Demystifying the college application/audition process
For any student going through the college admission process there is always going to be a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety.   But one of the most daunting of college admissions processes has got to be the jazz audition.  Because I have gone through this process myself, and because I have helped many private students through this process, I want to start demystifying the application/audition process for those of you out there who are going through it now. 

The Big Picture
There is the long term issue of how to make a career in jazz which Todd Bishop frames nicely on his blog Cruise Ship Drummer.  Although this conversation is an important and relevant one, this is not the issue that I want to address here.  Instead I want to talk about what I see as the most important first step in figuring out whether or not to apply to a college jazz program. 

The first step
The first thing to do to figure out if you should apply to a jazz studies program is to honestly assess if, and how much, you love jazz music.  This may seem like an obvious point, but if you are not sincerely passionate about jazz music, then pursuing a degree in jazz is beyond futile. 

One of the first questions I ask my students who are applying to jazz programs is, "what jazz do you listen too?".  The underlying question is if you aren't listening to jazz now, what is the point of dedicating your college education to it? A jazz degree is not for the faint of heart.  If you check out Todd's article you will see how challenging and bleak the employment prospects for jazz musicians really are.  So you should start this process by doing some real soul-searching to see if you can assess your own passion for jazz.

What do you want to do?
Lots of students who are applying to colleges have no idea what they want to do, or if they do have an idea, they may realize once they are in college that it is the wrong idea for them.  This is certainly the case for many jazz students as well, so don't worry if you are feeling some ambivalence about becoming a jazz major.  My point is not that you should feel the need to major in jazz with religious clarity, rather that the college application process is a great time to start trying to evaluate your long-term ambitions.  Here are some specific recommendations to help you clarify your feelings:

-Talk to your teachers and parents to get their feedback and perspective
-Talk to any professional jazz musicians you may know about what their college experience was like if they went to college.  If they didn't go to college ask them about whether or not they regret that choice, and how it has affected their career?
-Talk to students who are currently in jazz programs to see what their experience is like
-Talk to your fellow student musicians to see what they are feeling like about applying to college jazz programs.  Compare what they say to your own feelings.
-Ask yourself about your long-term goals, for example the ideal balance between money, family, and work
-Try imagining yourself in different careers, what can you see yourself doing?
-Think about your background and your unique set of skills, what do you have that other people don't, and what type of career does that set of skills most clearly relate to?

If you go through these recommendations, and you feel strongly like applying to a jazz program is a good move for you, it is time to go on to the next step, finding the right program.  My sincere hope is that these articles can give you some clarity along the way.  I will discuss the process of finding the right program for you in the next article.