Technology to the Rescue: A Strategy for Successful College Placement

Mike Lawson • Technology • February 20, 2012

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Have you thought about your legacy? And I don’t mean in terms of reputation or trail of awards, but the impact on students and their future. Even though music teachers are among the busiest on campus – what with never-ending lesson plans, rehearsals, assessments, adjudication, field trips, concerts, shows, fundraisers, meetings, and a mountain of management – helping place talented music students in college is not something that should be left solely to guidance counselors and parents.  In fact, for students considering studying music at the next level, the music teacher may be their most influential resource.

Another way to think about it is that assisting with college placement for students who desire to pursue music participation at the collegiate level, whether in ensembles or as a music major or minor, is the ultimate thank you for all their years of practice, dedicated participation, and contribution to the success of your program.

Technology can help, too, by better motivating students to achieve higher levels of musicianship required for college placement and as a means of plugging into the network of the many college ensemble directors who are out there looking for talented young musicians to keep their programs thriving. There are a number of strategic college recruitment plans worth considering.


First, encourage private music study with weekly recordings made for student self-assessment. This will aid both short and long-term musical development. Technology-oriented motivation can be an essential ingredient. Programs like SmartMusic can do this and be an efficient management tool for the teacher, too, with MP3 files sent over the Internet to a grade book that handles the assessment and grading automatically. Recordings can also be used to assess for seating and chair challenges. Portable digital recorders are fast and easy to use. Private teachers should also be encouraged to do this on a regular basis to build accountability among those taking weekly lessons.

Share Success Stories 

Share the stories of students you helped place in college music programs and scholarships, where appropriate. As juniors, seniors, and their parents pursue college placement, it can be helpful for them to hear about the successes of other alumni. This can ease students and parents past the stresses of the present and work with a clearer vision toward long-term goals. Invite alumni or their parents to speak in a rehearsal or at parent booster meetings about their experience and what proved to be important in their successful placement process.

Audition for Honor Bands

Students should be encouraged to audition for local, state, and college honor bands, including all-state and all-county ensembles. These auditions can serve as first taste of what students might face during their college auditions, and that experience can pay dividends in confidence and skill when auditioning for college placement and scholarships. College-level etudes or solos for honor band auditions need several months of preparation to master technique, phrasing, and tone production. When students participate in solo & ensemble festivals, it is possible to introduce them to significant solo repertoire for college auditions. It would be particularly smart after solo & ensemble festival to set up a recording session for students who are considering college music studies. In time, these students will have several college-level solos already recorded to include on the demo recording which they can share with college faculty members.

Coordinate College Searches

Stay in touch with parents and the school guidance counselors to help guide students to appropriate colleges based on their cumulative index score of high school class ranking and ACT and SAT scores, as well as factors like distance, size, cost, and opportunities for scholarships. Never take communication for granted or opportunities will slip away.  Once a few colleges are recommended, the music teacher can begin to open a dialogue, introducing the student to appropriate college faculty members and help them explore possibilities.

College Recruitment

Recruiting is an art all its own. Occasional e-mails to representatives of various state and private colleges establish relationships good for brainstorming about what instruments they’re looking for, and can provide valuable information for your students. Ensemble directors and applied music faculty are always looking for good referrals. Stay in the loop. Do a web search of each college to find out whom to contact. The college music department URL will often appear with a pull-down menu for a faculty directory. You can identify the ensemble director and applied teachers by instrument with their e-mail addresses and phone numbers for direct inquiry.

Build a Relationship through Demo Recordings

While admissions applications and conversations are a good beginning, a strong demo recording can establish a firmer relationship between the student and the college faculty and band/orchestra director. Or, one can post the individual student recordings on a website or blog for the college teachers to easily access without clumsy FTP downloading or snail-mailing a CD. This also makes readily recordings available to multiple colleges simultaneously in the recruiting process.

Recordings are also a valuable recruiting tool for college music departments. Feel free to request online recordings of the college ensembles the student is interested in visiting.  Sometimes colleges will send applicants a CD, but a URL makes it easy to assess the quality and creativity of a college band or orchestra program.  It is important that the student’s music teacher also listen to the recordings as an objective third-party appraiser who can help counsel the student.

I’ve had students design their own jewel case for their audition CD to illustrate the depth of their ownership. I recently had a student audition on both tuba and alto saxophone who was offered a full four-year scholarship for each instrument based on his digital recordings. From start to finish, it was actually an enjoyable process recording and producing his audition CD. The audition repertory ought to include scales, etudes, and solos, plus a jazz component if possible. You can listen to a sample audition CD I helped a student make on a Superscope PSD450 with an external stereo microphone in a high school auditorium at:

Successful Campus Visit

Another purpose for a demo recording, besides presenting the student’s musicianship, would be to prompt the faculty member to invite the student and parents for a campus visit. A visit is much more than satisfying curiosity. This is an important opportunity to assess if the student is compatible with the instructor and what that instructor has to offer in terms of pedagogical insight on the student’s sound production and musicianship. In addition, other activities should be scheduled. Below is a sample itinerary of one day in a campus visit arranged for a student of mine by a conscientious faculty member and smart recruiter at Adams State College in Colorado:

  • 10a.m. Visit Intro to Music Lit class
  • 11a.m. Visit Theory I class
  • 12p.m. Lunch with students
  • 1p.m. Warm-up
  • 1:30p.m. Audition/lesson with applied teacher
  • 2p.m. Campus tour
  • 3p.m. Visit and perform with Brass Choir
  • 4:30p.m. Visit and perform with Wind Ensemble

Resume Hints

While the music recording is essential, a good resume reinforces the necessary facts about the student’s coursework and personal music, and academic achievements including national test scores and high school class ranking. Most high school students need some assistance to better structure their resumes beyond what is offered in their language arts classes.

As a music teacher, you are uniquely qualified to help shape a student resume to their best advantage.  The resume market has progressed dynamically in recent years. My web site,, offers suggestions on how to structure a resume.  The PowerPoint presentation gives step-by-step instructions. The first URL link provides important features of a dynamic resume. For a good template for a resume, I recommend downloading the following resume and pasting in the student’s vital information. A good resume template can be downloaded here: For examples of student resumes, visit this articles web supplement

Closing Comments

Technology is now a big part of successful college matchmaking. Networking with e-mail, internet searches, web pages, blogs, and inexpensive, high quality digital audio recordings have become standard operation for music teachers and college faculty aspiring to place high school musicians. Answering machines and “snail” mail can’t compete with the convenience of the new electronic communication. Technology can also help establish comfortable networking relationships that will benefit students seeking to continue their music education in college. This systematic approach will crown the legacy of your excellent music program as it affects the future lives of your students.

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