In this article, we profile the 10 best university jazz programs of 2021.
Jazz programs prepare and educate students for careers in jazz music as performance artists. Rigorous conservatory training combined with ensemble performance and networking opportunities are often a major part of the best jazz programs in the country. In these programs, students receive mentorship from renowned musicians, take classes from visiting master artists, and gain performance experience in both small and large ensembles. Attending the right school and program can make all the difference in a viable career as a jazz artist and musician.
10 Best University Jazz Programs Methodology
We looked at close to 70 accredited colleges and universities listed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator that offered both beginner and advanced level programs (bachelor’s, master’s, or diploma/certificate) in jazz, jazz studies, performance, or a closely related discipline. We selected schools with the lowest acceptance rate, and rankings with at least one major publication like U.S. News and World Report. We then listed the schools based on their selectivity (acceptance rate) as published by NCES College Navigator. The most selective institution earned a #1 ranking on our list.
The resulting selections for our top 10 best university jazz programs are listed below.
#10 – University of Illinois
Acceptance Rate: 59%
Undergraduate Tuition: $15,122
Ranking as one of the most affordable jazz programs on our list, University of Illinois’ School of Music offers both undergraduate and graduate program options. In fact, available degrees include the bachelor’s in jazz performance, master’s in music in jazz performance, and doctor of musical arts (DMA) in jazz performance. Programs are uniquely designed to develop musicianship by composing, performing, and teaching. The school also offers access to conservatory-like studies and over 80 full-time faculty members offering instruction and guidance. Admission to the music school is highly competitive, due to the recognition and ranking of the institution. The overall acceptance rate for the institution is 59%. University of Illinois ranks 47th in best national universities and 144th in best value schools.
#9 – University of Washington
Acceptance Rate: 52%
Undergraduate Tuition: $11,465
With a stringent acceptance rate and affordable undergraduate tuition, University of Washington is a top pick for best university jazz programs. In fact, UW’s School of Music has earned recognition as one of the leaders in jazz studies. The comprehensive professional school offers both performance and research-oriented degree programs. Jazz workshops and ensembles include Big Band, modern band, and small ensembles. With a lively and thriving new music scene in Seattle, the jazz studies program flourishes as a birthing ground for creativity, collaboration, and innovation. In addition to offering a quality jazz program, UW ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. These rankings include #58 in best national universities and #145 in best value schools.
#8 – Oberlin College
Acceptance Rate: 36%
Undergraduate Tuition: $56,822
The jazz studies program at Oberlin College is recognized as one of the most respected jazz programs in the country. The conservatory, in operation since 1973, has offered jazz studies as a major since 1989. Once admitted to the highly selective program, students begin a sequence of courses in private composition. Masterclass opportunities are also available and allow students to work with some of the most renowned musicians in the country. Oberlin ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. And while the school is not the least expensive on our list, it does offer rankings as the 36th best national liberal arts college in the country and 80th best value school.
#7 – The University of Texas
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Undergraduate Tuition: $10,824
The University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music offers a jazz studies program for the serious jazz musician. Distinguished faculty and a creative learning environment offer a collective and artistic approach to the study of jazz. Performance opportunities are abundant at UT and jazz majors receive opportunities to play in a variety of large and small jazz ensembles. The role of faculty is to guide music majors to become respected musicians. UT Austin ranks with all major publications, including U.S. News and World Report. Rankings with U.S. News include #42 in best national universities and #176 in best value schools.
#6 – University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida
Acceptance Rate: 27%
Undergraduate Tuition: $51,930
The University of Miami’s Frost School of Music offers programs that serve as preparation for the study of instrumental and vocal jazz performance. A variety of degree levels are available, such as the bachelor’s in studio music and jazz instrumental and studio music and jazz vocal. Graduate degrees are offered in instrumental jazz performance, studio jazz writing, and vocal jazz performance, as well as others. The school is one of the few offering doctoral degrees in jazz composition, jazz instrumental performance, and jazz vocal performance. University of Miami is fully accredited and ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 49th best national university and 89th best value school.
#5 – University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Acceptance Rate: 23%
Undergraduate Tuition: $15,558
At the University of Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, students receive rigorous training in mainstream jazz, as well as forms of improvisation. In addition to several bachelor’s in fine arts degrees available at Michigan, graduate programs are also available. In fact, a master of music in improvisation and doctoral in jazz and contemporary improvisation are also offered. Undergraduate admission is highly selective, and applicants must demonstrate their skills in jazz through improvisation and a recorded audition. The school’s acceptance rate is 23%. Also, University of Michigan ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 24th best national university.
#4 – Johns Hopkins University
Acceptance Rate: 11%
Undergraduate Tuition: $55,350
One of the leading jazz programs in the country, designed to prepare undergraduates for jazz master’s degree programs, is found at Peabody Conservatory–Johns Hopkins University. Admission to the program is highly selective and includes a performance audition and an entrance exam to assess proficiency in technical skill and theory. All auditions must take place on the main campus. Johns Hopkins is synonymous with recognition and reputation. The school ranks as the 9th best university in the country by major publications like U.S. News and World Report. Additional rankings include #16 in best value schools and #12 in most innovative schools.
#3 – University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Acceptance Rate: 11%
Undergraduate Tuition: $58,195
The USC Thornton School of Music is a highly selective music school offering the first free-standing jazz studies department in the nation. As a pioneer for jazz programs, Thornton has world-renowned faculty, a strong alumni network, and academic curriculum dedicated to the one true American musical art form. The school offers bachelor’s degrees in music and voice, a master’s degree in music, and graduate certificates in performance. There is also a Doctor of Musical Arts – Jazz Studies Performance offered beyond the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. USC ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report as the 24th best national university and 60th best value school in the country.
#2 – Northwestern University
Acceptance Rate: 9%
Undergraduate Tuition: $56,691
Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music offers a bachelor’s of music with jazz studies emphasis. This program is designed to prepare students to enter graduate jazz programs or work as professional musicians. Students have access to the rigorous coursework offered in and out of the music program, as well as performance opportunities in the thriving Chicago area jazz scene. The admission process to the highly selective program includes a complete application, academic and music teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, and a music audition and/or portfolio material, depending on the program. Northwestern ranks among the top national universities in the country. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the institution #9 in best national institutions and #15 in best value schools.
#1 – Columbia University
New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 5%
Undergraduate Tuition: $61,788
The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University has offered jazz degree programs through its renowned Louis Armstrong Performance Program since 1999. At the core of the program is an interdisciplinary jazz studies degree that offers performance opportunities for aspiring musicians. Students also gain access to visiting master artists. In addition to comprehensive study, jazz ensembles are offered throughout the program, providing students with opportunities to forge relationships with peer musicians. These ensembles include big band, free jazz, jazz combos, and jazz vocal ensemble. In addition to offering quality and rigorous academics, Columbia ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. These rankings include #3 in best national universities and #6 in best value schools.
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