An associate’s degree awarded by a community college is generally the shortest college degree program you can complete. However, this two-year degree isn’t enough to work in many careers, including music therapy. That doesn’t mean, though, that aspiring music therapists can’t reap the benefits of beginning their studies at a community college. Usually, community college students who wish to become music therapists will begin their studies with an associate’s degree in music, rather than a specialized program in music therapy, with the goal of subsequently completing a bachelor’s degree in music therapy at a four-year school. Before they decide to go for a two-year music degree, aspiring music therapists should carefully consider what the transfer process will entail and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of going to community college.
Associate’s Degree Programs in Music
The two-year curriculum of an associate’s degree is simply not long enough to encompass all of the coursework needed to get a grasp of the clinical practice of music therapy. As a result, you’re unlikely to find a community college that offers an associate’s degree program in music therapy specifically. At the minimum, you will need a bachelor’s degree, with a curriculum that includes extensive fieldwork requirements, to become board-certified as a music therapist.
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However, the curriculum of an Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in music will often serve the dual purpose of helping you complete your general education requirements and start building your knowledge of music foundations. In an associate’s degree program in music, you will typically take classes in music theory, applied music, piano, aural skills, ensembles and sight singing and ear training.
As you work toward your associate’s degree, you will take a series of classes in certain subjects, like music theory and piano, that increase in difficulty over as many as four courses.
Transferring to a Four-Year School for Music Therapy
Although starting your music theory education with an associate’s degree in music is an option, it’s not one that students should choose without considerable research. Otherwise, you could end up taking longer to earn your degree than you expected, wasting time and money in the process.
Although a bachelor’s degree is often referred to as a four-year degree, many music therapy bachelor’s degree programs take longer – often four and a half to five years. This longer timeline to graduation is primarily because programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association must include 1,200 hours of clinical training. However, to accommodate the need for fieldwork, which often includes a full-time internship that lasts up to six months, many programs require students to begin taking their major coursework early.
As a result, transfer students may be at a disadvantage and may need to be in school longer to complete the bachelor’s degree requirements. Some bachelor’s programs in music therapy encourage students to transfer after one year at community college, rather than completing all 60 credits needed to earn an associate’s degree, so that they don’t fall behind in the curriculum.
Different schools have different transfer policies, with some generously accepting all credits and courses and others being very selective. Unfortunately, some four-year schools will not accept a community college music theory course as equivalent to their own.
The Pros and Cons of Community College
There are both good and bad points of a community college education. On one hand, it is often far cheaper to take classes at a community college. The courses and credits themselves are often only a fraction of the costs that you will encounter at four-year colleges and universities. You may also save money on fees and other costs, including the price of on-campus room and board at a four-year school that may be far from your current living situation.
Despite the advantages, students shouldn’t forget about the hassles of transferring to a four-year school. The process isn’t always seamless, especially if you’re transferring between states, which may have different educational and licensing requirements for music therapists. If you aren’t vigilant about making plans for transfers in advance, you may find yourself having to repeat courses at your university – which means paying twice and spending twice the amount of time on the same coursework. You may also take longer to graduate. Historically, many community college students who originally intended to transfer to a four-year program instead cut their education short – which, for an aspiring music therapist, will prevent you from getting started in the career you want.
With many states implementing programs that make community college tuition even more affordable – and in many cases, free – it’s no wonder so many students are interested in starting their education with an associate’s degree.