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6 Tips To Survive Your First Year At A Music College/Conservatory

Going away to school is an exciting time. It feels like anything is possible – and it is. But as with anything worth doing, leaving home to enter the competitive world of music school has its challenges as well.

As music students, you’re among a unique group of students. You’re not going to college to figure out what you want. You know what you want – a music career. So you’re likely to be a lot more focused than your peers at other schools or in other disciplines.  Use that focus and these six tips, to put together a plan for surviving (and thriving!) during your first year at a music school or conservatory. 

1. Create a routine 

The freedom and scope of opportunities available to you at college will be unprecedented. It can be overwhelming. You definitely want to take advantage of some of these opportunities, but to make the most of the ones you do pursue, you need a routine. 

As a music student, your coursework and rehearsal schedule is already fairly regimented, and designed to progress in a logical, practical way. You know that your development as a musician requires you methodically build on what you’re learning, not jump wildly from one thing to another. 

Take that same methodical approach to building your daily life at college. Creating a formal routine keeps you focused and committed on what you decide to take on, improving your chances of succeeding. It also prevents you from overcommitting yourself.  Having a routine that sets out when you wake up and go to sleep, when you study, when you’re available to socialize – when you do any of the activities you must commit regular time to will also minimize your stress. Feeling overloaded and unfocused causes anxiety, which then feeds a vicious cycle of further stress and anxiety. The best way to reduce stress and eliminate anxiety is to feel in control of your schedule. So take control of it. 

2. Foster your independence 

College is the phase in your life where you’re not just preparing for your profession, but you start learning how to be an independent adult. Don’t ignore your family. They love you and want to support you (and hear from you!). 

Yet truly growing in college means making decisions for yourself, clarifying your own priorities, and keeping the commitments you make to others – all signs that you're maturing through this experience. 

3. Build a network 

Independence doesn’t mean doing everything on your own. College is the best time to network! You want to build a social network that can support you through the rigors of a music degree. You also want to build a budding professional network that will help you grow as a musician and be a resource for you once you leave school. 

4. Check your ego 

Passing the audition and getting selected to attend the music college or conservatory of your choice is an awesome achievement. Feel good about that. But when it comes to your peers, it doesn’t make you special. Everyone in your class also passed the same demanding application process.  Big egos or bad attitudes towards your fellow students will only alienate you from them. 

That means don’t nitpick and/or be snide – offer constructive criticism when you have it. Take their constructive criticism with grace. Don’t trash performances or works they’ve just said they like. Don’t pretend you no longer have to practice scales or the fundamentals. If you get too pretentious or self-aggrandizing, your peers will leave you alone to enjoy your own company. 

5. Find a place to clear your mind 

Take advantage of your breaks in the middle of rehearsals. Find the ways to step out of the world of music college for a bit as well, so you can stay fresh while you’re under the pressure of constant rehearsals, classes and exams. 

Your breathing space may still be musical – just make it separate from school. Maybe you join a jam group in the local music scene, not attached to your school. Or it can be unrelated to music – attending a religious institution or making a charitable commitment. Maybe it’s a personal hobby, like running each morning or going to see a weekly movie. 

Whatever it is, find some balance and a way to take a mental break. 

6. Don’t overlook your health 

Finding a place to clear your mind and creating a routine will help you maintain your mental health. Physically, you want to focus on nutrition and sleep.  

Being mindful of nutrition – eating enough and not skipping meals because you’re too busy – will give you the energy you need. Rehearsals are hard physical work! Planning where you can find healthy food wherever you are will help prevent the “Freshman 15.” 

In addition to good nutrition, you also need enough good sleep to maintain your energy.  The American Sleep Association has found that college students need between 8-10 hours of sleep a night – and they don’t get it. Poor and insufficient sleep negatively impacts your memory, ability to concentrate, and your academic performance. 

Taking control of your college or conservatory experience 

The best way to survive your first year of music college or conservatory is to be pro-active about your experience. You’re getting a degree to fulfill your own ambitions and interests, so don’t be a passenger. Follow these tips to get the most out of all your time at school to launch you on the music career you want.

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