10 Must-See Performing Arts High Schools

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

In my travels in college admissions, I've been fortunate to visit a ton of performing arts schools all over the country. While most of the ones I've seen have been outstanding, a few certainly stand out as "must-see's". 

These schools not only feature fantastic curriculums but also provide students with a wide variety of performance opportunities and college preparation. While some of these schools have students from all over the country, many serve their individual communities, fostering local talent. 

So here are ten performing arts high schools you absolutely must see. 

Los Angeles County High School (LACHSA) - Los Angeles, CA


The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) offers a specialized program combining college-preparatory academic instruction and conservatory-style training in the visual and performing arts. Founded in 1985, the tuition-free public school is run by the Los Angeles County Office of Education in partnership with and on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA).

Recognized as one of the premier public arts high school in the U.S., LACHSA is the recipient of numerous awards, these includeCalifornia Distinguished School for Academic Excellence, Golden Bell Award, Grammy Signature School, Bravo Award for excellence in arts education and the Exemplary School Designation by the Arts Schools Network. LACHSA is also routinely identified as one of "America's Best High Schools" by Newsweek Magazine and one LA's best high schools by Los Angeles Magazine.

Alumni include - Corbin Bleu, Finn Wittrock, Ryan Scott Oliver and Josh Groban

Professional Performing Arts High School - New York, NY


The Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) was created in 1990 to meet the needs of two groups of students: those who wanted to pursue professional work in the arts as they earned a junior/senior high school diploma and those who wanted to study the arts as an avocation. It is the special mission of this small, personalized school to develop, refine, and showcase students in dance, drama, and vocal music while also providing them with a rigorous, meaningful academic curriculum.

Every student auditions for a performing arts major. Performing arts instruction is delivered by professional dancers, actors and musicians through professional studios.

Alumni include Jesse Eisenberg, Paul McGill, Claire Danes and Alicia Keys. 

Idyllwild Arts Academy - Idyllwild, CA


Imagine a high school that has mastered the art of arts education. Idyllwild Arts Academy is a close-knit, working community of students and teachers whose passion for the arts is balanced by a dedication to learning. Idyllwild Arts offers a disciplined college preparatory program for grades 9-12 and post-graduates—along with world-class training in creative writing, dance, film & video, interdisciplinary arts, music, theatre and visual art.

The mission of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation is to promote and advance artistic and cultural development through education in a beautiful, natural environment conducive to positive personal growth.

Alumni include Marin Ireland, Neal Bledsoe and Mara Wilson

Baltimore School for the Arts - Baltimore, MD


The Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) is a public arts high school located in Baltimore, Maryland, and is part of its public school system. BSA offers art concentrations in vocal music, instrumental music, theater acting, theater production, dance, and visual arts. The school has produced numerous "Presidential Scholars" in the Arts and its students have gone on to attend major conservatories and Ivy League Schools. In 2016, BSA was named a Silver Medal School by the U.S. News and World Report, and was ranked 1,560th nationally and 44th in the state of Maryland (first overall in Baltimore City).

The school in the first Step Up was based on BSA. 

Alumni include Jada Pinkett Smith, Tupac Shakur, Tracie Thoms and Josh Charles

Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts - Philadelphia, PA


The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, commonly known as CAPA, is a magnet school in South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a part of the School District of Philadelphia. Students major in one of seven areas: Creative Writing, Instrumental Music, Visual Arts, Theater, Dance, Vocal Music, Film, and MDTV. The school is located on South Broad Street, in the former Ridgway Library.

Alumni include Karen Malina White, Questlove and the group Boyz II Men

Las Vegas Academy Of the Arts - Las Vegas, NV


Starting with only 735 students, the student body has since grown to an excess of 1700 students attending the school pursuing majors in the performing and visual arts, and international studies. Las Vegas Academy has been honored by the U.S. Department of Education as both a New American High School and a Blue Ribbon School. The Arts Schools Network (ASN) awarded LVA the Outstanding Arts School 2013-2014 and Exemplary Arts School status for 2014-2016.

Alumni include Matthew Gray Gubler, Rutina Wesley and Julianne Hough

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts - New York, NY


The High School of Music & Art was founded by Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1936. As the mayor of New York City he wanted to establish a public school in which students could hone their talents in music, art and the performing arts. The 1980 dramatic film Fame was based on student life at the School of Performing Arts prior to its merger into LaGuardia High School. 

Alumni include Jennifer Aniston, Al Pacino and Sarah Paulson. 

Chicago Academy for the Arts - Chicago, IL


The Chicago Academy for the Arts high school was founded in 1981 by a group of artists, educators, and business professionals for the purpose of bringing a performing arts high school to Illinois. It is managed by a Board of Trustees and is located in the historic school building constructed for St. John Cantius parish. The Academy has a strict audition and portfolio admissions policy whereby only prospective students demonstrating an aptitude, potential, and dedication to their art are admitted. The atmosphere at the school has been described as encouraging and nurturing. It was once one of the few high schools to feature a course on existentialism and have workshops taught by guest tutors like Roger Ebert. A majority of graduates continue to higher education and/or professional arts careers.

Alumni include Cecily Strong, Nan Woods and Ali Cobrin.

Interlochen Arts Academy - Interlochen, MI


The Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA), the highest profile pre-professional arts boarding school worldwide, was founded in 1962 by Joseph E. Maddy. As of 2016, it had 350 faculty and staff, and approximately 500 students. Admission is by audition only. While more than half the students major in Music Performance, IAA offers majors in Comparative Arts, Creative Writing, Dance, Theatre (Performance; Design and Production), Motion Picture Arts, and Visual Arts. Newer majors include Motion Picture Arts beginning in 2005, Comparative Arts in 2011, and Songwriting in 2012. The vast majority of students at Interlochen Arts Academy are boarding students, including many international students; some are day students who live in the vicinity.

Alumni include Michael Arden, Victoria Clark and Anthony Rapp. 

Dr. Phillips High School - Orlando, FL


Dr. Phillips High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Magnet (VPA) program was founded in 1993 for students gifted and talented in the Fine Arts. Students are provided state and national standard-based, sequential, innovative and differentiated instruction in Dance, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Television Production. The VPA Magnet program promotes choice, equity, diversity and academic excellence, as well as parent and community involvement.

Alumni include Wayne Brady, Wesley Taylor, Valery Ortiz and Ashley Eckstein.

Photo: 2014 LaGuardia High School - In the Heights