1 of 52: Attending the Berklee College of Music

Attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA is a goal of many young musicians, but with an acceptance rate of 52%, it can seem out of reach.

Lawrence native, Ellie LeBar is one of the few people that are lucky enough to attend.

LeBar had lived in uncertainty before she got her acceptance letter from Berklee, after being rejected from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, she believed that it was over and all her hard work was for nothing.

“I was like, ‘even if I get into Berklee, I can’t afford that place ever,’” LeBar said. “And since Thornton didn’t even accept me, I’m sure there’s no way I’m gonna get any money from Berkeley and, it’s done, I can just go die.”

According to the Berklee College of Music website, the average degree cost for the 2023-2024 school year is over $70,000, this is two times the average 2022-2023 costs for The University of Kansas. This high tuition leads the College to award over $60 million annually across their five campuses.

“I finally received my email and it was like, so, so late,” LeBar said. “I was like, they’re not even gonna send me anything, that’s how little they liked me. Not the case. I read the email and I was like, ‘cool, I got in but I can’t go there. I thank you for the compliment, hope you guys have a good semester without me.’

“And then, there was this little thing that was like, ‘go to this website to see if you received any financial aid.’ I was like, ‘okay, if I have to.’ I went to the website and I found this page and it said this really silly thing about a full tuition scholarship and immediately started- oh, I stopped breathing.”

LeBar got her start by busking on Massachusetts Street and playing at local venues such as S&S coffee house and the Kaw Valley Public House.

In July 2021, she had her first release party at the local venue Lucia for her EP Color Palette. It seems her hard work did pay off when she boarded a plane to Boston that fall.

Moving to a new state away from friends and family can be difficult and can lead to quite a culture shock.

“When I first got there I hated it,” LeBar said. “God, it was so loud and dirty and gross, and everyone was really mean and not dressed very well, It was sad.”

Despite now loving where she has ended up, the homesickness never seems to fully go away.

“I miss everything,” LeBar said. “Every time I go into a restaurant that’s even remotely cool I’m like, wow, this is so Lawrence. Or when I see a tree, I’m like, wow, that’s so Lawrence or a park or something. I just, everything I look at I compare to Lawrence and I think about being home ’cause Lawrence is just the best place in the universe.”

Though there is a longing for home, a new environment can lead to new opportunities and inspiration.

“I think my color palette for words has changed,” LeBar said. “Just because I’m surrounded by different colors now, you know? And by color palette, I mean actual colors and objects and scenery and like, things that happen. It’s just, it’s a different storyline, you know? That has like greatly influenced my lyric grading and just being around people that are so motivated. It just, makes me wanna work even more than I did before.”

It’s clear in the way she handles herself in the studio that LeBar loves what she does. Artist and producer Walter Sunrise, a Lawrence native and long-time producer for LeBar, has been witness to this.

“My favorite thing about working with Ellie is she’s always really good about reciprocating energy,” Sunrise said. “So if I get excited about something, that gets her excited too and it’s just really cool to have someone who like, shares that joy of music making, and enjoys my production with me.”

LeBar mentioned that Berklee offers many opportunities to their students, such as having artists come in to discuss various topics or having students work on unreleased stems of songs from artists such as Beyoncé. These opportunities will help students find their own pathway in life and achieve their goals through connections in the industry.

“It feels like I’ve already got a job,” LeBar said. “I’m going to have to take liberal arts classes next semester. I imagine that will feel different, but for right now, music all day.”