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Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US

It’s a tremendous commitment to devote four years of your life to your art when you enroll in a performing arts institution. After making this decision, you must locate a college that will help you achieve your career objectives.

I’ve put together a list of the best performing arts colleges in the US to assist you in finding the ideal institution for you. To find out what they are, keep reading!

What Is a “Performing Arts College” for the Purposes of This List?

The universities on this list only grant degrees in dance and theater. I’ve omitted theatre and dance schools from this article because they frequently diverge significantly from music schools.

Additionally, I have concentrated on schools that place a high value on drama and/or dance. These universities either have dedicated performing arts schools at the larger universities or only offer degrees in the performing arts.

For students, attending a performing arts institution has many benefits. You will be surrounded by other creative people who share your interests; they will encourage and support you in your endeavors, and they will probably work with you after you graduate. You’ll also attend a school where art is valued more than just an extracurricular activity.

While it is possible to earn a degree in the performing arts from other colleges, this list of the best performing arts colleges is intended for students who are absolutely certain that they want to pursue acting or dancing and are searching for a setting that will fully support their goals.

Also Read: What is a Dual Degree Program? Top 36 Schools with the Options

How the Best Performing Arts Colleges were Chosen

Rankings of the top performing arts universities should never be taken as gospel truth, not even by Backstage or The Hollywood Reporter. Instead, you ought to use these materials as the foundation for your own investigation. Try to find out how the rankings were arrived at if you are looking at a list of the top performing arts colleges.

Here, I’ll describe how I arrived at this illogical list of institutions. I started by focusing my search on universities that provide exclusively performing arts degrees or have a focused program inside the broader university and give dance and theatre priority.

I then gave consideration to the following three factors:

  • Rating: As a beginning point for my study, I consulted a range of rating lists from reputable industry publications including Backstage and The Hollywood Reporter.
  • Opportunities for On-Campus and Off-Campus Extracurricular Activities: It’s critical for performers to have the opportunity to really perform. Does the institution offer opportunities? Is it possible for you to work as an off-campus intern for a local dance or theater company? Can you enroll in top programs to study abroad? Do you get to play at a showcase for the industry?
  • Alumni Success: How many graduates have achieved success at the pinnacle of their professions? If the program has a large number of successful graduates, it is likely that it helped them succeed by giving them either superior resources (such internships, industry connections, etc.) or superior skills.

In lieu of rankings, I divided this list into tiers because, in general, rankings are not all that significant. The top performing arts institutions are known as Tier 1 schools since they offer the most extracurricular activities and have the most illustrious alumni. Despite not having as many possibilities or illustrious alumni as Tier 1 colleges, Tier 2 schools are nonetheless quite good.

Keep in mind that not all of these institutions are top-notch for both theatre and dance. Actually, some of these institutions exclusively provide theatrical or dance programs. I’ve indicated whether a school is a top school for dance, theatre, or both in the description of each institution.

You are able to play in top-notch performances at Tier 1 schools.

Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US: Tier 1

The Tier 1 schools, or the best performing arts colleges in the nation, will be at the top of our list.

1. The Juilliard School—Drama and Dance

Juilliard has a staggeringly extensive list of noteworthy graduates who have won more than 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 26 Bessie Awards, 24 Academy Awards, 16 Pulitzer Prizes, and 12 National Medals for the Arts. Juilliard is consistently rated near the top of the rankings for both theater and dance. That pedigree is impressive!

The Juilliard School—Drama and Dance
The Juilliard School—Drama and Dance

Only eight to ten students are chosen for the BFA Acting Program, eight to ten for the MFA Acting Program, and roughly 24 students are chosen for the BFA Dance Program.

The drama program produces numerous plays and senior showcases for industry professionals like casting directors, agents, and managers in both New York and Los Angeles. The dance program presents 15 public performances annually. Julliard is a great option if you’re seeking for a curriculum that can put you on the fast track to a fantastic career.

2. NYU Tisch School of the Arts—Drama and Dance

Similar to Juilliard, NYU Tisch consistently ranks in the top five for both drama and dance. And with good reason: the university boasts a long list of illustrious graduates, many of whom have appeared in films, television shows, musical productions, and Broadway shows. Although there are many prominent alumni, some of their names might be familiar to you, such as Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Olsen, Miles Teller, Spike Lee, and Kristen Bell.

Drama, performance studies, film & television, dramatic writing, and cinema studies are just a few of the many degrees that Tisch provides in several artistic disciplines. The school is also expanding into other performing mediums, such as video game production and music production. The school also makes the most of its proximity to New York City by connecting drama students with top acting schools where they can participate in a variety of performances directed by renowned theatre professionals and teachers.

3. Carnegie Mellon University—Drama

Since it was the first US college to offer degrees in theatre, Carnegie Mellon has a long tradition of providing top-notch training in the field. More significantly, Carnegie Mellon is a powerhouse in the drama field with a faculty made up of active theater artists and famous graduates like Holly Hunter, Billy Porter, Judith Light, Ted Danson, and Zachary Quinto among its alumni. Additionally, this university offers distinct degrees in acting and musical theatre, providing students the choice to focus on several performance genres.

Students have several possibilities to perform on stage thanks to the special, practical education provided by the theatrical department. The department produces 20 shows annually, providing numerous opportunities for performing. Additionally, the school suspends instruction for a week every year to allow pupils to participate in performances of any kind (including original works and film adaptations). Seniors get the opportunity to perform in showcases in front of business people in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and New York.

Additionally, through The Studio for Creative Inquiry and The Center for Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon gives students the opportunity to partake in interdisciplinary research. Carnegie Mellon would be a wonderful fit for you if you’re curious about how theatre may impact society both on and off the stage.

4. Boston Conservatory—Dance

The Boston Conservatory, one of the top dance programs in the US, has a faculty made up of top performers who have collaborated with renowned dance companies like Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet of New York, and Limón Dance Company as well as choreographers like Antony Tudor, Robert Joffrey, José Limón, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, and Agnes de Mille.

The most prominent performance opportunity available during the year is the chance to participate with the Boston Conservatory Dance Theater. Alumni perform on Broadway and with dance organizations all across the world. However, keep in mind that the Boston Conservatory focuses on contemporary dance, so if you’re searching for classical instruction, you should look into alternative courses.

5. Yale University—Drama (MFA)

The Yale School of Drama is a must-have on any list of the top institutions for the performing arts. The MFA Acting program at this university is well-known throughout the world, therefore I wouldn’t recommend enrolling in the more general BA degree since you won’t have access to the same professors or performing possibilities.

Programs in every facet of performance, from on-stage acting to technical design and stage administration, are available through the MFA program. Along with a long list of notable graduates, the School of Drama can also point to Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Sigourney Weaver, Paul Giamatti, and Lupita Nyong’o. Students in their final year perform in showcases in front of industry executives in both New York and Los Angeles as part of the school’s significant investment in networking opportunities for students.

In the last ten years, every single graduate has found a job as an agent or manager within the first month following graduation. So you should definitely think considering Yale’s MFA program if you’re serious about pursuing a career in the performing arts.

6. Northwestern University—Drama

One of the few acting schools that don’t require an audition for admission is Northwestern. The current university admittance rate is roughly 7%, and getting accepted is difficult because theatre students are expected to maintain strong academic standards. It is hardly unexpected that a large number of program graduates go on to have successful jobs. David Schwimmer, Stephen Colbert, Anna Gunn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Zach Braff are a few of the school’s most well-known alumni.

Northwestern University—Drama
Northwestern University—Drama

Northwestern University offers numerous options for undergraduate students to participate in school-sponsored and student-run performances. The Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts hosts up to 40 performances annually, and there are an additional 40 student-run performances that take place elsewhere on campus. Seniors are also asked to take part in showcases in front of business leaders in New York and Chicago.

Best Colleges for the Performing Arts: Tier 2

In this section, we examine further outstanding performing arts institutions that we have designated as Tier 2. These institutions are still top-notch, although they lack the same prestige as those in Tier 1. Having saying that, obtaining a degree from one of these institutions will still position you for a successful job.

7. UNC School of the Arts—Drama and Dance

Outstanding drama and dance programs may be found at UNCSA. The American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Martha Graham Ensemble have all employed former students from the dance school. Others have performed on the dance floor with artists like Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé. Lucas Hedges, Anthony Mackie, Dane DeHaan, and Mary-Louise Parker are a few of UNCSA’s well-known former students.

There are numerous performing possibilities for drama and dance students at UNCSA, including a senior presentation in New York for business people. Los Angeles hosts a showcase for drama students as well.

8. California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)—Drama and Dance

One of the top drama schools in the nation, CalArts is regarded as the best dance school on the West Coast. The School of Dance has a great faculty and invites guest performers to share their insights with the students. Gerard & Kelly, mixed-media artists, and Benjamin Millepied, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and Natalie Portman’s husband, are two recent visiting artists.

Additionally, the school offers a variety of performance possibilities, including participation in American College Dance Festivals. Additionally, it has an exchange program with the London Contemporary Dance Center that enables students to explore dance in other countries.

CalArts is also home to an outstanding drama program. Since students join in Acting Studio for the Camera during their final year, the theatre school is a fantastic choice for performers who are certain they want to pursue a career in film or television acting. Students are specifically prepared for acting roles and film and television auditions in this course. Students also have the opportunity to participate in a showcase for the business in Los Angeles at the conclusion of the last semester. There are many well-known graduates from the drama program, including Don Cheadle, Ed Harris, and Alison Brie.

9. Rutgers University—Drama and Dance

Drama and dance programs in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers are of the highest caliber. The dance program gives students the chance to take master lessons and participate in workshops with worldwide dance artists because of its close proximity to New York City. DanceJerusalem in Israel and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London are two outstanding programs it also has running abroad.

The drama curriculum at Rutgers is exceptional and comprehensive. Shakespeare to contemporary television are covered in classes. The Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe in London is where students spend their third year, which concludes with a performance on the Globe stage. With classes on On-Camera Technique, Auditioning, and Introduction to the Life of a Working Actor, the final semester is concentrated on making an effective transition into the professional acting world. Famous graduates from the drama program include Calista Flockhart and Kristen Davis.

10. Fordham University—Dance

Because Fordham is in the Bronx, students will be immersed in dance history and culture the instant they set foot on campus. Fordham University provides students with a liberal arts education and collaboration with a well-known modern dance group. Fordham is most known for its affiliation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Additionally, it’s very incredible that the show and business are based out of Lincoln Center!

After graduation, many former dancers stay on with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, while others go on to work for famous organizations and on Broadway. Ephraim Sykes (who appeared in Hamilton on Broadway), Anne Souder (Martha Graham), and Victoria Guajardo (Momix) are just a few of the outstanding dance alumni from Fordham.

11. Syracuse University—Drama

Syracuse University provides distinct degrees in acting or musical theatre that let students focus on one area of study. Additionally, students have the option of studying “abroad” in New York, Los Angeles, or London, three of the world’s top places for the dramatic arts. Numerous well-known performers, including Taye Diggs, Jerry Stiller, and Vera Farmiga, were nurtured by the program.

Additionally, while still in school, students can obtain Equity points by performing with the renowned Equity theater company Syracuse Stage. The Actors’ Equity Association, the organization for professional stage actors and managers, accepts equity points as one of the qualifications for membership. In other words, earning a drama degree from Syracuse gives you an advantage in the theater industry.

12. University of Southern California—Drama

Even though the University of Southern California is renowned for its film program, it also features a top-notch drama program. Given that the institution is located in Los Angeles, the center of the film industry, it really shouldn’t come as a major surprise. As a result, the school invites numerous guest artists to collaborate with students to hone their talent. Bryan Cranston, Tony Shalhoub, and Lisa Kudrow are a few former guests.

The program takes pleasure in customizing its offerings to meet the unique requirements and objectives of each student. All students have a strong foundation in the dramatic arts, but they also have the opportunity to enroll in workshops that are quite specialized, such as stand-up comedy and medical clowning. This enables students to tailor their academic concentration to suit their intended careers. Beck Bennett, Troian Bellisario, Deborah Ann Woll, and Forest Whitaker are a few of the well-known USC School of Dramatic Arts alums.

13. Oklahoma City University—Dance

Although Oklahoma City University is highly known for its arts programs, its dance department stands out from the competition due to its emphasis on American dance styles. Tap, jazz, and musical theater dance are taught at the highest levels at this institution. Students may also choose to major in arts management, a distinctive program that prepares graduates to guide the careers of performers as professional managers. Sara Edwards (dance captain, Foilles) and Marie Danvers (Christine in Phantom of the Opera) are two well-known graduates now appearing on Broadway. Oklahoma City University would be a perfect fit for you if you focus in American dance.

Also Read: 12 Best Free Online Courses in Education

Which of the Best Colleges for Performing Arts Is Right for You?

Juilliard is a fantastic school, but it doesn’t imply you should want to attend. It’s a small school with a rigorous curriculum that might not be ideal for all pupils. When trying to choose one of these top performing arts colleges, consider the following questions.

  • What Area Do You Want to Focus On?
  • Do you prefer ballet or contemporary if dancing is something you’re interested in? Do you wish to act in plays, musicals, television, or movies if that’s your interest?
  • Check out the courses provided by looking into the programs. Choosing a ballet-focused school is generally not a good idea if you want to study modern dance. In a similar vein, avoid enrolling in a musical theater program if your goal is to act on television (and vice versa).

Best Performing Arts Colleges in the US

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four main performing arts?

The performing arts include theater, musical theater, dance, music, acting, magic, and circus performances.

How much does studying acting in the USA cost?

For a multi-week program, group sessions normally cost between $150 and $2,000, while major universities that offer year-long acting programs may charge between $20,000 and $60,000 annually.

Which nation has the most favorable conditions for actors?

But there's no denying that Ireland is among the nations in the world where it's easiest to begin a career in acting. At any given time, several productions are in progress. The TV show "Vikings" (and its future spin-off "Valhalla") is among the most well-known works.

Can you be an actor/actress with no experience?

The acting industry does not require you to have any experience – you actually don't need any formal acting training!
They'll bring you in for an audition, if a casting director likes your look and thinks your acting is decent (from the monologue you submit).

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