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Getting into music college without A-levels may seem impossible, but there’s no need to give up just yet! One student, Harry, and his teacher Jack, are here to tell us about how they did just that.
There are many reasons why your A-level results might not be what you were hoping for. You may have picked a subject that no longer feels relevant. Perhaps you were struggling with lengthy written assessments. An algorithm during a worldwide pandemic might have worked against your results. (Sound familiar?)
Music College without A-levels
Harry Neilson came to Make More Music without the UCAS points needed to get into music college. Determined to study music production at a higher education level, Harry took his A-levels but the grades he got at sixth form didn’t amount to the entry requirements for his chosen college. He was really disappointed – but there was a way forward.
“My goal was to get into Leeds Conservatoire (formerly Leeds College of Music) to study music production but I didn’t do too well in my A-levels,” Harry said in his conversation with us.
“Because I needed more UCAS points to get in, the only option I had was to take a grade 8 exam in drums. But I had never taken a graded exam before.”
Harry had done his research. At grade 6 upwards, graded exams can carry additional UCAS points. This was crucial for Harry. He could top up his current A-level marks with UCAS points gained from a potential grade 8 exam.
Make More Music paired Harry with his drum teacher, Jack. After an initial consultation lesson, they laid out a strategy to get him to the finish line. It was clear that Harry was an experienced, talented player. But without guidance even the most talented drummer would struggle with the requirements of a graded syllabus. Furthermore, grade 8 is the highest grade attainable, which presents an especially challenging journey.
Harry took a year out to focus on this pathway. Utilising the RSL Awards syllabus, he could spend time studying hard to top up his UCAS points whilst he worked on an enticing university application. With RSL Awards, a pass would be worth 18 points, a merit would be worth 24 points and a distinction would be 30 points. Enough to top up his application.
Of course it’s super important to note that this plan was just that: a plan, intended to put Harry in the best possible position. Ultimately, the decision is all down to any individual higher education institution. Entry is never guaranteed. But this pathway would align itself with Harry’s strengths, give him a year to refocus and – if he passed the exam – boost his UCAS points to the required level to get in.
Paired with a strong application form, good references and a genuine desire to study, Harry had created a solid opportunity to get in at his college of choice. It was clear this would be a huge amount of work but it was achievable.
“To get there in less than a year and with no prior grade experience was quite an undertaking,” said Harry.
For me, it was not just about making sure Harry could pass his grade 8 exam. It was also about equipping him with the tools needed that would take him into music college, and beyond.
Bringing everything together
“Harry could clearly play but it’s quite a different story taking an exam,” his teacher Jack remarked. “He had to get to grips with reading music at an advanced level extremely fast.”
“There are improvisational and aural elements of an exam that really take some time to navigate. Harry really put the time in here. We worked really hard at bringing all these parts together. By the end, Harry could fully articulate the compositional and improvisational decisions he had made to the examiner.
“For me, it was not just about making sure Harry could pass his grade 8 exam, although that was the primary aim. It was also about equipping him with the tools needed to take him into music college, and beyond. Learning how to pass is one thing. But going forward with these skills in a way that was practical was crucial to the lesson plans we devised.”
Harry worked closely with his teacher to refine his application, with Jack providing a good reference that spoke truthfully of Harry’s ambitions. His teacher provided accurate mock test results to the college as part of the reference process.
And, it worked. The college accepted Harry with one condition – he needed to pass his grade 8 exam with flying colours.
I wouldn’t be where I am today at the end of my first year at Leeds Conservatoire with – for the first time in my life – a plan for where I want to go in the future.
The results are in
When it came to the exam, Harry achieved an incredible 88%. This grade is brilliantly high for someone who had never taken a music exam before – Harry got full marks in his general musicianship questions and near full marks in his technique work and improvisation. The examiner praised Harry for his “advanced improvisation, with stylistic conviction.”
With the grade submitted to the college and the offer accepted, his UCAS points were sufficiently topped up. He was good to go in September, just one month after the results arrived.
Harry moved to Leeds and he’s not looked back since.
“I could not have done it without Jack,” said Harry. “The lessons were always enjoyable without taking away from the task at hand. I took something away each lesson that would not only make me a better drummer but just a better musician overall.”
“I will always cherish my time with Jack. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today: at the end of my first year at Leeds Conservatoire with – for the first time in my life – a plan for where I want to go in the future.”
Are you trying to get into music college without A-Levels?
Every situation is different but if you’re looking at options for music college without A-Levels or required UCAS points, drop us a line! We’re London-based, but all of the teachers are accessible worldwide through online lessons if you’re out of the area.
We can talk you through options and give you honest, impartial advice on finding the right teacher to help you get there.
Reading Music As An Adult
We often get emails about reading music as an adult. Is it possible? How hard is it? Surely it’s too late? We’re happy to say that no – it is not too late! Take David Black. David was looking for an experienced drum teacher who could help him learn how to read music.