PhD Application

Applying for the PhD Degree

Applicants should begin by completing and submitting the online application via The Graduate School. The PhD is administered by The Graduate School but is taught by Bienen School faculty. Applications for the PhD in Composition, Music Education, Musicology and Music Theory/Cognition are due December 1, 2017.

Main application data for PhD programs in Music at Northwestern are accepted through the online application system administered by The Graduate School. In addition to completing the online application form, candidates should submit/upload the following:

  1. CV or musical résumé detailing your academic and professional history, which should be uploaded within your online application to The Graduate School.
  2. Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  Official GRE scores are required for applicants to all PhD programs in the Department of Music Studies. Official scores must be taken no more than five years before the intended quarter of entry and must come directly from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Personal copies are not considered official, nor are attested or notarized copies. Please instruct ETS to send scores electronically to the Northwestern University Graduate School, code 1565.
  3. Certifying English Proficiency (TOEFL, IELTS). Much of your success in graduate study will rely on your ability to understand, read, write, and speak English. If your native language is not English, you must certify your proficiency in the English language in one of the following three ways:

    1. Provide official scores electronically for either the TOEFL or IELTS exam. The test must be taken no more than two years before the intended quarter of entry. For example, to be considered valid for Fall 2014 admission, TOEFL scores must be no older than September 2012. For the TOEFL, you must score 577 or higher on the paper-based test, or 90 or higher on the internet-based test. For the IELTS, you must receive a score of 7.0 or higher. You will be asked to scan and upload a copy of your score report (if available) while submitting your online application. This uploaded version is not considered “official” and will be used only for preliminary review purposes until your official scores have been received from ETS or IELTS.
    2. Provide official transcripts verifying an undergraduate degree from an accredited four-year institution or equivalent, where the language of instruction is English.
    3. Provide official transcripts verifying a graduate degree from an accredited institution where the language of instruction is English.
  4. Official transcripts. Submit official transcripts from each post-secondary institution you have attended. The transcript must record all courses taken, all grades received, and all degrees earned. These must be scanned into your application—The Graduate School will not accept mailed copies of your transcript(s) during the admission process. Official mailed copies will be requested should you gain acceptance to the PhD program.
  5. Letters of recommendation. At least two letters of recommendation are required, and you will be prompted to enter your recommender information during the online admission process.

Program-specific Required Materials

The PhD is offered in the areas of Composition, Music Education, Musicology and Music Theory/Cognition. In addition to the requirements listed above, you are required to submit the following materials for your intended area of study. 


  • A complete list of works written, giving dates and instrumentation AND a complete list of composition performances, including dates, venues, and performers. This should be submitted as one document under Writing Sample
  • An analysis of a musical work composed no earlier than 1950. This should be uploaded to Supplemental Document Section 1.
  • A second analytical or music history paper. This should be uploaded to Supplemental Document Section 2.
  • A composition portfolio consisting of three to five representative compositions. These works should incorporate a variety of media and show familiarity with current trends. The works should be uploaded as one document to Supplemental Document Section 3. Recordings of the pieces, though not required, are preferred. If they are available, please provide links at the top of each score to external sites, such as a personal website, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.
Based on a preliminary review of the composition portfolio, candidates may be invited to campus. Candidates should plan to be on campus for the entire day to interview with the composition faculty.

Music Theory and Cognition

Provide one or more substantial research papers on a freely chosen topic that demonstrate your ability to write and conduct research in music theory and cognition at the doctoral level. Papers must include appropriate scholarly references.


Provide one or more substantial research papers on a freely chosen topic that demonstrate your ability to write and conduct research in musicology or ethnomusicology at the doctoral level. Papers must include appropriate scholarly references.

Music Education

  • Provide an essay discussing the following:  Of the issues, problems, and trends currently discussed in the field of music education,
    • Which do you think are the most important issues for the future?
    • How do you envision becoming involved in leadership activities which address these issues?
    • How will your study here enhance your goals?
      (Essay paper requirements: six or seven typed pages; one-inch margins; double-spaced; twelve-point font; Times New Roman preferred)
  • Three total letters of recommendation that address your teaching experience, musicianship, and suitability for graduate study.
  • Upload a video recording that demonstrates the best of your teaching ability and musicianship. You may choose to submit a sample of several representative clips of your teaching, totaling no more than 30 minutes. During at least one of these teaching episodes, demonstrate your musicianship by using your primary instrument or voice to model for students. This musical example should be lengthy and demonstrate the quality of your musicianship. Please attach a brief description of the setting and your goals for each teaching episode. This video will be uploaded to a supplementary online form that will be available soon.
  • Example of scholarly writing. This could be something from a previous writing project (e.g. MA thesis or research paper).

You should upload these materials to the online application via The Graduate School. However, if you are unable to upload the materials to the application due to a large file size or an unconventional format, you should upload these supplemental materials to the Office of Music Admission and Financial Aid. Digital media can be sent via flash drive or DVD. If you wish to link to media on your personal website or private YouTube channel, please upload these links with an explanatory document to your online application. Emailed attachments and/or emailed links to external sites will not be accepted.

Mailed materials should arrive in our office by the application deadline of December 1. Please address all mailed materials to:

Office of Music Admission and Financial Aid
Attn.: PhD Application Processing
70 Arts Circle
Evanston, IL 60208-2405

For questions on submitting supplemental materials to the PhD, email us at or call (847) 491-3141.

Northwestern University does not discriminate or permit discrimination by any member of its community against any individual on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, parental status, marital status, age, disability, citizenship, or veteran status in matters of admission, employment, housing, or services or in the education program or activities it operates.

For More Information

Program statistics

TOEFL information

PhD curriculum

Request information from the Bienen School of Music.