What is the difference between a university and a conservatoire?

When it comes to choosing where you want to study, you might be wondering what the differences are between studying at a conservatoire compared to a university.

Conservatoires specialise in the performing arts and are usually a lot smaller than universities which teach a wide range of subjects.

A conservatoire education focuses very much on practical learning and performance, whereas a university education tends to be more academic.

The choice between studying at a university or conservatoire is completely down to preference and what you want to get from the course.

A university course would be more focused on the history, analysis and philosophy of the performing arts, whilst a conservatoire course would teach this too but would also have a lot of focus on practical learning.

What is the application process like at a conservatoire?

Applications are made through UCAS Conservatoires rather than UCAS and some courses can be applied to directly to the conservatoire.

Conservatoire deadlines tend to be earlier than university deadlines, it’s always best to double-check the application information for each institution and course you are applying to.

At a conservatoire, the focus at the audition or interview is on the applicant’s ability and experience in their chosen discipline rather than on their personal statement and predicted grades.

Are there any similarities between a university and a conservatoire?

Both conservatoire and university courses will offer a degree, you need to choose whether you would prefer to study a practical and vocational course at a conservatoire or an academic course at a university.

Depending on your circumstances you are also eligible for funding from SAAS, Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance NI.

Benefits of studying at a conservatoire

Facilities tailored to the performing arts

All conservatoire courses are focused on the performing arts so you can expect facilities to be created with that in mind. You may find that a conservatoire has more performing arts facilities than a university which has lots of courses to facilitate.

There will also be access to practice rooms so you won’t always be having to practise in your room at home the neighbours might enjoy a night off from the bagpipe playing!

At RCS, we have five performance venues, ballet studios, film editing suites, production workshop and paintshop and lots of practice rooms.

Interior of the New Athenaeum Theatre

Ballet students practicing in a ballet studio

Immersed in creativity

At a conservatoire, you will be interacting with performing artists daily. At RCS, our students work with musicians, artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers and production teams. Everyone on campus will have a passion for music and the arts. There will be many opportunities to collaborate with fellow artists and you will be encouraged to do so. As a composer-in-training, you may be writing a piece of music that brass students may then play in a concert.

You will never be stuck for talent!

Production student painting a backdrop for Sunday in the Park with George

You’ll be prepared for the industry

Your course will be structured to prepare you for the professional performing arts world. You will have rehearsals, you may play in an orchestra or ensemble, you’ll work on performances for a public audience and you will create your own work and be encouraged to apply for industry opportunities. Your timetable will be reflective of the industry; you will have classes and rehearsals during the day and at times you can expect to perform or work in the evening.

At RCS, our production students are in early setting up before a show and then managing and working on the show until the performance ends. Rather than learning about it through a book or lecture only, our curriculum allows students to experience it for themselves and getting the important knowledge they need to apply for jobs after graduating.Production student working behind the stage

Performances throughout your study

At a conservatoire, performance is a big part of the curriculum. It allows students to gain the confidence of performing to an audience as well as learning how to work with other creatives.

At RCS, our third-year Musical Theatre students perform three shows a year in our performance spaces which members of the public can buy tickets for. Our music students also get to perform in our weekly Mondays and Fridays at One performances.

Jazz student playing guitar

Not only will students get the experience of performing within their conservatoire, but there will also be opportunities to perform externally and alongside industry professionals.

At RCS, we are partnered with all of the national artistic companies and professional industries allowing our students to learn about the industry whilst studying with us.

Our partners include:

  • BBC Scotland
  • National Theatre of Scotland
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  • Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  • Scottish Ensemble
  • Scottish Opera
  • Scottish Ballet
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra
  • Dumfries House
  • Citizens Theatre
  • BBC Radio 3
  • Celtic Connections
  • National Piping Centre
  • Dundee Rep
  • Solar Bear Theatre Company
  • Playwrights’ Studio Scotland
  • University of St Andrews

Cast of City of Angels wearing trenchcoats and looking to camera whilst singing

One-to-one lessons

All our undergraduate and postgraduate music performance students receive 90 minutes of one-to-one tuition on their principal study each week. Our class sizes are small too which allows our tutors to dedicate more time to each student.

Student singing in a practice room

Masterclasses and workshops

It’s important to learn from experts working in the industry which is why at RCS, there are many masterclasses and workshops where we invite professionals to spend time with students to give their guidance.

We’ve recently welcomed the following industry professionals and visiting artists to the RCS:

  • Nicolas Blanc Ballet master, Scottish Ballet
  • Malcolm Martineau renowned Scottish pianist
  • Dame Evelyn Glennie double GRAMMY award-winning solo percussionist
  • Guy Hollands Previous Director of the Citizens Theatre
  • Nicola Benedetti GRAMMY award-winning violinist
  • Jed Mercurio Television Writer, recent work includes Line of Duty
  • Paule Constable Laurence Olivier and Tony award-winning Lighting Designer
  • Emma Geddes – Head of Automation, Cirque du Soleil

Ready to find out more about studying at RCS?

  • Head to our Why RCS section to find out more about our campus and facilities
  • Visit RCS at Home for a glimpse of what our students and staff have been creating recently
  • Ready to apply? Visit our apply pages for the next steps.
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