I started playing the piano when I was four years old. When I started my A-levels at Tonbridge School, I was determined to develop my musical capability, working towards my dream of attending a music conservatory one day. Every day after school, every free period, and every morning, I would wander to the music block for some practice on the piano. A Rachmaninoff concerto here, and a Chopin ballade there, I conquered many challenging pieces that I thought were too difficult for me. With a systematic approach, many hours of research on and off the piano, and a good work ethic, I expanded my repertoire through rigorous practice over the years.
Instead of going to a music conservatory, I decided to pursue Chemistry in the end. However, the lesson learned in front of the piano translates into every aspect of my college application. When I was preparing for my Oxford interviews, I broke down problems into manageable bits before systematically solving them; when I was writing my personal statement, I treated every passage with care, highlighting the melodies in my academic journey; when I was writing my extended project (EPQ), I came up with a rigid work schedule and stick to it. As a result, I obtained my offer to read Chemistry at Oxford.
So, does music help in college applications? The answer is: it depends! UK universities are incredibly academic, so it won’t matter too much unless you apply to music programmes. The UCAS personal statements should be at least 80% academic regardless of students’ choice of programmes, so it doesn’t leave much space for students to talk about their musical endeavours.
With that said, studying music is still beneficial for personal development. Spending long hours in front of your instrument helps you concentrate; learning music styles and history aid you develop an appreciation of the world. Music also functions well as a stress reliever for both performers and listeners! The UK colleges might not pay too much attention to your musical achievements, but it is a great hobby to work on nonetheless.
On the other hand, it is another story on the US side. The US universities care about what you care about. If music is what you care about, then US colleges are all for that. In fact, many students write about their musical experiences in the activity section of the common app. Some students even write their US personal statements about performances, ensemble incidents, or concert organising experiences!
Furthermore, some US colleges care about talent more than others. For example, Emory University reached out to one of our students after submitting her application, stating they were interested in her talent on the violin. She was then invited to an audition for the university orchestra, and subsequently offered a music scholarship and admission to Emory University. A similar case happened a year ago with another student of ours, with him attending Boston University with a music scholarship.
At the same time, lateral thinking is increasingly important for top US college admissions. Some of the top engineering schools, like MIT, are looking for students who can dissect problems from a different perspective, allowing students to submit music/dance portfolios alongside their applications.
As admissions consultants, we often look at everything students do from the university admissions perspective. Does music help with college applications? It depends. However, as a musician, I believe that music does help with the personal development of students. From practice, we learn discipline; facing challenges, we learn resilience; interpreting pieces, we learn creativity. Music builds character. As we study to become better students, we also grow as people. If music is what you care about, protect it. Embrace it. It’s going to make you proud one day – I promise you.
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By Anson Chung, Admissions Consultant