Is Berklee Worth It?
This is the age old question of any university that costs $60,000 for one year of school. Is it worth the money? Is it worth the debt? Those questions are great ones to ask because you should know as much as you can before having any level of that kind of financial commitment.
Now, let's get into the types of classes you'll be taking. Berklee is a hub for jazz. If that's what you love, it's worth it. I studied classical music my entire life, so coming to a jazz/contemporary based music school was a completely different experience than I'd had before. The first semester your schedule is set up for you based on your audition and some tests you take after being accepted. You're given a rating based on your level of playing which determines what level you're private lesson will be centered around and which ensemble you'll be placed in. Private lessons go from levels 1-4 and span across your first four semesters (or two years) of school. At the end of each semester, each student goes before a couple of judges and plays whatever level of scales, chords, and songs their semester was based on.
The ensembles are basically small bands usually having at least a guitarist, bass player, drummer, keyboardist, and singers. Each ensemble has a different genre whether it be jazz, pop, contemporary, salsa, etc. Expect to read chord charts (which if you don't know how, you will be able to figure it out) and improvise (another skill you will gain). After your first semester you can take another ratings audition in order to up your rating numbers and have more options for ensemble pickings.
As for the other classes, which are determined by a theory and ear training test, you may be placed in a class anywhere from MAT (music application theory) to Harmony 4, or possibly even test out of having to take any theory classes. Harmony classes are all based on jazz theory and use Berklee's own music language, but you don't have to know what that is to do well on the test. I knew a number of students who retook the test during the first week of school because they felt the class was too low of a level for them to learn and the other way around- dropping a level because it was too advance.
The ear training classes also go from levels 1-4. You learn moving solfege while going through different keys, chords, modes, and rhythms. Personally the ear training classes helped improve my musicality the most.
Other classes during your first semester are determined by whether you are an international or domestic student, if you have credits from AP classes or other high school tests, if you're a transfer student, and so on. These things will also determine how many semesters you'll have to take to complete your degree.
The basic structure during your time at Berklee, unless you test out of harmony, ear training, and other theory classes, is that during your first year, you don't really get into your Major yet. Your focus is on learning the theory and everything behind what you will be learning in your Major classes. For example, I was majoring in Film Scoring, but for my first two years at Berklee (4 semesters), my only film scoring class was Intro to Film Scoring. The rest of my classes were theory, composition, ear training, private lessons, ensembles, writing, language, and so on. I was practicing all of those skills leading up to my film scoring classes so that my musical language would have expanded in a way that would help me compose at a better level once I got to those semesters. Does that make sense? If not, please ask your questions below!
Teachers at Berklee, from my own experiences, are incredible. What I love most about them is that they are all experienced in the fields we are studying. They aren't just people who went to college and got degrees in teaching school. They are real musicians who have gone out into the world, made their music career work, and want to share their knowledge with us. Each teacher is at a different place in their life and music journey just as we are when we come to university and they all have different musical backgrounds. Of course not everyone gets along with everyone, but you will definitely find teachers that you connect with. What you put into those relationships is what you will get out of them. The same goes for peers and other students- if your aim is to make lasting and sincere relationships, you will find them. Some will even last beyond graduation and become part of your future if that's what you put into them. Those relationships are worth everything.
Now, other costs are dependent upon whether you live in the dorms on campus, which costs will include a cafeteria food plan, or whether you live in an apartment/off campus. Rent in the Boston area can be high, but if you do your research on travel costs, apartment, food, and whatever other necessities you'll need to cover, you can make it much cheaper than living in the dorms. The dorms do not have kitchens except for one building- but no one uses it. You will be required to pay for the food plan if you live on campus. If you live off campus, you still have the option to purchase the food plan, but it is not a requirement. There are apps available to find apartments and many realtors who are willing to give tours and help you find what you're looking for.
Another great resource is Facebook. There are so many pages for people in the Boston area and who go to school at Berklee that you can use to find housing, buy or sell items, talk to people, ask questions, etc. Use it! Gather all the information that you need to find out the best experience that you can have.
If you want a taste of what Berklee would truly be like, I would suggest trying the 5 Week Summer Workshop. I took it before starting university and it's how I made my choice to go there for school. The structure and classes are virtually the same as a regular semester at school, just in a shorter amount of time, and the workshop includes an optional audition.
In conclusion, in my eyes, Berklee was worth it for me. Before I started I knew where I wanted to be but I wasn't sure how to get there. Berklee helped me to find that direction and taught me the skills necessary to get there- not just the music and technology, but how to build relationships, decided what projects are worth putting everything into, and truly knowing how to follow my dreams.
If you have any other questions or comments, don't hesitate to contact me here.
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