In the Spring of 2005, I decided I wanted to pursue further academic studies in music, specifically in the form of a PhD in music theory. I wanted to post all the materials from my PhD application in music theory so that other potential music theory PhD applicants (and perhaps other musicology or humanities applicants) can see exactly what goes into a fairly successful PhD application. Every applicant is unique, of course, so on some level, all of this information is completely useless now that my applications are over. However, when I was working on these applications, I would have really benefited from seeing exactly how someone else put together a successful application since I wasn’t enrolled in college at the time and did not have the traditional support network that people still in a university environment have. I put a lot of time and effort into these applications, basically creating everything from scratch. I ramped down my hours at work to part-time starting in May 2005 and spent most of the rest of my free time from then until the application due dates working on tasks related to the applications themselves. A lot of this time was just reading and research, trying to get back into the academic swing of music theory, trying to get my piano chops back, trying to tackle reading German, etc. — activities not directly related to the applications.

To summarize the outcome of all my work, here were the final offers of admissions from the four programs to which I was accepted:

My personal statements (or statements of purpose) for each school were fairly similar. I would customize each school’s statement with some quotes from faculty members that I dug out of music theory articles, but that might have been pretty cheesy. I guess it worked OK, though. I had to cut the statement for Columbia down significantly since, oddly, they have a 500-word limit instead of the apparent 1,000-word standard. Here they are:

I should also mention that the rest of my application was fairly strong, too. I studied pretty hard for the GRE, spending about an hour a day for two months before the test drilling vocabulary and taking practice tests. I also was very lucky to get some of my old profs (with whom I hadn’t communicated in years) to write what must have been pretty good recommendations. Here are the rest of the compenents to my application to give the most accurate picture possible:

  • Letter of Reference from Prof. Steven Stucky, Cornell University, Pulitzer Prize winning composer
  • Letter of Reference from Prof. Kofi Agawu, Princeton University, music theorist and ethnomusicologist
  • Letter of Reference from Prof. Kenneth Peacock, NYU, Department Chair of Music Technology
  • GRE scores : 800 Math – 790 Verbal – 6.0 Analytical Writing
  • Cornell University transcript for B.A. in Music Theory/Composition, GPA: 3.63, cum laude in composition
  • NYU transcript for M.M. in Music Technology, GPA: 3.98
  • Cleveland Institue of Electronics transcript for A.A.S. in Electronics Engineering Technology, GPA: 3.96
  • Resume

So that’s about it, I think. Oh, well I should mention that I ended up accepting Eastman’s offer of admission. It was an agonizing, excruciating, difficult decision having to choose between such programs, all of which are so well renowned. In the end, I felt like the faculty at Eastman would be more sympathetic to my interests in pop and rock music analysis. I also felt like it would be good for me to get a conservatory training considering my liberal arts background, especially given the reality that many if not most music theory jobs are in conservatory-type settings. Those two reasons may seem like complete opposites, but it’s just that dichotomy which seemed to exist perfectly at Eastman.