liberal arts curriculum. These programs are easily identifiable in that they lead to a bachelor of arts (B.A.) or bachelor of science (B.S.) degree. To keep from tripping over abbreviations like B.A./S., I will just use B.A. as short for any liberal arts degree. When you declare a "major," your liberal arts program will include a curricular emphasis in a particular area of study. Numerically, a "major" is made up of about a quarter of the curriculum (figure about 36 credits). The other three-quarters are the usual liberal arts courses. Within this context, students can do "double majors," combining two liberal arts majors (one of which might be music). At the completion of the course, graduating students receive one diploma, stating that they have earned a liberal arts degree. Both majors are listed.
At this point, we might as well mention "minors." A "minor" is usually half the size of a "major," being composed of only 16–18 credits. Thus, in addition to the option of declaring two majors, most liberal arts colleges will allow you to have a "major" and a "minor." But let's get back to the subject of double majors.
A liberal arts "major" signifies that you have an extended knowledge of a subject, but does not certify you to be a practitioner of a skill. By the same token, those pursuing a liberal arts music major are not necessarily practitioners of a musical art. Said another way, the holder of a B.A. in music should be able to discuss Beethoven—his life and music—but the same individual may or may not be able to perform any of Beethoven's compositions. This ability to perform is the major component of a bachelor of music degree.
A bachelor of music (B.M.) degree is far more specialized than a B.A., and, to repeat, its focus is typically on musical performance. In a B.M. program, the word "major" refers to a musical subject or performance area (clarinet, voice, piano, music theory, etc.). A "double major" for a music student in a B.M. program might be, say, piano and music history.
The ratio of musical to non-musical study contained in a bachelor of music program is roughly the reverse of the ratio for a B.A. program at a liberal arts college. That is, roughly three-quarters of the credits are in music performance and musical academics (theory, eartraining, etc.), and one quarter are in traditional liberal arts subjects. This ratio differs from school to school, and can approach fifty-fifty at some universities where there are university-wide course requirements.
The bachelor of music degree certifies a level of knowledge about music and also a level of performance ability, but the performance level is not the same for all schools offering the degree. Here's why. Entrance to a B.M. program is usually by audition, and competition for available space at the better known music schools tends to drive the required entrance level upward. It follows that the exit (graduation) level of performance will be higher for students that go to these schools. Over a period of decades, the more selective schools earn a well deserved reputation for turning out high-level performers. This serves to attract even higher level performers to these schools, which enhances the effect.
This brings us to the subject of "double degree" programs. Double degree programs typically take five years to complete, and lead to two pieces of paper—a B.A. or B.S. in a liberal arts subject, and a B.M. in music. Double degree programs are available in all kinds of settings, and at all kinds of schools. Listing all the options here would bore you to death. So, abrupt as it may seem, I need to bring this stage of the discussion to a close.
Instead of trying to unravel the various programs offered by colleges, universities, and conservatories, a better approach is to focus on the reasons people seek such programs. To do that, I am going to introduce you to some typical visitors to the Peabody admissions office, and then make comments. Hopefully, one of the visitors will be in a situation similar to yours. Or perhaps you will fall somewhere in between.
This is Jennifer
"I really can't make up my mind what I want to do. I love music, and I can't see myself giving it up when I go to college. But it seems like such a drastic step to go to a music school where I won't get a lot of liberal arts. I am a good academic student, and I don't want to give that up either. Besides, I also have a pretty strong interest in literature. Maybe I should try a double degree program and I won't have to give up either one."
Jennifer recognizes the value of music in her life but is not so driven that she is willing to make a total commitment to it—at least not yet. She needs a school that can help her sort her interests out. If I had to guess, I would say that the majority of those seeking cross-pollinated (I knew that term would come in handy) programs fit this scenario. Fortunately, there are lots of schools out there that can do just what she wants. If you think about it, most liberal arts majors rely on their college years to help them focus on career goals, so Jennifer would probably be happy in a liberal arts setting. The key for Jennifer is finding a school with a good music program built on the same framework as the liberal arts curriculum. In addition to a liberal arts-based B.A. degree, the school should also offer a B.M. degree—preferably one with a national reputation for producing high level performers. The availability of both B.A. and B.M. degrees will give Jennifer the options necessary as she establishes her priorities.
Students like Jennifer typically begin their studies as double degree students. Within the first year or two, they get a better feel for how they want to balance music and liberal arts, and they adjust the balance of degrees, majors, and minors accordingly. Almost anything is possible. Schools that cater to the "Jennifers" out there often have a significant percentage of their entering class interested in some sort of cross-pollinated program. During their studies, many (if not most) of these students succeed in their efforts to prioritize their interests, and they graduate with a single Bachelor's degree that reflects their decision.
Let's Listen to Howard's Situation
"It seems like I have been playing violin all my life, and even though I have good grades in my academic subjects, I really want to focus my college years on becoming the best violinist I can be. Violin is my life. I practice several hours a day, and I know I am good at it. The problem is my parents- and my Uncle Louey. They won't hear of it—especially Uncle Louey who keeps talking about starving artists, and saying things like, "You know how many applicants showed up to audition last time there was an opening in the BSO?" My parents think it is a tremendous waste for a person of my talent and ability to limit my college years to studying violin. Funny, they always supported my violin study, and seemed proud of my accomplishments—at least until Uncle Louey started scaring them to death. Now, they will not support me unless I do something more "rational." They say I need something to fall back on in case I can't get a job in an orchestra. Frankly, I am beginning to worry about it. I don't want to end up on the street—especially with a bunch of college loans hanging over my head. On the other hand, I would do almost anything to prove Uncle Louey wrong. That guy is getting on my nerves."
When families like this come (sometimes grudgingly) to Peabody for a visit, they are usually hoping a double degree program will serve as a compromise. Howard squirms in his seat, reluctant to declare in front of his parents that he is really only interested in music. It is a tough situation, sometimes made worse by incomplete knowledge about bachelor of music degrees. Regardless of Uncle Louey's ranting, a B.M. degree from a good school is not as limiting as you might think.
The truth is that a B.M. degree is a bona fide bachelor's degree, with all the advantages of any other. Even though it is strongly biased toward music study, it is just as useful when applying for jobs as a non-technical bachelor of arts degree from a liberal arts college. Also, Howard's parents probably do not realize that after completing his bachelor of music degree, Howard has the option of entering a masters program—and it does not have to be as a music major. So, let's say that Uncle Louey and Howard's parents turn out to be right. Howard gets his B.M., and eventually wishes that he had gone into, say, business administration. He applies for entrance into an appropriate masters program—the same as if he had been a liberal arts major as an undergraduate. In a total of six years past high school, Howard has an M.B.A.. This is the same investment in time that would have been required had he come from a B.A. background. Note that some graduate programs might require some review or pre-requisite work, but there are certainly doctors, lawyers psychologists and successful business people out there who began their education with a bachelor of music degree. Come to think of it, most of our administrators at Peabody started out that way.
These arguments are not always convincing to the family, and let's say that Howard ends up at a liberal arts college—hopefully one where there is a good violin teacher. After his first year, he realizes that he truly doesn't belong there. He feels alone and isolated, complaining that no one understands the intensity or the scope of his musical nature. I guess that is why about a third of our undergraduates come to Peabody as transfer students from liberal arts schools. Howard would be happiest in the sort of musical environment offered by one of the major music schools in this country. Even if he completes a bachelor's degree at a liberal arts college he is almost certain to apply to a major music school for a master's program.
Another option for Howard is a music education program (public school music teaching). This could be a good choice, but Howard needs to be sure that the school he chooses offers a music ed program that does not water down the performance requirements.
A note about Jennifer and Howard
You may be wondering if there is a key attribute that would make me recommend a liberal arts college for Jennifer, and a major music school or conservatory for Howard. The answer is "yes," but it is not so easy to explain. Jennifer thinks fondly about performing—and is probably good at it—but she considers it to be one of several options open to her. As she considers these options, she feels stress because she is not sure what she wants to do. On the other hand, Howard's dedication to music is so complete that any choice other than music causes stress.
Jennifer does music. Howard is music.
Somewhere in Howard's history, something special happened. He and his violin (and the music that results) all became parts of the same whole. Thus, Howard is not conflicted about what he wants to do—at least he wouldn't be if it wasn't for Uncle Louey. This is typical of conservatory students. By deciding to come to a music school they have made the only choice they can live with—to pursue music with as much intensity as available. For Howard, music functions as (to use an unfortunate term) an "addiction." For Jennifer, music is simply a love. Howard would be applying only to highly focused music schools (we consider Peabody to be in that group), but his respect for his parents leads him to inquire about a double degree program.
"Science is my strength, but I have been playing French horn all my life. I am always among the top students in the state music festivals, and I don't think I could live without it. On the other hand, I have eight fish tanks in the basement, and a life-long ambition to be the next Jacques Cousteau. I seem to have an easy time with math and science, and I have worked very hard to keep a straight A average in the toughest honors courses offered at my school. On the other hand, my horn teacher says I have what it takes to be an orchestral musician, and he is pushing me very hard to apply to most of the major conservatories—saying that it would be a waste of talent if I did not. I really love the horn, and I don't want to settle for anything less than the highest level situation, but I would need to find a program where I could do a double degree involving a top conservatory, and a school that offers one of the top oceanography programs in the country. Eventually, I would like to analyze whale songs in musical terms. I am also interested in doing research on marine mammals, and how they react to different styles of music. Maybe it will help with those kept in captivity."
Alexander is one of the rare young people out there who has two equal and intense talents. He doesn't want to settle for (if you will pardon the term) "second best" in either his liberal arts or his music program. He differs from Jennifer in that he is not conflicted about what he wants to do. He has specific interests and is bound and determined to pursue both with equal vigor. If he could (fantasy time here), he would try to place one foot in a highly focused music conservatory, and the other in a top-rated academic institution with a highly regarded oceanography program. He would attend both at the same time--a neat trick if you could pull it off...and if you don't mind paying two (cough!) tuitions. This is the profile of those who should be considering double degree programs.
These are not programs for the faint of heart. The two schools involved usually do not structure their schedules in the same way, so there are typically conflicts when, for instance, orchestra rehearsals are scheduled at the same time as the advanced bio labs. You get the idea. A little creativity on the part of the student helps, and a mild degree of frustration can also be expected.
Why would Alexander be more interested in a conservatory-based program than in one of the excellent comprehensive programs at a large University?
I don't know.
Alexander may, in fact, be exploring those options, and the fact that he is visiting Peabody tells me that he is trying to figure out the plusses and minuses of each setting. This gives me a good excuse to bring up the subject of how conservatories and music schools differ from the music departments of large universities. The answer (he said, cryptically) is not only in what the schools offer their students, but also in what the students demand from the schools.
Most music conservatories were founded with the mission and purpose of fostering musical development within the student body. At the outset, a given conservatory must decide what constitutes a good musical education—what it offers its students. If it is successful, the school attracts students of increasingly high ability, and the student body eventually develops into a collection of "Howard" types who demand a curriculum that crams as much training and intensity into four years as possible. If the school is wise, it will put all its energy and resources into the effort. Every element of study, from languages to liberal arts, will be focused toward the needs of students seeking musical careers. Over the decades, the better conservatories and music schools have done just that—each in its own way.
Universities, on the other hand, have a wider perspective and must address the educational wants and needs of a more diverse group of people. Thus, as a music student (even a B.M. student) at a large university, you will take your English courses with English majors, and your history courses with history majors. Also, subjects like math and science—sometimes required in a university setting—are optional, or hardly noticed at all, at conservatories.
It is hard to claim which approach will be better for a given student. That is what makes the college selection process so interesting. However, it is fair to say that a school which knows its classes will be filled with music students has an opportunity to tune those classes to be of maximum benefit to those with musical interests. It comes down to that word "focus" again. Music schools like Peabody tend to be relatively small, highly focused schools with the entire student body traveling, you might say, in the same direction. The better known university music schools also offer high quality music programs, but in the context of a much more diverse college environment. Each approach offers benefits to the right kind of student.
"I was just visiting the campus at Homewood, and they said I could take music courses at Peabody. I was wondering if I had to do a double degree or something for that to happen?"
That's an easy one. Most schools offer liberal arts students an opportunity to cross-register to other local schools if the student wants to study a subject not otherwise available. Homewood students can cross register to Peabody. Peabody students can cross register to Homewood.
And Finally, Bill. His Parents Will Speak for Him.
"Bill is a very talented guitarist, but that's not what he want's to do with his life. Well, not exactly, anyway. I mean, his guitar teacher would like him to fully develop his talent, but even though he has been studying classical guitar for several years, he seems equally interested in the electronics the bands use these days. This kid has a keyboard and what seems like a recording studio in his room. He sits in there for hours, and I must admit that some of the stuff he comes up with is pretty good. Of course, being his parents, we would say that. He would really like to pursue the music, but we have pretty much given up hope on finding a program that would allow him to follow both interests."
Within the program structures of most music schools are a variety of double degree or double major programs that combine music performance with a music related subject. Choices vary by school, but it is not hard to find B.M. degrees that combine performance with music education, recording arts (music technology), musical theater, music industry (management), musicology (history), accompanying, early music (lute, harpsichord, etc.), electronic/computer music, jazz, music therapy, pedagogy, or church music. These programs vary widely in their entrance and exit requirements, and in the kind of students they attract, so don't take anything for granted.
Bill and his family are likely to be thrilled when they discover that Bill won't have to straddle two schools to get his needs met. In all likelihood, he can take a double degree program in "recording arts" or "music technology" at a single school. At some schools, the performance degree is optional.
A Blatant Plug
I have tried to keep this discussion general in nature, but after all, you are connected to the Peabody web site, so this is my chance to tell you what Peabody and the Homewood schools of JHU offer in the way of cross-pollinated programs.
On the bachelor's level, Peabody offers a B.M. in performance. Our music education degree is based on the performance degree, except the electives usually available within the performance degree become music education courses. We also offer a double degree program (5 years) in recording arts and sciences. In our program you can't get the recording degree unless you also complete a B.M. in performance.
See the Musical Opportunities for JHU Students at Other JHU Divisions heading for detailed information of what is offered at the Homewood campus. Most of the usual liberal arts options are available. Homewood students can cross-register to Peabody for music lessons and music classes. Further, Homewood itself has music performing groups that may very well meet your needs.
If you wish to pursue a bachelor of music degree at Peabody, while simultaneously pursuing a bachelor of arts (or science) degree at Homewood, an appropriate program is offered by Peabody and the schools of Arts & Sciences or Engineering on the Homewood campus. Let's just call it the Peabody/Homewood double degree. You need to apply to both schools. Both Peabody and Homewood are populated by musically and academically advanced students, so success in the program requires a particularly strong applicant in each situation. Anything less represents a danger that the weaker interest will draw time and energy from the stronger one, and the student won't finish both programs in a reasonable length of time (usually five years). Here are some numbers from our own records: In an average academic year, approximately eighty applicants apply both to Peabody and to Homewood. Twenty to twenty-five percent manage to be accepted to both schools. Practical constraints limit to five or six the number of double degree students entering Peabody in a given year (total of 35 over the five-year anticipated length of the program). Thus, depending on available spaces we can rarely accept more than 10 or 12—assuming that five hardy souls will enroll.
Individual programs are structured depending on the majors selected. If you tell us you are interested in a double degree program when you request information from either Peabody or Homewood, we will send you an expanded version of the "Musical Opportunities" document posted on this web site. It has some sample programs listed. If you want a look at the program from the inside, you can find details from the advisors by clicking here.
Thank you for taking the time to go through this complex subject with me. I hope it helps you in your efforts to "home in" on the kind of educational situation most likely to fit your needs. Stick with it, and I can almost guarantee that you will find an appropriate school. It is going to be an interesting process.