10 Best Jazz Schools for College Students

The Juilliard School - Best University Jazz Programs

Professional jazz musicians need special training. The best jazz programs and great jazz schools educate students through conservatory training and ensemble experience. They turn out world-renowned performance artists that go on to mentor jazz music to a new generation.

Studying jazz music at one of the nation’s prestigious music schools can help you become a professional musician. This article covers 10 of the best university jazz programs out there.

Featured Programs

Read on for more information on what makes a jazz college stand out. Find out how attending one of the best jazz colleges can help kickstart your musical career.

How to Find the Best Jazz Schools

Professional musicians need training. Jazz musicians play with technical skills. You learn technique when you enter graduate jazz programs or professional programs. There are certain things to look for when considering a music school, especially jazz music schools.

So, how do you get started on your search? You need to know what to look for in a jazz program. That is because attending the right school can make all the difference in your career as an artist and jazz musician. Here are a few things many aspiring jazz musicians look for in a school or program.

  • Best college jazz bands
  • Classes taught by visiting master artists
  • Highly respected jazz performers alumni network
  • Mentorship from professional musicians
  • Networking opportunities
  • Performance opportunities in small and large ensembles
  • Studio music time
  • World-renowned jazz department

You should also look for accredited, ranked, and rigorous programs that can offer value to your jazz degree. If you plan to go to graduate school and enter master’s degree programs, you’ll want to consider great jazz schools that can meet your goal in becoming jazz musicians.


Best Jazz Colleges Methodology

We looked at over 80 accredited colleges and universities listed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator. We considered schools that offered both beginner and advanced programs (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree programs, and diplomas/certificates) in:

  • Jazz music
  • Jazz performance
  • Jazz studies

To find the top programs for jazz music, we selected schools with the lowest acceptance rate. We then narrowed our original pool of schools by choosing a music program that had received a ranking with U.S. News & World Report. We considered both school and program rankings with this publication. We then listed the music schools based on their selectivity (acceptance rate) as published by NCES College Navigator.

The most selective jazz degree program and school earned the #1 position on our list. Here are our top picks for the 10 best jazz schools.

10 – Oberlin College

Oberlin, Ohio


A logo of Oberlin College for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Respected and ranked! Oberlin College is a top choice for an accredited jazz program.

Acceptance Rate: 34%
Undergraduate Tuition: $62,024

Oberlin College is a one of the best music schools for aspiring jazz musicians. The music school offers bachelor’s degree programs in jazz composition and jazz performance.

Through the college’s conservatory, it offers jazz music studies. The conservatory, in operation since 1973, promises students a full-service program. Students take jazz courses that prepare them as jazz musicians. Courses cover everything from music theory to performing jazz music. You study:

  • Instrumental studio jazz
  • Jazz composition track
  • Jazz improvisation
  • Jazz music ensemble (small group)
  • Jazz theory

The music program also offers global jazz studies designed with masterclass opportunities. Students get to work alongside some of the most renowned professional artists in the music industry. But you have to showcase your skills for admission to the jazz degree program. Once you’re in, you can earn a jazz degree that’s considered one of the best.

Oberlin ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Its current rankings include #39 in best national liberal arts colleges. It also ranks #16 in most innovative schools and #78 in best value schools.

9 – The University of Texas Austin

Austin, Texas


A logo of The University of Texas for our ranking of the 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Affordable and ranked! UT Austin’s jazz degree programs launch professional musical careers. 

Acceptance Rate: 29%
Undergraduate Tuition: $11,698

The University of Texas and the Butler School of Music offer a jazz studies program and jazz arts advancement for the serious student of jazz. Here you can earn a bachelor’s degree in music with jazz focus, along with other degrees.

At UT Austin, jazz studies programs include undergraduate and graduate degrees. You can earn a BA (bachelor’s degree) in Music, a Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts. Both the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs prepare students through performance opportunities. Large and small jazz ensembles give students experience playing contemporary music and contemporary classical music.

Students in the music program also receive weekly private study with a member of the artist faculty. These meetings help guide students to meet their personal goals while emphasizing individual expression.

Recognized as one of the great jazz colleges and music schools, UT Austin ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Current rankings include:

  • #38 in best national universities
  • #10 in top public schools
  • #14 in most innovative schools

8 – California Institute of the Arts

Valencia, California


A logo of California Institute of the Arts for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Hollywood connections and top jazz programs found at Cal Arts.

Acceptance Rate: 29%
Undergraduate Tuition: $55,056

Students who study jazz music at California Institute of the Arts learn skills they can use in the music industry. The school offers one of the best jazz studies programs in the country. But getting in takes hard work.

The school has a 27% acceptance rate. To earn a spot in one of the specialized jazz studies programs, your application must showcase your ability and talent. Each year, students get the opportunity to record original work at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood. You work with some of the world’s most talented recording engineers. You also take courses through the Herb Alpert School of Music founded by jazz giant Charlie Haden.

Other benefits the jazz music school offers include:

  • Apprenticeship model rich with rehearsals and recitals
  • Close working relationships with mentors and faculty
  • Small ensemble performance and improvisation

Cal Arts ranks with U.S. News as the 28th best regional school in the West.

7 – University of Miami

Coral Gables, Florida


A logo of University of Miami for our ranking of the 10 Best University Jazz Programs
BA to PhD. All degree levels for jazz studies are offered at the University of Miami.

Acceptance Rate: 28%
Undergraduate Tuition: $57,194

Looking for one of the best music schools in the country? University of Miami’s Frost School of Music offers different levels of academic jazz studies.

Miami offers bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and PhD programs in jazz. Students study instrumental and vocal jazz performance. As an undergraduate, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in studio music and jazz instrumental or studio music and jazz vocal. Graduate degrees in the Frost School of Music include:

  • Instrumental jazz performance
  • Studio jazz writing
  • Vocal jazz performance

The Frost School of Music is one of the few to offer doctoral degrees and graduate jazz programs. You can get your doctorate in jazz composition and both instrumental and vocal performance. Miami is a top choice for serious students who want advanced jazz study in their art.

The school ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Its current rankings include #55 in best national universities and #131 in best value schools.

6 – The University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan


A logo of University of Michigan for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Selective but affordable! The University of Michigan offers top ranked jazz studies programs.

Acceptance Rate: 20%
Undergraduate Tuition: $16,736

University of Michigan offers a top jazz studies program. The school’s department of jazz offers several BFA degrees that prepare students for careers in contemporary music and jazz.

The rigorous program has a 20% acceptance rate. If you’re one of the lucky ones to receive admission, you can benefit from studying everything from jazz arts advancement to the ins and outs of the music industry.

Students receive rigorous training in mainstream jazz in the music program. They also learn other forms of improvisation. The program prepares students for careers in jazz. Programs also serve as readiness for graduate school. Some students earn a Master of Music in Improvisation or a doctorate in jazz and contemporary improvisation at UM.

Michigan ranks with U.S. News & World Report. Current rankings include:

  • #25 in best national universities
  • #51 in best value schools
  • #18 in most innovative schools

5 – University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California


A logo of USC for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Study jazz music from one of the best schools in the country – USC!

Acceptance Rate: 13%
Undergraduate Tuition: $64,726

From music theory to contemporary jazz music, students in the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music learn from one of the best programs for jazz studies.

USC was one of the first schools with a free-standing jazz studies department in the country. As a pioneer for jazz, Thornton offers many benefits to its students.

  • Rigorous academics dedicated to the one true American musical art form
  • Strong alumni network
  • World-renowned faculty

The USC music school offers bachelor’s degrees in music and voice. It also has master’s degrees (graduate degrees) in music and graduate certificates in performance. If you’re interested in graduate degrees or a doctorate, USC offers a Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

University of Southern California ranks with U.S. News as a top national university. Its current rankings include #25 in best national universities and #62 in best value schools.

4 – The University of California

Los Angeles, California


A logo of University of California for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
UCLA offers one of the most recognized jazz studies programs in the the US. 

Acceptance Rate: 11%
Undergraduate Tuition: $13,401

UCLA is a good school for a jazz studies degree. It offers bachelor’s programs through the Herb Alpert School of Music.

Students can earn bachelor’s degrees in global jazz studies. Jazz students benefit from the bachelor’s degree program by learning the history and culture of jazz. They also receive studio instruction and improvisation practice. The program also covers music theory and musical structure. This is great for students looking to become:

  • Jazz performers
  • Jazz scholars
  • Producers
  • Teachers

Admission to the program is competitive. The school has an 11% acceptance rate. But once admitted, students engage with visiting artists and faculty. They receive mentorship and participate in masterclasses with jazz greats like Billy Childs and Danilo Perez.

UCLA ranks with U.S. News & World Report as the 20th best national university and #1 top public school in the country.

3 – Northwestern University

Evanston, Illinois


A logo of Northwestern University for our ranking of the 10 Best University Jazz Programs
Study jazz at one of the top schools – Northwestern University.

Acceptance Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition: $63,468

Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music offers a bachelor’s in music with jazz studies emphasis. The selective school prepares students to enter graduate programs to study jazz. It also equips them for work as professional jazz musicians.

In the music program, students gain insight into the performance world through rigorous coursework. Chicago’s thriving jazz scene also brings many opportunities to Northwestern’s performing jazz music students.

But admission is difficult. The college is selective. It requires candidates to present:

  • An application
  • Academic and music teacher recommendations
  • Music audition
  • Portfolio materials

You must audition for admission to the program.

Northwestern ranks with U.S. News & World Report. The school’s current rankings include #10 in best national universities and #13 in best value schools.

2 – The Juilliard School

New York, New York


A logo of The Juilliard School for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
The Juilliard School has top jazz programs for highly qualified students.

Acceptance Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition: $52,500

The Juilliard name is synonymous with the best-performing arts schools in the country. But with a 7% acceptance rate, Juilliard is difficult to get into for jazz performance.

Juilliard School alumnus trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis leads the jazz studies program. The program combines the history and traditions of jazz with many professional performance opportunities. As a Juilliard jazz student in New York City, you have opportunities to play in:

  • Small ensembles
  • The Juilliard Jazz Orchestra
  • Venues in New York NY

The Juilliard School rating is one of the highest for fine arts degrees. It sets the bar for students seeking careers in jazz. Some of the world’s highly respected jazz performers came from Juilliard.

1 – Columbia University

New York, New York


A logo of Columbia University for our ranking of 10 Best University Jazz Programs
The most selective jazz program on our list – Columbia University.

Acceptance Rate: 4%
Undergraduate Tuition: $66,139

You find the top university jazz program on our list at the center for jazz studies in New York, NY. Columbia University offers the Louis Armstrong performance program. Here you can study jazz at the undergraduate degree level or enter graduate jazz studies programs.

Students gain access to visiting master artists. They receive mentorship and practice in rigorous classes. Students also get ensemble opportunities in:

  • Big band
  • Free jazz
  • Jazz combos
  • Jazz vocal ensemble performances

Columbia New York ranks with U.S. News & World Report. The school’s most recent rankings include #18 in best national universities.

Other Great Jazz Schools

  • Berklee College of Music (Berklee College of Music Online and Berklee College of Music Graduate School)
  • Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY)
  • The City College of New York
  • University of North Texas (Division of Jazz Studies at University of North Texas and Graduate Studies at University of North Texas)

Frequently Asked Questions

Have a burning question you need answered about jazz music schools? Here we discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about jazz conservatories.

What should I do when I first graduate from a university jazz program?

When you graduate from a university jazz program, you may not have a job lined up. That’s okay. There are things you can do. For starters, network.

One way to network is to find people doing the job you want to do. Next, offer them your services. Do anything you can to connect with these people.

The best way to find networking opportunities is through your school’s jazz program. Some schools have a strong alumni network. This offers you a connected tribe before you graduate. You can also connect with fellow students, and stay connected after graduation.

But you have to get out there. You have to be visible. Saxophonist Greg Johnson of USC Thornton School of Music says, “Go to shows, jam sessions, take lessons, make the hang.” If people don’t know who you are, they will never make a connection.

You can also join professional organizations that bolster your professional goals. Organizations that offers networking include:

  • College Music Society
  • NAMM

Do your research on organizations to find the best fit for your needs and career goals.

How much money can I make after earning a degree from a university jazz program?

Jazz musicians can earn a living. Once you’ve graduated from a university jazz program, gained performance experience, and are ready to embark on a career as a musician, you will want to know how much money you can make.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), musicians and singers earn $30.49/hour, on average. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers in this occupation earn less than half the median hourly wage. The highest 10% earn more than $88/hour.

To help leverage your earnings potential, you can try to find work in a high-paying industry. These are industries that pay higher than average earnings. The BLS reports the highest-paying industries for musicians as:

  • Performing arts
  • Spectator sports

In these industries, musicians earn median hourly wages of over $40.00/hour. Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations offer $31.11/hour. Educational services is another competitive industry in terms of pay. Instructors of jazz earn an average of $29.13/hour.

What is the job outlook for musicians graduating from top jazz programs?

The average employment growth for all entertainers and performers is 13%, according to the BLS. For musicians, it is 4%. This is a drastic change than in the years before 2020. But due to the COVID-19 recession, employment growth has been slow.

According to BLS, many job openings will result from the need to replace musicians exiting the workforce through retirement. Growth will also result from the industry’s recovery from recession, as stated above.

As the contemporary music industry recovers, employment growth for musicians will increase. It is a good time to go to music school. Within the next ten years, demand will increase the hiring of session musicians and backup artists for recordings and tours.

Digital downloads and streaming platforms will make it easy for audiences and fans to listen to recordings and view performances. This will increase demand for musicians and singers. There will also be a push for musicians to license their music for use in advertisements or commercials. Licensing creates revenue opportunities and multiple streams of income for professional musicians.

What qualities are important for applicants of university jazz programs?

Top jazz studies programs are competitive. They accept the best of the best. Three of the 10 programs on our list have single-digit acceptance rates. So, how do you get accepted to the nation’s top jazz colleges?

Besides talent, it helps to be disciplined. Talent is not enough for most musicians to find employment after school. The best musicians:

  • Practice
  • Rehearse
  • Work on their skill and craft

They perform and improve their style. They hone their performance abilities and work on their technique. Since auditioning for programs and jobs is difficult, it helps to be disciplined and dedicated to jazz studies and performance.

Jazz programs, such as those at Juilliard New York NY and University of North Texas, look for students with strong interpersonal skills. Since students collaborate on projects and performances, having the ability to work with others helps. Strong interpersonal skills carry over into the workplace, as musicians work closely with:

  • Agents
  • Conductors
  • Music producers
  • Other musicians

Having good people skills helps build strong working relationships in and out of the jazz department.

Besides showcasing superior musical abilities, applicants of the best jazz studies programs should have physical stamina. Music programs require students to practice a certain number of hours and adhere to a strict performance schedule. Improving stamina prepares students for frequent travel and irregular performing schedules.

Strong candidates for specialized jazz programs are critical thinkers and advocates for the arts. They know music theory and understand how to put theory to practice.

What courses will I take in a university jazz program?

Students studying jazz want professional training. This training helps you land a career in the music industry. In your standard interdisciplinary jazz studies degree program, you take four years of classes to earn a bachelor’s degree. You find this schedule at the best music schools.

Students begin their academic career taking pre-core courses in:

  • Ear training
  • Contemporary music
  • History of music
  • Survey of music
  • Theory

You find courses like these at top school like University of Southern California. These courses serve as the foundation for additional history and music theory classes.

Your jazz program classes build on each other. Once you have a foundation, students complete upper-level music theory and history electives. Common topics include:

  • Essential skills in jazz improvisation
  • Instrumental studio jazz
  • Jazz arranging
  • Jazz composition track
  • Jazz history and analysis
  • Jazz laboratory
  • Jazz performance
  • Mainstream jazz

Jazz students also fulfill ensemble requirements. Ensemble requirements can include at least one or two performances each semester. You complete performances through your school or outside the jazz department.

Most jazz studies programs at Berklee College of Music and University of North Texas demand proficiency in piano. While jazz students can focus their studies and performance on another instrument, such as a trumpet or saxophone, they must show piano proficiency. If the jazz program requires piano proficiency, jazz students will need to pass an equivalency exam or class.

BDP Staff
March 2023

Related Resources:

This concludes our list of 10 best college jazz programs.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris