Climbing the Ladder: Majoring in Music As A Pathway To College and Upward Mobility.

A couple of weeks ago, I published this post, which encourages applied university teachers to broaden the definition of success for their students. It is our responsibility to redefine success for all of our students at the earliest age.

If you are part of a middle or high school based music program, an El Sistema inspired program or have a private studio, you have likely been approached by students or their parents about whether or not majoring in music is a good idea. I believe we should encourage any student who is interested in dedicating themselves deeply to the art form to major in music. The value of their degree is not necessarily in earning a specific major, it’s in earning a degree itself.  My argument is that ANY degree helps a student become upwardly mobile in our society.

Here’s a quick video that discusses upward mobility in this country. The entire video is mind-blowing but in particular check out the 2:52 mark.

Who goes to college:
I did some quick (Google) research on our population and found the following statistics. In 2011, there were 311,718,857 people living in the United states. Of the total population, 237,801,767 of all Americans were adults (18 and older). That is equal to (76%) of the population. Of the adult population, 54,339,215 people had baccalaureate degrees.  That means 17.6% of the population in this country has a baccalaureate degree. I found this number to be shockingly low.

College bound is the goal.
In light of the information above, it is clear that a college degree is the ticket to upward mobility, regardless of major, and that includes music. I routinely have discussions with students and parents about the fact that many believe studying music encourages whole-minded thinking and that deep study in the art form in college will have a positive effect on their ability to find work after graduation. The key is to be supportive while also offering a dose of reality about our field.

It’s not the destination, It’s the journey!

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote by Emerson is always sitting in the back of my head as I advise students about a degree in music. The earlier you can mention that there are multiple pathways music majors can take after graduation, the easier it will be for a student to accept a different path than the prescribed professional musician track. I encourage students and their parents to consider the fact that a music degree is about the journey and exploration of deeply pursuing the art form, and not necessarily about becoming a professional artist after graduation. The skills that students develop by exploring an art form deeply will enable them to thrive in any job upon graduation.

Our job is to guide students and their parents towards this broadened way of thinking, rather than encouraging a very limited definition of success, which is what is traditionally suggested.

How does this post resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

(Photo Credit: Georgios Karamanis)

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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