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Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Music

Planning on studying music in college? Prospective music majors must demonstrate passion and talent for music in high school, building a strong extracurricular portfolio showcasing their skills and dedication. In many cases, depending on the rigor of the program and school to which you’re applying, your extracurricular activities will matter even more than your academic record.


How Are Extracurriculars Evaluated? 


How much do extracurricular activities matter in college admissions? The short answer is: it depends. Ulta-competitive institutions generally use a holistic admissions process to review candidates, as do small, private colleges. This means that they take into account the whole student and her profile, not just her grades and test scores. Extracurricular activities are sometimes given as much weight as academic components of their profile.


This can also be true for highly specialized students whose academics aren’t the major focus of their application and plans for the future — such as music majors. Colleges and universities will weigh your extracurricular profile more heavily, since your musical talent is more important than your grades, in this case.


Tiers of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities can be divided into four tiers:


  • Tier 1: activities that demonstrate exceptional achievement, such as winning a prestigious, nationally-recognized award or competition


  • Tier 2: impressive activities that are a bit more common than tier 1 activities, such as holding a leadership position in a chapter of a respected club or winning a regional competition


  • Tier 3: activities that indicate that the student is pursuing interests outside of the classroom but are less rare than tier 1 and 2 extracurriculars; an example is holding a minor leadership position, such as treasurer in a school club


  • Tier 4: the most frequently-seen activities by admissions committees, such as being a club and sports team member; while these activities don’t carry nearly as much weight as those in the other tiers, they can help colleges see your potential and interests outside of the classroom


The extracurricular activities on your application should ideally span all four tiers. In this post, we’ll largely focus on the more common tiers 2-4.

What ECs Should Students Do if They’re Interested in Studying Music?


All-State, Region, or Youth Ensembles

Many states offer some version of an all-state orchestra, band, or ensemble for high school students. The audition process is generally highly competitive, with just a small percentage of students selected to participate. For example, in New York, 900 out of 6,500 students are chosen for the New York State School Music Association Conference All-State music groups. Depending on your state’s process and its competitiveness, all-state could be considered a tier 1-2 activity.


Some states also offer a region ensemble that feeds into the state ensemble, if you audition and receive one of the top seats. The region ensembles are less selective but still an accomplishment, so students should also consider these groups as a solid tier 2-3 activity.


Many cities also offer audition-based youth orchestras, which are similarly selective to region orchestras. These are another way to stay involved in music throughout the year. 


Tri-M Music Honor Society

Founded in 1936 as Modern Music Masters, Tri-M is a music honor society for middle- and high-school students with chapters at schools across the United States. Students must receive a recommendation from their school’s music department and maintain an A average in all music courses and a C average in their academic courses to participate. The society recognizes the achievements of members and provides them with service opportunities.


Depending on the student’s level of participation in Tri-M, this could be considered a tier 2-3 activity. If the student is a high-ranking officer in her chapter, for instance, it would be a tier 2 activity.



Some clubs for students planning to study music include:


A Capella Club/Glee Club

Chamber Orchestra


Concert Band


Guitar Club

Jazz Ensemble

K Pop Club 

Marching Band

Mariachi Club

Music Composition Club

Music Production Club

Pep Band

Percussion Ensemble

Piano Club

Pit Orchestra

String Ensemble

Ukulele Club


The availability of these clubs will, of course, vary from school to school. These activities are largely independent and not tied to any national club or society, meaning they will mostly be tier 3 or 4 activities, depending on the student’s level of participation (tier 3 for officers and tier 4 for participants).


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.