Is Playing an Instrument Helpful with College Admissions?

A brazen burst of a trumpet, the meandering pitterings of a flute, and the rounded harmonics of a piano can be heard echoing through school hallways and music rooms. The students—meticulous, dedicated, and skillful—anticipate college application season as fervently as the conductor’s next gesture.

Like each instrument in an orchestra, college applications must be fine-tuned. Extracurricular activities—like playing an instrument—can bolster the college admissions ensemble of essays, recommendations, and test scores to fortify a student’s application and showcase their discipline.

To orchestrate a harmonious college admissions process, it’s helpful to understand how musical experience may influence college admissions, scholarship opportunities, and admissions essays.

Does playing an instrument help with college admittance?

If you’re reading this article, you might find yourself wondering: does playing an instrument help with college admissions?

The short answer is yes.

Playing a musical instrument doesn’t guarantee college admission. A musical skill set can punctuate a student’s college admission application to showcase unique expertise and differentiate it from measures of other applicants.

When reviewing applications, colleges consider two major factors:

  1. Educational performance (like GPA and coursework)
  2. Extracurricular engagement

Extracurricular activities are, essentially, anything you participate in outside of school hours, including but not limited to: student clubs and organizations, sports programs, theater groups, community organizations, and of course – music programs.

High-quality college applicants show promise in both academic performance and community engagement. Since playing an instrument is an extracurricular activity, it could only stand to benefit your application, as it demonstrates your initiative and commitment to collaboration, culture, and creativity.

What instrument is most appealing on a college application?

The instrument you choose is less important than your commitment to musicianship. Since, in most cases, you won’t have a chance to directly speak with the counselor reviewing your application, you have to display your commitment in one of two places:

  1. Your college essay (which we’ll cover in more detail in a future section)
  2. Your resume

Resumes are typically brief, but college counselors pay close attention to how long you’ve been participating in the activities listed on your resume.

To emphasize your music engagement, start playing an instrument as early as possible and consider joining prominent music programs to bolster your experience and demonstrate your dedication to the craft. 

If you only start playing an instrument in your junior or senior year, it can take a while to develop fluency and keep up with rigorous academic standards.

As such, you may not be an expert by the time you start filling out your college applications. Instead, try to communicate your commitment in other ways by:

  • Describing your practice or lesson schedule
  • Listing how many performances you’ve completed since you started playing
  • Displaying connections between your passion for music and your other resume elements

Ultimately, colleges don’t care that you chose a particular instrument—they want to witness the results of your commitment to music education and understand your love of the craft.

Can music land you a scholarship?

Learning an instrument may provide students with opportunities to receive a scholarship award. To that end, let’s explore a few examples of how your music education could impact your likelihood of earning a scholarship or grant:

  • If you’re applying to a music program, the college of music may provide scholarships to students who play specific instruments, or those who participate in specific music activities (like orchestras, concert bands, or competitions).
  • General scholarship funds often work in the same way that college admissions boards do—they look for above-average academic performance and extracurricular involvement.
  • A local music organization or competition in your community might provide scholarships to students who participate in a performance or score highly in a competitive setting.

Should I write my college essay about music?

The college essay is a unique opportunity to showcase your personality, writing prowess, and non-educational engagement to a college admissions board.

If your instrument is a cornerstone of your life, consider using the college essay to showcase your commitment, particularly if your musical endeavors are central to your identity, you wish to pursue a degree or career in music, or contribute to your exploration of life.

But you don’t have to write about your musical experience alone—consider discussing how music has impacted your:

  • Career or major considerations
  • Other extracurricular activities
  • Mental health
  • Academic performance
  • Community engagement
  • Connection to your family, heritage, or identity

How do you start learning an instrument?

Playing an instrument can communicate to a college admissions board that you’re well-rounded, committed to extracurricular activities, or uniquely skilled outside of the classroom. But how do you start your musical journey?

#1 Choose an instrument

Choosing an instrument is a paramount yet difficult endeavor. 

For some people, a specific instrument speaks to them. If you love a particular genre of music, you may be inclined to choose an instrument that’s central to that genre.

For example, if you’re passionate about bluegrass, you might choose to play the banjo. Or, if you’re more inclined to complex harmonies of jazz, you might favor a saxophone or trumpet.

But for others, the sheer number of options might overwhelm. Consider speaking with a music teacher or other music education professional to help you choose an instrument that would pair well with your physical abilities, interests, or your goals.

#2 Set goals

Jazz trio improvisation singer saxophone and drumsOnce you choose an instrument, set a few attainable goals that you’d like to reach while learning to play. A few examples include:

  • Learning to play specific songs
  • Performing for: friends, family, the public, your religious organization or club
  • Playing in a band or group
  • Entering competitions or showcases

If you choose to write about music in your college essay, you can discuss how reaching your musical goals has impacted your life, your relationship to music at large, or your educational pursuits.

#3 Explore your education options

Your goals will likely shape the way you learn to play an instrument. For instance, if you strive to play for yourself or in casual settings, you might seek online music lessons. 

Conversely, at-home music lessons can provide students looking to tackle challenging pieces of music with expertise from a comfortable environment. 

No matter the modality, music lessons provide professional music instruction from qualified, experienced educators. An exceptional music teacher should provide students with tailored lesson plans that prioritize enjoyment, learning, and exploration above all else. 

Male Pupil With Teacher Playing Piano In Music LessonThat being said, some of the benefits of music lessons include:

  • Access to a professional when you have questions
  • Direct feedback on technique or performance
  • Engagement with the music community at large
  • Opportunities for performances or competitions suggested by your teacher
  • Qualified professionals to craft college admissions recommendations and letters

#4 Practice, practice, practice

For music, the adage practice makes perfect might be the core tenet disciplined into every great musician.

Once you choose your instrument, set attainable goals and pick a music education option that works for you. Then, practice your technique, your foundational skills, and the pieces you plan to perform, record, or enter into a competition.

This is when you’ll discover the elements of music education that improve your standing in college admissions settings—cognitive skill sets, stress management, commitment, artistry, and well-rounded engagement outside of academics.

Forbes Music Company: Making music education more accessible than ever

Similar to a compelling concerto, a successful college application must be dynamic and versatile to exhibit unparalleled tenacity and expertise—and playing an instrument can help enliven the experience and depth of an applicant.

Student musicians display extracurricular commitment, passion for honing a skill, and well-rounded lifestyles—all elements that college admissions counselors seek when considering the next year’s incoming class.

When you’re ready to start learning an instrument, Forbes Music Company is here to connect you with passionate, experienced educators. Our online and in-person music courses foster love, appreciation, and enjoyment of music, and our pillars of respect, patience, understanding, thoughtfulness, and care drive our core methodologies. 

Whether you’re new to music, returning to your instrument after some time away, or an advanced music student, we can help you achieve your goals and connect to one of the world’s most powerful art forms.

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