Behind every Berklee Online decision letter is a successfully completed application, and an Applicant Advisor who has reviewed it, like Quan Yao Lim. A Berklee alum who studied music production and composition, Lim has reviewed hundreds of Berklee Online applications. If you are applying to Berklee Online, the undergraduate and graduate degree requirements pages are a great place to start, and should be your go-to source. You’ll also want to take a close look at this article, where Lim speaks candidly about exactly what he and the rest of the Application Processing team are looking for when they review an application.
“On the Application Processing team, each advisor is responsible for managing a different program, and what I bring to the table is my music production and composition background,” says Lim. “It’s really satisfying to know that I play a role in helping prospective students get one step closer to realizing their creative and career potential at Berklee Online.”
Components of an Application
Let’s start by reviewing the main components of a Berklee Online application.
The first component that the Application Processing team reviews is a student’s transcripts. For undergraduate students this is proof of secondary school or high school completion, and for graduate students this is proof of a bachelor’s degree. Applicant Advisors are looking to see how you have performed academically in the past, but more importantly, to see if you’re set up for future success in a Berklee Online degree program.
“It’s helpful for us to look at transcripts and see if the applicant has taken any music courses in the past,” says Lim. “For example, if someone who has a degree in medicine suddenly wants to study with us at Berklee Online, what’s the reason? Do they have a good music foundation? Obviously we look at everything holistically, but those are the things we look for.”
That said, a considerable portion of Berklee Online’s student body includes people who decide to switch paths later in life, including more than one person with a degree in medicine!
Background in Music
Applicable to both undergraduate and graduate applicants, here is where you talk all about your experiences with music and/or the entertainment industry. What kind of instruments do you play? What kind of music education have you received up to this point? Have you taken any private lessons? What kind of gigs have you performed? Have you played in an ensemble? Have you been learning about DAWs on your own? These are all kinds of questions that you should be thinking about.
Also applicable to both levels, this is where you talk about your career goals and what you envision for your future in music. Do you want to be a producer? Do you want to be a film composer? Do you want to be a sound designer? A performer? A music educator? Discuss what you want to achieve through Berklee Online and after you graduate.
Project Description (Graduate)
If you are applying to a graduate program, you are also asked to describe a project that you intend to pursue in the program and how it will foster your academic, musical, and professional growth. For the Music Business and Interdisciplinary Music Studies graduate programs, there is also a brief industry analysis that you should include in your personal statement, which we will talk about more further down.
You could submit the same personal statement to a variety of schools, but we want to hear why you are applying to Berklee Online. Is it because of the faculty members? Or is it because of the course content? Is it because of the curriculum or the people you’ll get to meet? Let us know!
This component ties into “Why Berklee?” and is a bit of an exclusive tip that we’re providing right here in this article, as it’s not explicitly expressed on the admission requirement pages. We are looking for community contribution and how you want to take advantage of what Berklee Online can offer. If you seek to network with other students and collaborate on projects, that is a great sign!
“We find it really exciting when students have a clear plan on what they’re going to do at Berklee Online,” says Lim. “Especially if there’s a specific instructor who they want to learn from because they’ve been following their career.”
Another exclusive tip we’ll give you here is to pay attention to the specific courses that Berklee Online offers and share which ones you want to take. Basically, we want to see that you want to be a part of Berklee Online’s vibrant, diverse music community.
Letters of Recommendation
The third component is your two letters of recommendation. Berklee Online requires two letters of recommendation for both undergraduate (one academic/professional, one personal) and graduate programs (two academic/professional). Though it’s not always possible, you should strive to pick someone who can talk about their experience working with you and speak to your character and work ethic. These always leave more of an impression than a generic letter of recommendation.
“Personally I love reading letters from music teachers,” says Lim. “When someone can mention something about their musical activities, or how they contributed to an orchestra or ensemble. Do they have the determination to practice on their own? Do they have music theory knowledge? Usually teachers can elaborate on this. I would really recommend getting a letter of recommendation from a music teacher if you can.”
If you do not have a music teacher who can write a letter, a former school counselor or someone who can speak to your volunteer experience are also great options.
Demonstration of Musicianship (For Certain Undergraduate Programs)
The final component is the demonstration of musicianship for the following undergraduate degree programs: Guitar, Piano, Voice, Songwriting and Producing Music, and Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games. If you are applying to any of these programs, you are required to submit a two- to four-minute unedited video of yourself performing an original piece or cover. The production value is not as important as being able to demonstrate your musicianship and technique.
“Obviously we like seeing well-produced videos, but the most important thing that we look for is whether we can see your face and hands with the instruments,” says Lim. “And the video needs to be one take and unedited. We do pay more attention to your musicianship, your rhythm, tone, dynamics, instead of how put together the video is.”
Another submission option for the Songwriting and Producing Music and Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games majors is to share recordings of two original compositions with PDFs of notation. Again, the emphasis is less on the quality of the recording, but the musicianship demonstrated.
“Applicants will not be evaluated on the production quality of the recordings,” says Lim. “But we do put more emphasis on compositional aesthetics and ideas. Do they use harmony well? Are there strong melodic themes? Those are things that we pay attention to.”
Additional Assets for Graduate Programs
Because the graduate programs are obviously more rigorous than the bachelor’s degree programs, they require additional application materials. This includes a résumé or CV, and a copy of your bachelor’s degree diploma.
“Graduate applicants are held to a higher standard,” says Lim. “So, we require a résumé to see if they have worked in their specific field.”
Additionally, anyone who is applying to a graduate Music Production, Film Scoring, Songwriting, or Interdisciplinary Music Studies program must submit a portfolio with specific requirements, which are listed on the graduate admission requirements page. Each graduate application is assigned to a specific Applicant Advisor who has expertise in the subject area. Because Lim has a background in music production, these are the applications that he reviews.
“Let’s say if you want to apply to the Music Production master’s program, I try to see if you have any experience in working in studio recording environments,” says Lim. “Were you a producer, songwriter, mixing engineer, mastering engineer? What was your role in these projects and what kind of DAWs and plug-ins have you used? What kind of sound samples did you use? What’s the story behind the song? I would like to read that in your portfolio.”
As mentioned earlier, those applying to the Music Business and Interdisciplinary Music Studies master’s programs must submit an industry analysis. This is a brief analysis of the current state of the music and entertainment industry, identifying professional opportunities that interest you.
“Aside from the experience that we’re looking for, you should also be aware of current trends and share what kind of insights you have,” says Lim.
Does Submitting Your Application Early Make a Difference?
The time that you submit your application does not play a role in whether or not you are accepted or denied. We guarantee a decision within two weeks of receiving all of your materials, no matter when you submit. However, it’s advantageous to submit your application and materials as soon as you can. This is because there can be delays outside of your control that will cause you to be deferred to the next semester. Most commonly it’s a delay in receiving transcripts or letters of recommendation.
“We process applications on a first-come, first-served basis,” says Lim. “The later they complete their process, the higher chance of them being deferred because sometimes not everyone can get their application materials in on time. So sometimes when the submission deadline has passed and they’re not able to gather the required information and documents, then they will have to defer to the following semester.”
If you have studied outside of the US or Canada (this includes studying abroad), then there are some additional steps to the application process. You can review the undergraduate and graduate international student pages for specifics. Basically your academic records will need to be assessed in relation to US standards.
“International student documents need to be verified by either a third party evaluation team or our Berklee Online in-house evaluation team,” says Lim. “Documents need to be translated and they also need to come directly from the issuing institution or authority. So this can take up some time.”
This goes back to Lim’s point about why it is beneficial to submit your application early, because while all the components within your control can be submitted, a hold up in attaining your credential verification could cause a delay.
Common Themes in a Successful Application
If you’re wondering what the secret ingredient is to a successful application, Lim shares a point worth repeating: community contribution.
“When students have a clear idea of how they can make full use of Berklee Online’s resources, then that’s a good student in my mind,” says Lim. “Do they want to connect with other people and network? Are they open to new ideas and new people? Do they want to join Berklee’s diverse and vibrant community? Have they been stretching themselves academically and creatively? I like to see applicants who have really done their research and can really explain well why they specifically choose Berklee.”
Berklee Online offers rolling admissions with quarterly semester starting dates in January, April, June, and September. After your application is submitted and materials are received, you can expect a decision within two weeks. Start your application now!