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By BVS Staff

July 2020

Careers in music are as varied as the notes on a grand piano. Music graduates can pick from a wide range of concentrations and careers, and a music graduate might go on to be a:

Your career in music starts here, at our list for the 15 best small colleges for music majors on a budget. In order to land a spot on our list, the programs below had to stick to our criteria:

  • Two relevant programs for students seeking a Bachelor’s degree in music or a related area
  • Overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%
  • Annual costs of less than $35,000 a year (as reported by College Navigator)

By accomplishing everything on our list, these colleges proved that they’re dedicated to providing a quality affordable education for their students. Scroll down to #1 to see the least expensive.


Each of these top schools has a minimum of two relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in music or a related area (including but not limited to music theory and composition, song writing, music history, and music management). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%. Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education – which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $35,000 a year. But which of these is the  most  affordable small college for a music degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!

For more information on the methodology,  click here .

Rank School Location
1 Brigham Young University-Hawaii Laie, HI
2 Curtis Institute of Music Philadelphia, PA
3 Madonna University Livonia, MI
4 North Greenville University Tigerville, SC
5 Converse College Spartanburg, SC
6 Gardner-Webb University Boiling Springs, NC
7 Hardin-Simmons University Abilene, TX
8 Anderson University Anderson, SC
9 Augustana University Sioux Falls, SD
10 Birmingham-Southern College Birmingham, AL

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  1. Brigham Young University-Hawaii

    Laie, HI


    $ $ $ $ $

    BYU - Hawaii is so much more than a fun opportunity to experience island living (although its location is pretty great). Novice musicians in particular will appreciate the school's "family-like atmosphere," which is uniquely welcoming of learners who might not have had much formal music education. Undergrads can choose from a robust array of both performance- and non-performance-based degree programs. In particular, the BA in General Music and the BA in World Music Studies are well-suited for music enthusiasts who might not have the skills for a performance major. This egalitarian approach to music studies and nearly unbeatable net price make it one of the best colleges for a music degree.

  2. Curtis Institute of Music

    Philadelphia, PA


    $ $ $ $ $

    True to its name, the Curtis Institute of Music is one of the best small colleges for music majors. Aspiring musicians can choose from a wealth of programs, including standout degrees in conducting and composition. But there is one common thread uniting all of Curtis' programs: experiential learning is a must. Aspiring conductors, for example, can expect to lead both rehearsals and performances for one of the many on-campus ensembles. Many also take advantage of off-campus residencies to further hone their skills. Similarly, composition majors start working with faculty members in their freshman year to compose pieces that their fellow classmates will perform during recitals.

  3. Madonna University

    Livonia, MI


    $ $ $ $ $

    Madonna University's Crusaders are spoiled for choice when it comes to music programs. Alongside the more typical performance and theory degrees are a few niche options, like the Bachelor of Arts in Music Management and the Bachelor of Music in Film Music Scoring. These unique programs offer an alternative to instrumentation and vocal ability, instead focusing on the technical and business skills that are so crucial to succeeding in the industry today. Students can even partner with cinema and broadcast majors for joint project work. So as far as affordable colleges for a music degrees goes, Madonna doesn't just qualify by net price; it will also save you money by preparing you for a variety of relevant careers.

  4. North Greenville University

    Tigerville, SC


    $ $ $ $ $

    A Christ-centered and Bible-based education is at the heart of NGU's mission. As such, you can expect all programs of study to include survey courses in both the Old and New Testament. These classes will be particularly applicable to learners who opt to major in church music, which prepares graduates to develop music programs for churches, work as a worship pastor, or even become a Christian music performer. Beyond the classroom, students at this top small music school can participate in work-study programs right in the music department or join one of the school's bands - which might help them qualify for scholarships.

  5. Converse College

    Spartanburg, SC


    $ $ $ $ $

    Converse's low net price and multiplicity of music programs contribute to its top position on this affordable college music programs ranking. But the benefits of attending this small college don't end there; a fantastic 7:1 student-teacher ratio and theme-based music majors only strengthen its appeal to undergrads far and wide. And the Petrie School of Music truly has something for everyone, whether you're interested in "Performing," "Teaching," or "Exploring" new genres. The school's other themed categories include "Creating," which houses programs in composition and contemporary music/media applications, and "Healing," which includes one of the country's few dedicated bachelor's degrees in Music Therapy. Participants in the latter program must complete clinical rotations and a six-month internship before taking the national certification exam.

  6. Gardner-Webb University

    Boiling Springs, NC


    $ $ $ $ $

    A Baptist-affiliated school located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb integrates Christian ethics and values into its education. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the school offers a Bachelor of Music in Worship Leadership, a degree program that encourages participants to "serve others through music." Program members take a deep dive into the theory and principles of sacred music while also fulfilling required performance hours. Graduates leave Gardner-Webb prepared to tackle the challenges of providing compelling and meaningful church music, making this the perfect small college for music majors who want to study music in service of their faith.

  7. Hardin-Simmons University

    Abilene, TX


    $ $ $ $ $

    Like many other schools on this best college music programs ranking, Hardin-Simmons offers music education degrees along with its performance-based majors. But this school goes a step further; rather than simply earning their diploma in general music, future teachers can take advantage of concentrated curricula in either choral or instrumental education. Both courses of study include a senior-year capstone project and mandate at least six-credits of student teaching. But even if you don't plan to be an educator, you and your classmates can try out for any one of the school's nine ensembles. You might even consider joining the only-in-Texas Cowboy Band. This group is known its eye-catching cowboy costumes and performance of the up-tempo "cow-step."

  8. Anderson University

    Anderson, SC


    $ $ $ $ $

    Anderson University's long-standing affiliation with the Church of God serves as a foundation for its many faith-based undergraduate programs, including a major in church music. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, and less religious students will find plenty of fantastic small college music programs to suit their interests, too. For example, Broadway hopefuls can immerse themselves in the musical theater major, which gives participants hands-on experience in producing and performing in shows. And if you'd rather be off stage, the songwriting major will impart the basics of music marketing and licensing alongside music theory and history. Niche options like these help Anderson stand out among its competitors.

  9. Augustana University

    Sioux Falls, SD


    $ $ $ $ $

    Augustana College doesn't just have a strong set of undergraduate music degrees; it also boasts 12 on-campus music ensembles and a Department of Vocal Studies - with its own student podcast! Areas of study at this affordable small music school include music performance, composition, education, and more. Plus, music majors in all programs have ample opportunities to perform: In addition to playing at four on-campus concert halls, touring groups frequently travel both domestically and internationally. (In 2015, the choir travelled to Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.) Ambitious undergrads can also choose to join one of the many student-run music service fraternities and groups, where they can organize or participate in professional activities and service projects.

  10. Birmingham-Southern College

    Birmingham, AL


    $ $ $ $ $

    BSC's music department has its roots in the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. With its storied history of providing top-notch music education, BSC is recognized today as one of the best colleges for a music degree. Undergrads can choose from three bachelor's degrees, including the unique Bachelor of Musical Arts. The BMA enables program members to pair their passion for music with another non-musical area of study. If you choose this route you'll have two years to decide on your two concentrations, at which point an advisor will help you design an official course plan. Regardless of which degree program you choose, you have the option to apply for one of BSC's generous performance-based scholarships to help offset your degree costs.

Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable small music colleges? Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s  Net Price Calculator Center .

See also:  50 Best Value Colleges for Homeschoolers


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