In this article, we profile the 10 best university jazz programs.
Jazz programs are designed to prepare and educate students for careers in jazz music. Rigorous conservatory training combined with performance and network opportunities are often part of some of the best jazz programs in the country. In these programs, students receive mentorship from renowned musicians and take classes from visiting master artists. The right school and program can make all the difference in a viable career as a jazz artist and musician.
We looked at 68 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, or a closely related discipline. We chose schools with the lowest acceptance rate and rankings with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. We then listed the schools based on their acceptance rate as published by NCES College Navigator.
The resulting selections for our top 10 best university jazz programs are listed below.
#10 – Mannes College The New School
New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 67%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $43,813
Mannes College at The New School offers rigorous jazz degree programs in the global epicenter of the music industry–New York City. Through intensive courses that explore the history of jazz to aesthetic and conceptual techniques, students may earn a BA or BFA in jazz and contemporary music. Students are mentored by a faculty pool of renowned musicians and some of New York’s finest artists. As part of the requirements, a senior recital must be completed. Admission is competitive and requires an audition in New York City in early to late spring. The institution is ranked by major publications like U.S. News and World Report as the 129th best national university
#9 – University of Illinois
Acceptance Rate: 66%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $15,054
One of the most affordable jazz studies degree programs on our list is offered by University of Illinois’ School of Music. Both undergraduate and graduate program options are available, including a bachelor’s in jazz performance, master’s of music in jazz performance, and doctor of musical arts (DMA) in jazz performance. Programs are designed to develop the student’s musicianship by composing, performing, and teaching. The school also offers access to conservatory-like studies and over 80 full-time faculty members. Admission to the music school is highly competitive due to the recognition and ranking of the institution. According to U.S. News and World Report, University of Illinois is ranked 44th among the best national universities.
#8 – Manhattan School of Music
New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 46%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $42,600
The Manhattan School of Music is one of the first conservatories in the nation to implement jazz degree programs designed for skilled arrangers, composers, educators, and performers. Rigorous conservatory training combines study with performance and provides students with opportunities to network with New York City’s most renowned jazz musicians. Admission requires application and performance. After a student passes prescreening, an in-person audition is required. Manhattan School of Music is recognized as one of the leading specialty arts institutions in the country. In fact, in recent years U.S. News and World Report has ranked the school as among the best private arts institutions.
#7 – Whitman College
Walla Walla, Washington
Acceptance Rate: 43%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $46,138
Whitman College offers one of the best jazz studies degree programs in the country. Students may earn a bachelor’s in music with a jazz track emphasis. The program is designed to equip students with the skills and techniques needed to successfully enter jazz master’s degree programs or another type of continued musical education. All specialty tracks require piano proficiency along with a minimum of 36 credits to satisfy the jazz concentration. Senior assessment includes a thesis, project, and/or recital along with an integrative oral exam based on the thesis, project, or recital. Whitman is ranked as the 41st best national liberal arts college in the country by major publications like U.S. News and World Report.
#6 – Oberlin College
Acceptance Rate: 29%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $50,582
Oberlin College’s jazz studies degree program is one of the leading and most respected jazz programs in the country. The conservatory has been offering jazz studies since 1973 and began offering the discipline as a major in 1989. The program is designed to prepare individuals for careers as professional jazz musicians and for advanced study as found in most jazz master’s degree programs. Once admitted, 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 is ranked by major publications and recognized as being a leading liberal arts institution. In fact, the most recent publication of Best Colleges by U.S. News and World Report ranks Oberlin as the 24th best national liberal arts college in the country.
#5 – University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Acceptance Rate: 26%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $13,856
The Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at University of Michigan offers jazz degree programs designed to equip students as jazz professionals and performers. Several bachelor’s in fine arts degrees are available with jazz studies tracks, including the BFA in jazz and contemplative studies, BFA in jazz and contemporary improvisation, and the BFA in jazz studies. For those interested in jazz master’s degree programs, a master of music in improvisation is offered. Undergraduate admission is highly selective, and applicants must demonstrate their skills in jazz through improvisation and a recorded audition. The University of Michigan is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 27th best national university in the country.
#4 – Johns Hopkins University
Acceptance Rate: 14%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $48,710
One of the best programs designed to prepare undergraduates for jazz master’s degree programs is offered at Peabody Conservatory–Johns Hopkins University. Two bachelor’s degrees are offered: BM in Music Education/Jazz and BM in Recording Arts/Jazz. Admission to the program includes a performance audition on an instrument and an entrance exam to assess proficiency in aural skills and theory. All auditions must take place on the main campus. Johns Hopkins is synonymous with recognition and reputation. The school is ranked as the 10th best university in the country by major publications like U.S. News and World Report.
#3 – Northwestern University
Acceptance Rate: 13%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $49,047
The jazz studies degree from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music is a bachelor’s of music with jazz studies emphasis and is designed to prepare students to enter jazz master’s degree 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 includes a complete application, academic and music teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, and a music audition and/or portfolio materials depending on the program. Northwestern is one of the highest-ranked national universities in the country. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #12 for best national institutions and #18 for best value schools.
#2 – Columbia University
New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $53,000
The Department of Music at Columbia University has been offering jazz degree programs through its renowned Louis Armstrong Performance Program since 2001. This interdisciplinary jazz studies degree program offers performance opportunities for aspiring musicians and access to visiting master artists. Also, jazz ensembles are offered through the program and give students the opportunity to forge relationships with peer musicians. Some of the ensembles include big band, free jazz, jazz combos, and jazz vocal ensemble. Some of the required courses for the jazz studies special concentration include jazz and American culture, jazz history, and jazz transcription and analysis. Columbia is ranked by major publications like U.S. News and World Report as the 5th best national university and 6th best value school.
#1 – The Juilliard School
New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 6%
Undergraduate Tuition/Fees: $39,720
Listed as the best jazz degree programs on our list, The Juilliard School offers bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate diplomas in jazz and jazz studies. Students work closely with dedicated faculty members and perform as part of the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra and other smaller ensembles. Students also gain interactive performance experience by participating in many of the school’s educational and outreach programs. While enrolled in a jazz studies program, students may major in a particular instrument, including bass, drums, guitar, piano, saxophone, trombone, or trumpet. Juilliard’s acceptance rate is low (approximately 7%), and admission to the jazz programs is extremely competitive. Juilliard is our #1 pick for best university jazz programs.