Top Colleges for Intercollegiate A Cappella

If you love making music with your mouth, collegiate a cappella might be just what you’re looking for. Long gone are the days of barbershop quartets and university glee clubs; instead, you’ll find students beat-boxing and harmonizing to classic rock, hip-hop and the latest Top 40 hits. Intercollegiate a cappella has gained a large following over the past several decades, prompting the formation of organized competitions such as the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), a competitive tournament founded in 1996 that now attracts hundreds of college and university groups each year and is regularly covered by national media outlets. If you can’t get enough of a cappella, these fifteen schools are all noted for their outstanding competitive a cappella groups.

Berklee College of Music

Berklee College of Music
Berklee College of Music. Funky Tee / Flickr

Berklee College of Music’s Pitch Slapped may be relatively new to the world of collegiate a cappella, but their rapid rise to stardom has earned the college a place on the map. Not only was the co-ed group featured on NBC’s hit competitive a cappella show The Sing-Off in 2010, but they’ve also been ICCA quarterfinal champions every year since they began competing in 2008, placed second at the 2010 ICCA finals and brought home the national championship title in 2011. In 2012, USA Today College named Pitch Slapped one of the Top 5 Best A Cappella groups in the country.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University - BYU
Brigham Young University - BYU. DOliphant / Flickr

Only a handful of colleges are able to boast a nationally acclaimed competitive a cappella group, but even fewer can boast two; BYU is one of those elite institutions, home to both Noteworthy and Vocal Point, two of the most successful collegiate a cappella groups in the nation. Noteworthy, an all-female group, has competed several times in the ICCA finals and were national champions in 2007, in addition to performing a successful run on The Sing-Off in 2009 and recording three award-winning studio albums. Not to be outdone, BYU’s all-male ensemble, Vocal Point, has a history of over 20 years of success, winning the 2006 ICCA finals and returning in 2011 to take second place, finishing in the top 5 on The Sing-Off in 2011, and producing eight studio albums.

Dartmouth College

Baker Library and Tower at Dartmouth University
Baker Library and Tower at Dartmouth University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Dartmouth College is home to one of the oldest and most celebrated collegiate a cappella groups in the country, the all-male Dartmouth Aires. Although the Aires do not compete in the ICCAs, the group keeps busy with weekly performances, studio recording, touring across the country, and most recently, a very successful run on NBC’s The Sing-Off, where they came in second place in the show’s third and final season.

Florida State University

Florida State University
Florida State University. J-a-x / Flickr

Florida State University’s a cappella singers are no strangers to the stage. The university boasts five active groups, three of which are regular competitors in the ICCA. In 2012, the all-male Reverbs, all-female AcaBelles, and co-ed All Night Yahtzee swept their quarterfinals in the ICCA South Region, taking first, second and third place respectively. Both All Night Yahtzee, FSU’s oldest a cappella group, and the AcaBelles have been three-time ICCA national finalists, and All Night Yahtzee took second place in the competition in 2008. All of the groups perform regularly on campus and at other local events.

University of Georgia

University of Georgia
University of Georgia. hyku / Flickr

Student a cappella groups at the University of Georgia include The Accidentals, Camerata, Noteworthy, and ​With Someone Else’s Money. The Accidentals and Noteworthy have both released several award-winning albums and are regular intercollegiate competitors as well; in 2009, they had a one-two finish in their ICCA quarterfinals, and The Accidentals have twice advanced to the national finals, taking third place in the competition in 2010. In 2009, UGA’s With Someone Else’s Money was selected to be featured on Ben Folds’ compilation album “Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella.”

Ithaca College

Ithaca College
Ithaca College. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Ithaca College is represented by three outstanding a cappella groups: Ithacapella, IC Voicestream and Premium Blend. The all-male Ithacapella’s accomplishments include competing in the ICCA finals in 2008 and 2009, winning Best Male Ensemble at the 2008 finals, and releasing six studio albums, but beyond all of these, this group stands out for their commitment to charity and service. They share their talents with their community through workshops and service efforts such as their annual performance with the local elementary school chorus, and in 2012, Ithacapella recruited their fellow IC a cappella groups as well as the professional a cappella group Penatonix to help them record an arrangement of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” 100% of the proceeds from which went to support the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

Northeastern University

West Village at Northeastern
West Village at Northeastern. Photo Credit: Katie Doyle and Marisa Benjamin

You’ll find no shortage of a cappella options at Northeastern University, with eight diverse student groups to choose from. Especially notable for their recent success on the national stage are the Nor’easters, who took first place in the 10th Annual Collegiate Competition at the 2012 SoJam A Cappella Festival. In 2011 and again in 2012, they were runners-up in the highly competitive ICCA Northeast semifinals and in the subsequent ICCA Wild Card Round, in which semifinal runners-up compete for a second chance to advance to the national finals.

University of California Los Angeles

Kauffman Hall at UCLA
Kauffman Hall at UCLA. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

UCLA has a lively a cappella scene, with no less than nine active groups, each contributing to the diverse musical culture on campus. Especially notable among them are the Scattertones, a co-ed, student-run group founded in 2002. The Scattertones were twice named ICCA quarterfinal champions in 2007 and 2011 before finally earning national recognition as 1st runner-up at the 2012 ICCA finals.

University of Chicago

University of Chicago
University of Chicago. josh.ev9 / flickr

The University of Chicago is also well-represented in the world of collegiate a cappella with unique groups such as Rhythm and Jews, a Jewish ensemble, and Golosa, Chicago’s only Russian a cappella folk choir. Voices in your Head, one of UChicago’s most popular a cappella groups, has twice been a finalist ICCA championships, has released five studio albums, and were recently named one of the Ten Can’t-Miss American Collegiate A Cappella Groups of 2012 by a cappella pundit Mike Chin of The A Cappella Blog.

Tufts University

Tufts University Beelzebubs
Tufts University Beelzebubs. Embajada de EEUU, Buenos Aires / Flickr

Tufts University might just be one of the biggest household names in collegiate a cappella. Not only have The Beelzebubs, Tufts’ oldest all-male a cappella ensemble, won dozens of awards and released over 30 studio recordings, but they’ve also become pop culture icons as the voices of The Warblers on FOX’s hit comedy Glee, second-place finishers in season two of The Sing-Off, guest performers on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, and one of Mickey Rapkin’s subject groups in his book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.

University of Oregon

University of Oregon
University of Oregon. jjorogen / Flickr

University of Oregon’s a cappella groups, Divisi, On the Rocks and Mind the Gap, are among the more popular of the college’s student clubs and activities, and for good reason. Recognizable from their run on the second season on The Sing-Off, On the Rocks has released a number of award-winning albums and competed in the 2002 and 2003 ICCA finals, taking second in​ 2003. Divisi, UO’s all-female ensemble, has been widely considered one of the most groundbreaking female a cappella groups in the country. They took second place in the 2005 ICCA finals as the only female group to make it to the final round, and they returned as finalists in 2010 after winning the first-ever ICCA Wild Card Round. Divisi was also one of three collegiate groups featured in Mickey Rapkin’s book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, which later served as the basis for the 2012 blockbuster Pitch Perfect.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University Kirkland Hall
Vanderbilt University Kirkland Hall. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

Vanderbilt University offers an a cappella group to suit nearly every taste, from competitive ICCA contenders such as the Dodecaphonics and the Swingin’ Dores to the Christian faith-based Victory A Cappella to Vandy Taal, a South Asian group whose repertoire features a unique blend of traditional South Asian music and modern American hits. Vanderbilt’s newest group, The Melodores, was only founded in 2009 but has already made a splash in the world of intercollegiate a cappella, placing third in the 2011 ICCA finals after winning a competitive Wild Card Round.

University of Southern California

USC Doheny Memorial Library
USC Doheny Memorial Library. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

The first of USC’s seven student a cappella organizations, the SoCal VoCals are one of the most successful collegiate a cappella groups in recent history and the only group ever to have won the ICCA finals three times: first in 2008, and again in 2010 and 2012. They have released six award-winning studio albums, and the group was also represented in all three seasons of NBC’s The Sing-Off - current and alumni members competed as part of The SoCals in 2009 and The Backbeats in 2010, and SoCal VoCals member Scott Hoying led the winning group Penatonix in the show’s final season.

University of Virginia

University of Virginia
University of Virginia. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

University of Virginia would likely earn a spot on this list for the sheer number of a cappella groups on campus, but one group certainly manages to stand out, both for their history of success and for their unique fashion choices. The Hullabahoos, one of UVA’s all-male a cappella ensembles, wear robes over their clothes for many of their performances, which have included gigs in the Philippines, for both President George W. Bush and President Obama, and guest spots on NBC’s The Office and in one of the final scenes of the 2012 blockbuster film Pitch Perfect.

Yale University

Yale Whiffenpoofs
Yale Whiffenpoofs. U.S. Embassy New Delhi / Flickr

A cappella has always been an integral part of student life at Yale University, with nearly twenty a cappella societies for both undergraduate and graduate students. The Whiffenpoofs hold the distinction of being the oldest and one of the best-known collegiate a cappella group in the world, steeped in over 100 years of history. This exclusive group of male seniors performs weekly on campus and tours the world for several months every summer. Yale’s co-ed ensemble Out of the Blue and all-male ​The Duke’s Men are regular competitors in the ICCAs, with Out of the Blue earning a finalist spot in the 2012 competition and The Duke’s Men holding the championship title from the 1996 ICCA finals and winning fourth place in 2009.