Application Information

Prospective Student Q&A

Prospective student Q&As are held via Zoom during the application term (mid-October through early December) each year. The application term is currently closed. We encourage students to check this page in Fall 2024 once new Q&A dates are published.

Elements of the Application (More information about these elements is below)

  • A personal statement of approximately 1,000 words.
    The statement should: 1) tell us about your reasons for applying and your relevant prior experience, including how your background and academic experiences have influenced your decision to apply to Penn; 2) describe the area(s) of study and debate in which you are interested; and 3) address your particular interest in our program.

  • A critical writing sample of approximately 20-30 double-spaced pages.
    For Musicologists, Ethnomusicologist, and Theorists: The writing sample must match your interest/concentration. Two papers adding up to 30+ pages or, if you prefer, a single, 25-30 page paper. Font size and style do not matter. Please make sure your name is on each page.

    Composers should submit a shorter paper of approximately 15 pages as part of their application in addition to scores and (if possible) a PDF or Word Document linking to recordings of recent compositions.
  • Three letters of recommendation.
    Letters should be written by professors who know your work and can attest to your academic ability. Please do not submit more than four recommendation letters.
  • Electronic versions of your academic transcripts.
    You can scan an unofficial copy of your transcript to the application. If accepted, you will then need to provide a final, official paper copy of your transcript before you matriculate. 

Application materials must be uploaded online via CollegeNet. Instructions, forms, and a link to the online application are located at 

What you do not need to apply:

GRE is not required.

Campus visits and faculty interviews are not necessary before you apply. In our program, applicants are not expected to work out arrangements with individual faculty members before applying.

There is no foreign language requirement for admission. Once accepted to the program, students must pass two language translation exams (depending on program specialization), before graduating.


What happens after you apply:

A committee of faculty members reviews all applications, decide on a list of finalists, then hold zoom interviews with finalists in January, after which the final decisions are made. Applications may also be read by other members of faculty, who offer their expertise and feedback in evaluating the applicants. The zoom interviews are with the committee only. Decisions for admission are made by the full faculty based on the committee’s recommendations.

If you are accepted, you will be invited to visit campus (usually late February or early March). If you are put on the waitlist, we will stay in regular contact with you. If you are not accepted, you may not hear from us until close to mid-April.


How to write your best possible application

The Music Department admits only students who intend to complete a PhD. We are most interested in your academic preparedness to complete our PhD program, whether you will thrive and grow in it, and whether you will contribute meaningfully to our scholarly and creative community. Your best possible application will help us discern whether you would be a good fit for the very limited spots in our program, and whether our program is well-suited to meet your interests and goals.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is an important part of your application. The admissions committee looks not only at the general background and qualifications of the applicants, but also at the fit between your specific goals and interests, and the kind of research conducted by the members of the graduate group.

In the personal statement, all Ph.D. applications within the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences should address the following: Please describe how your background and academic experiences have influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree and led you to apply to Penn. Your essay should detail your specific research interests and intellectual goals within your chosen field. Please provide information about your educational trajectory, intellectual curiosity and academic ambitions. If you have overcome adversity and/or experienced limited access to resources or opportunities in your field of study, please feel free to share how that has affected the course of your education. We are interested in your lived experiences and how your particular perspective might contribute to the inclusive and dynamic learning community that Penn values and strives to create. 

The most successful statement will demonstrate that you can articulate your interests compellingly, have an understanding of what the PhD work would entail, and show why Penn is a particularly appropriate place for you to study (including how the kinds of work conducted by members of our faculty would support your interests; you can also refer to recently-taught Music seminars and, if relevant, the certificate programs offered at Penn: You should be clear about your goals; it is acceptable to have wide interests or not to be entirely focused yet, but you should show that you understand what it means to pursue advanced study in the areas of interest that you identify. It is helpful to highlight how your prior experiences would put you in a strong position to do the work of a PhD program. However, personal anecdotes about how you became interested in music, or childhood experiences with music, do not generally contribute to the effectiveness of the statement. 


You will need three letters of recommendation from people who are qualified to comment on your academic ability and background. The most effective letters come from those who have worked with you closely, especially on independent research, and who are familiar enough with the field of music studies or composition to understand what abilities are most relevant.

When you include the email addresses of your recommenders in the online application, each will automatically receive an email with an attached recommendation form. This email will allow the recommender to submit a letter electronically. Once the recommender submits the letter, it will be attached to the online application.

Writing Sample

A writing sample, such as a substantial term paper or thesis from previous undergraduate or graduate work, is necessary for the faculty to assess your research experience and academic preparedness. If you only have work from another field, please select a paper that shows the sort of research skills relevant to music. The document should be converted to pdf format and uploaded to the application portal.

Zoom interview

The interview allows us to ask more about your interests and to assess traits such as adaptability, creativity, and capacity for collaboration and collegiality, which are important for PhD work. We also want to hear questions from you.


English language skills

TOEFL, IELTS, or TSE (Test of Spoken English) scores are required for all applicants whose native language is not English. There is no minimum score requirement. The results of these examinations must be submitted and received no later than December 1st. We encourage applicants to include an unofficial PDF of scores in the application as it may expedite completion of the requirement pending receipt of official results.

Applicants may direct their TOEFL scores directly to the department using code D618.

Test scores are not required if an applicant has completed a degree in an institution where English is the primary language.


Applying for Admission to the Graduate Program in Music


Applicants who wish to be considered for funding must ensure that their application and all supporting materials have been uploaded to the application portal no later than December 1st.

Supplementary Application Material

Supplementary materials should be submitted online through the application portal. Please do not submit any physical materials to the department.