Students in Harvard/NEC Program Juggle Music and Academics

While many Harvard students juggle academics and extracurricular activities, a select number of Harvard undergraduates deal with the additional challenge of attending two colleges at once.

One of a handful of students enrolled in a dual degree program between Harvard and New England Conservatory of Music, Jake S. Dockterman ’13 takes the bus to Boston four to five times a week for rehearsals, lessons, and coaching. By 9 a.m., Dockterman, a saxophonist, is in wind ensemble rehearsal. A few hours later Dockterman is in lecture back at Harvard, where he concentrates in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

“I spend a lot of time on the bus,” Dockterman says. “Sometimes I will even travel twice in one day.”

About 20 current students at Harvard are currently pursuing the dual degree between the two schools. At the end of five years, they will have earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Harvard College and a Master of Music at the New England Conservatory. While the competitive program allows talented students to seriously pursue musical study, those enrolled must find a way to split their time between campuses and their academic and musical aspirations.


While the practice rooms in NEC are filled with Steinways and Yamahas, Chase E. Morrin ’15’s first piano was a toy keyboard from Costco. Soon after he received the instrument when he was eight-years-old, Morrin learned to compose his own work on it. Morrin did not have any sheet music, so he began to experiment with his own methods.

“I kind of made up my own music,” he remembers.

A decade later, Morrin is a jazz composition major at NEC and a neurobiology concentrator at Harvard who is also considering a secondary in computer science.

Morrin says that he was attracted to the dual degree program because he was passionate about both his music and his academic interests. He was particularly impressed by the quality of NEC faculty and its location.

“I have a lot of friends going to Berklee and around here, and I’m always collaborating with people,” he said. “There are so many cool resources available including teachers, classes, and people I can play with.”

Danielle G. Rabinowitz ’14 started playing piano at age four, long before discovering her interest in composition. She and her twin sister are both now pursuing the dual degree.

“I was inspired by my twin, who often improvised on the piano,” says Rabinowitz, a history and science concentrator and music composition major.

Rabinowitz says that she never considered solely attending a conservatory. “I wanted to go to a liberal arts school, and there’s no other program like this in the world. I get to have access to a high caliber of musicians and faculty, and am surrounded by the rigor of conservatory environment and the rigor of the academic world,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Despite his plans to pursue a career in science, Dockterman, a classical saxophone performance major at NEC, chose to apply to the joint program because of the unique opportunities to rehearse and perform with high caliber musicians. Dockterman picked up the saxophone in fourth grade as part of his school’s band program and continued through high school, participating in numerous district and state festivals. Dockterman’s longtime saxophone teacher encouraged him to consider the dual degree program as an option.

“I was choosing between Yale and this program, but at Yale I wouldn’t be playing saxophone that seriously anymore,” he says. “I was considering saying goodbye to it earlier, but playing with such talented musicians was something I rarely would be able to do.”