Fall 2020 Admission

USC Thornton applicants are strongly encouraged to audition live on campus rather than via recording (where permitted). Typically for live auditions, certain instruments are scheduled on Saturday and other instruments are scheduled on Sunday. Specific determinations regarding this are not made until audition scheduling begins after the prescreening review is complete. Therefore, it is recommended that applicants planning to audition live in Los Angeles keep their schedule open for the full weekend until their audition appointment is confirmed.

Because of the prescreen requirement for most Thornton programs, please do not make travel plans or purchase tickets until you have received official notification that your audition has been scheduled.

2020 audition dates are as follows:

  • January 25 & 26, 2020: Most programs hold auditions on specific dates. Details regarding dates for each program will be posted when available.
  • January 28, 2020: Artist Diploma Final Round (tentative)
  • February 7 & 8, 2020: Keyboard Collaborative Arts only
  • February 8 & 9, 2020: Most programs hold auditions on specific dates. Details regarding dates for each program will be posted when available.

2020 overflow audition dates are as follows:

  • February 15 & 16, 2020: In the event that auditions fill up for classical Piano or Vocal Arts, additional audition times will be scheduled for this weekend, however appointments are assigned for the previous two dates before this final weekend is opened.

Applicants are urged to carefully review audition requirements for their particular major in the application requirements section of this website. Applicants who indicate during the application process that they plan to perform an audition in Los Angeles will automatically be scheduled for an audition appointment until the schedule is full. Some exceptions to this standard procedure are listed below. Email confirmation of the audition appointment will be issued to the applicant at the email address provided in the application from the Thornton admission office once it is scheduled.

Recorded auditions (where applicable): For applicants wishing to audition with a recording rather than a live audition, your recording must be uploaded to SlideRoom by Friday, January 17, 2020. Applicants auditioning for programs that require a prescreen review are still required to send a prescreen recording by December 1. The applicant may use the prescreen recording as their final audition (as long as the prescreen recording also contains the live audition repertoire requirements) or submit a second recording by the January 17 deadline as desired.

Please also note the following policies which affect many Thornton programs.

  • Some Choral and Sacred Music applicants, based on review of the required prescreen recording, will be invited by the faculty to perform an audition in Los Angeles. Auditions for Choral and Sacred Music Master’s and Doctoral applicants will not be held on the regular Los Angeles audition dates, but will take place on dates to be arranged at the time of invitation. Choral and Sacred Music applicants are REQUIRED to perform a live audition, if invited.
  • Auditions are not automatically scheduled for Organ applicants. Applicants are encouraged to contact the organ department at (213) 740-7703 to make arrangements for the required audition.
  • All Popular Music and Production applicants are required to perform a live audition in Los Angeles.
  • DMA applicants are required to perform a live audition in Los Angeles if invited. Similarly, all Vocal Arts applicants applying for a Graduate Certificate are required to perform a live audition in Los Angeles.

Undergraduate Theory Test

Undergraduate applicants are required to complete a theory test while on campus for a live audition. The test will measure proficiency in basic theory and aural skills. Students are given up to 60 minutes to complete the test. Test results alone will not prevent a student from being admitted to USC or the Thornton School. The Thornton Admission office cannot release exam details in advance of the actual exam. Inquiries regarding the content of the exam will not be answered.

Written Examination for DMA Applicants

All DMA applicants must take a Doctoral Academic Admission Examination in person at USC Thornton. (Exception: Applicants to programs in Choral Music, Early Music, and Sacred Music are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and are thus NOT required to take this written examination). Exams are offered on all audition weekends, and specific exam times are announced in December or early January.

This written examination reflects the types of critical inquiry with which doctoral-level courses at USC Thornton engage. The examination will be assessed by academic faculty in the DMA program as a measure of an applicant’s readiness for the academic rigors and multi-disciplinary structure of the DMA program. This assessment will be one of several important components considered by the faculty in order to reach a final admission decision for each DMA applicant.

In order to allow for sufficient time to both perform the audition and take the examination, DMA applicants who are invited for a live audition must plan to be available for the full weekend of auditions (i.e., all day Saturday and all day Sunday).

The written examination will be administered in two sequential sections:

  1. Conceptual Essay: Applicants will be given an essay prompt about an issue or issues in the music profession today. Applicants will be asked to write a short essay exploring various aspects of the topic(s) introduced by the prompt, responding to specific questions and drawing on their own experience, knowledge, and opinions as appropriate.
  2. Analytical Essay: Applicants will be given a scholarly/literary text on a music-related topic. Applicants will be asked to respond in essay form to a series of analytical questions relating to the text provided. The analytical issues may concern basic music theory (possibly with reference to a short example in musical notation), music history, and/or aesthetics.

Applicants will be given a total of three hours to complete both sections of the examination. The examination will be administered in a computer lab, where applicants will type their responses on the computer terminals provided. Online access will be disabled during the examination and use of personal electronic devices will not be permitted. Applicants may use an unmarked hard-copy dictionary (English/foreign language), which the examination proctor may inspect at the start of examination.

It is important to note that the Doctoral Academic Admission Examination is not an examination for which students are generally able to study or prepare. It is not designed to examine factual knowledge, but rather the ability to think analytically and express critical thought in academic language, as this is the type of work that is required for graduate-level academic courses at USC Thornton. While the content of the Doctoral Academic Admission Examination may be drawn from a wide range of scholarly sources, it may be helpful to refer to the following publications by our own faculty:

  • Barrett, Janet & Peter Webster: The Musical Experience: Rethinking Music Teaching and Learning.
  • Brown, Bruce: W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte (Cambridge Opera Handbook)
  • Demers, Joanna: Anatomy of Thought-Fiction: CHS Report, April 2214
  • Foster, Kenneth J: Performing Arts Presenting: From Theory to Practice
  • Gordon, Stewart: Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas: A Handbook for Performers
  • Nye, Sean. “Sprockets + Autobahn: Kraftwerk Parodies, German Electronic Music, and Retro Dreams in Amerika.” In Dreams of Germany: Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to the Dance Floor. Neil Gregor and Thomas Irvine, eds.
  • Page, Tim: On Music: Views and Reviews
  • Simms, Bryan: The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923
  • Sloan, Nate. Switched on Pop (blog with Charlie Harding). // .


Audition confirmation is sent via EMAIL ONLY by the end of December. Please do NOT make travel plans or reservations until you have received email confirmation of your specific audition appointment. Students traveling to Los Angeles for an audition may wish to make reservations at USC Hotel.

Spring 2020 Admission

Applicants for the spring semester of 2020 must make arrangements for an audition by directly working with the department of their major. Applicants must contact the appropriate department by October 10 to make/confirm audition arrangements. For contact information of various Thornton departments click here.

Last updated: August 1, 2019