Applying to Ethnomusicology Grad Schools: Part Two

Hey there, intrepid readers. This is Liza, your first-year ethnomusicology graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I recently read Matthew Wolf-Meyer’s article on applying to anthropology graduate programs, (here’s the link: and felt inspired to add further thoughts of my own on grad applications in the ethnomusicology world.

This time a year ago, I was probably finishing up my eleven applications. Wolf-Meyer’s suggestions reminded me of something important – what I would change about my own application process if I did it all over again. Here’s what happened – at some point last fall, I did send a flurry of emails to at least one faculty member at each university that would receive an application from me. My advisors suggested I only contact faculty with specific questions, like whether or not said profs will still be teaching at their universities in a year. Faculty without tenure could easily move on to other schools, and those with tenure may have sabbatical or retirement on the near horizon. Hence, it’s a good question to ask. I also wrote to certain professors about their research in relation to my own interests. Yet, if I had a take-two, I would have contacted professors sooner in the process – probably in the summer. As my older and wiser sister explained to me a year ago, acceptance committees see a lot of applications. It’s important to do everything you can to make a personal connection with the people you’re hoping to win over, so that you become more than another piece of paper to them. Remember though, it’s safe to guess that all professors have very little free time. That’s why I completely agree with my advisor’s suggestions – it’s great to ask them brief, clear questions, but it’s not okay to spam their inboxes.

Along the same lines, it’s a great idea to get in touch with other graduate students at the universities you’re considering. I did this after I’d been accepted to schools, via email and in person on three different campus visits. Grad students can often give you quite a different perspective on a department, because it’s far less important to them whether or not you accept their school’s offers. They can likely be honest without fearing repercussions.

While I’d say anthropology and ethnomusicology have a lot in common, I would diverge from one of Wolf-Meyer’s points in his “So You’re Applying to Graduate School (In Anthropology)” post. While he suggests that students do not apply to grad programs directly from undergrad, that’s exactly what I did, and it’s working out for me. If you know in your gut that ethnomusicology is what you want to do, go for it. But really, go for it as an undergrad. I had the advantage of pursuing a special studies major in ethno during college, and that made all the difference. I had enough of an introduction to the field that so far, while grad school is far from easy, I’m not drowning.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all this. Feel free to disagree.



One thought on “Applying to Ethnomusicology Grad Schools: Part Two

  1. I agree with Liza that it’s perfectly fine to apply to grad school straight out of undergrad. I consider that to be my situation, even though I technically had a semester off in between (I graduated from undergrad in Dec. and didn’t start the masters until Aug.). I think the most important thing for me was honestly asking myself: are you ready for grad school? While the answer might not be an unqualified “yes,” I knew I was ready to try right out of undergrad. Taking time off and getting more experience is wonderful (I did this between the masters and PhD), but I think the bottom line should be: are you, as an individual, ready to take on the challenges and pressures of grad school?

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