In college, you can get a degree in music education or music performance. If the degree is in performance, it is an “applied” degree. This means that your school is giving you job preparation, that is, training to get a job as a singer. Theoretically, you are going to be given the skills that you would need in order to do a good professional job in whatever kind of music you want to do.
If you are a classical singer, you will get courses in music theory, sight-singing, dictation, music analysis, music history and possibly basic composition. You will learn at least the basics of languages such as Italian, French and German, and you will have vocal training to develop control over your sound. You might also get movement or dance, acting or stage “deportment” and probably will be asked to do some kind of performance, such as juries, recitals or roles in a music, oratorio or opera.
If you are looking to be in music theater you might get some of the above courses and perhaps also be asked to perform in a musical or review. You might get much more acting training, more dance training, and less languages, less music theory and fewer or shorter voice lessons. But you might still get the same kind of training as a classical singer at your lessons. It varies a lot.
If you are looking to be in rock music and you are at a school that considers that a viable path for academic training then you might be asked to study jazz and jazz related topics such as jazz history, jazz theory (scales, chords, rhythms) and perhaps also be asked to perform in ensembles or in solo recitals.
If you wish to do anything else in a school (country, gospel, R&B, rap, folk) you would either have to go to a jazz program and hope the other style was included or just get some other kind of a degree (composition, theory, music history, ethnomusicology, etc.) and study your vocal music on the side.
In an applied program, outsiders from the world in which you wish to perform might be brought to your school to work with students. This could be through lectures with Q & A from the students at the end, in workshops, clinics, courses or master classes. It could involve singing for these individuals to be guided or critiqued, but the idea is that you would be singing for professionals to get support and advice because you would theoretically be attempting to follow in their footsteps when you graduate.
People who teach in the applied program would be those who knew what was needed in order to be able to perform in any given style. They would have life experience in that style themselves and understand how they and their colleagues’ careers functioned. They would know the rough realities of being a working singing, with all that that entails, and be able to speak from personal knowledge about what that life is like for the average person (not a superstar) who works, is successful, but is not famous to the general public.
If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you will know that this is often not what I encounter as I travel all over the USA and the world, doing master classes, dealing with both students and teachers. You will know that I see all manner of things that do not line up with the espoused values of various colleges, programs and degrees, and that frequently what you see is not what you get.
I work with individuals on Broadway, in jazz, in pop/rock and folk, in experimental music, classical music, cabaret performance, and who are entertainers for children. I work with adult beginners once in a while, with people recovering from vocal injury, and with those who teach. I work with instrumentalists, with choral conductors, with dancers and actors. I work with old and young and all ages in between. When I go to a university or college, I bring with me a first-hand view of what it takes to work here in NYC as a vocalist and what each style of music has as its criteria in order for a vocalist to be good enough to get started at a basic level and succeed (although no one can guarantee that anyone WILL succeed). I have no vested in interest in any given program so when I observe how it runs, it really is just that, an observation. Sometimes those involved in the program can’t see it from outside and inside at the same time.
If you are seeking to go to college to get an applied degree in voice, you will have to look into all the facets I’ve mentioned here, and others as well. Be sure to ask questions and be prepared to deal with required courses that have no direct impact upon the music you wish to sing, on your voice, or on you. You could even be told that your applied degree program “does not teach to the marketplace” even though the department brings in outside experts from the marketplace to talk to you about the marketplace. No kidding.