The Top 30 College Acting/Performing Arts Programs for 2019-2020

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At the beginning of each new school year, we here at OnStage Blog like to announce what we feel are the best performing arts for the coming year. For those of you wondering how we select these schools, it starts in the previous spring.

Starting in April, we tasked a committee of just over 20 people to research these programs. They consisted of theatre educators, students, alumni, and parents. We wanted people who knew how to evaluate a performing arts program and what questions to ask. This is what we feel separates us from every other college ranking article, these folks know what’s important in theatre education.

This year we based our criteria on a number of factors including Cost vs. Scholarships, Quality of Facilities, Performance/Production Opportunities, and Post-Graduate Support. We also asked questions about the diversity of students as well as the faculty.

Each year, we also like to include a new category that factor into our rankings - on/off-campus safety. We feel this is a factor that is often not made a priority. So in addition to cold-calling the schools, we also took a look at their Clery Reports and asked questions about how proactive these schools are when it comes to safety.

This year we also decided not to rank the schools 1-30. When looking at the scores, often these schools were separated by one to two points. So rather, this year we’re simply naming who we feel are the best, in no particular order.

We must also preface this by saying that while these are some great schools to start your search with, ultimately the best college theatre program out there is the one you feel most confident and comfortable attending.

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When it comes to the craft of acting, students today have plenty of options for the type of way they want to be trained. Some prefer the conservatory-style of training while others are looking for something a bit more flexible. It’s great to see so many performing arts/acting programs that are not only concentrating on stage acting techniques but also acting in front of the camera, which only adds to a performer’s versatility.

Here are 30 college programs that we feel should be top destinations for any performing/acting student.

SUNY Purchase College - Purchase, NY

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Why we love it: The acting BFA program is one of five in the nation that meets the standards of the Consortium of Conservatory Theatre Training Programs. In the fourth year, graduating seniors are presented to an invited audience of agents, producers, and casting directors in New York City and Los Angeles.

Muhlenberg College - Allentown, PA

Why we love it: The Acting Concentration gives students opportunities to practice their craft every day, alongside talented, experienced working professionals. Coursework, in both the classroom and the studio, is complemented by an extensive and acclaimed Mainstage production season, with ample opportunities to put theory into practice.

UNC School of the Arts - Winston-Salem, NC

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Why we love it: During the fourth year, students take part in a year-long project, Keys to the Kingdom, in which the class presents a season of independent work alongside the main-stage productions to encourage and explore artistic entrepreneurship.

Northwestern University - Evanston, IL

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Why we love it: The senior year focus is spread across a variety of topics including comedy, style, contemporary scene study, and professional aspects of being an actor as well as the opportunity to take a class with a different acting faculty member for a quarter. In the Acting for Screen Module, students have the opportunity to learn the skills necessary for effective performance in TV and film.

The Juilliard School - New York, NY

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Why we love it: Students do not audition for roles; all casting is done by the faculty. In the first two years, roles are assigned primarily to serve the needs of an individual student’s training rather than the demands of the play. In the third and fourth years, we seek to serve both the play and the needs of the ensemble. In addition to formal productions, actors originate roles in new work by Juilliard playwrights in twice-monthly Playwrights Labs and in more informal PlayTime readings.

SMU - Dallas, TX

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Why we love it: Courses include Business and Professional Aspects of Theatre. This place features preparation for graduating actors that includes compiling résumés, photographs, cold readings, monologues, and scene work with a variety of scripts for repertory or summer theatre casting.

Brenau University - Gainsville, GA

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Why we love it: Brenau University, with the combined support of the University of North Georgia, Theatre Wings, and the Professional Company, has on of the top-ranked theatre program in the state of Georgia. This dynamic collaboration is the Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA).

UCONN - Storrs, CT

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Why we love it: BFA Acting majors also put their studio training into practice through the many performance opportunities available at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre. Although first-semester freshmen are not eligible for casting in CRT productions, from their second semester on, acting majors must audition for all CRT shows. There are also many casting opportunities available to undergraduate actors in the two CRT Studio Works productions that are done every year in our smaller Studio Theatre. In addition, the Department of Dramatic arts usually produces two or three student-directed “D-Series” productions each year, with undergraduate acting majors performing most of the roles.

DePaul University - Chicago, IL

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Why we love it: Learning does not stop in the classroom. Each year The Theatre School produces more than 30 public productions of varying shapes and sizes to give students ample opportunity to synthesize what they are learning in the classroom.

SCAD - Savannah, GA

Why we love it: Increase your exposure and experience at auditions hosted by the SCAD Casting Office, the only on-site, professionally run casting office in higher education. In recent years, SCAD students have won the Kennedy Center Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, the most prestigious performing arts competition and acting prize in higher education.

Emerson College - Boston, MA

(Craig Hayes)

(Craig Hayes)

Why we love it: The Big Li’l E Mentorship Program (with the "E" standing for "Emersonian") is the first resource offered to incoming Performing Arts students. Current Performing Arts student mentors (Big E's) are selected to mentor incoming undergraduate and graduate Performing Arts students (Li’l E’s) as they begin their degree program at Emerson. The goal of the program is to guide incoming Performing Arts students through their first Academic Year, and beyond.

Drew University - Madison, NJ

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Why we love it: Courses include “The Actor’s Voice”. Here, students of acting will explore techniques to free and enhance the natural speaking voice for performance in a full range of classical and modern drama. Classes will employ a rigorous technique such as the Linklater system to promote relaxation, breath control, production, articulation, and emotional connectedness.

Azusa Pacific University - Azusa, CA

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Why we love it: In the fourth year of training, seniors act in a high-quality film with a professional director and production team. The students then participate in an industry screening in Los Angeles, ensuring that they graduate the BFA program with relevant experience, connections, and a professional reel.

University of Miami - Coral Gables, FL

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Why we love it: Faculty include Jennifer Burke. Ms. Burke's recent projects include performing at the Kennedy Center in the prize-winning, Jasper Lake by John Kuntz and serving as voice/accent coach for the New England premiere of David Hare's Stuff Happens.

Webster University - St. Louis, MO

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Why we love it: The third year of Conservatory is about application. The work in contrasting styles becomes even more ambitious. Skills acquired in the previous two years are applied to Shakespeare, Restoration' and Edwardian drama. Voice and movement classes develop even more specific skills in dialects, period movement, and stage combat. A directing class is added to the basic core.

Nebraska Wesleyan University - Lincoln, NE

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Why we love it: Nebraska Wesleyan has hired HDR, an international architecture firm based in Omaha, to renovate McDonald Theatre. The project focuses on new seats, a new stage, and a new lobby.

Pace University - New York, NY

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Why we love it: Coursework includes “The Industry for the BFA Actor”. This course prepares students for the business side of the entertainment industry and what it takes to be a working actor in New York. Students learn how to prepare for auditions as well as general meetings with agents and casting directors and how to effectively market themselves.

Wright State University - Dayton, OH

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Why we love it: The Honors program in Acting provides superior students with further opportunity to demonstrate excellence and receive special recognition in their senior year. Honors students create a capstone project, such as a self-written monodrama, a solo recital, directing a production, or other projects that are mutually agreed upon with the student’s advisor.

UCLA - Los Angeles, CA

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Why we love it: Coursework includes Articulation, Pitch, and Vocal Choices. Focus on articulation: work consonants, nasal continuants, plosives, fricatives, continuants, laterals, and glides, as well as pitch and safest expanding vocal range and pitch. Exploration also of warm-ups, actions with vocal choices, and exercises with monologues.

High Point University - High Point, NC

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Why we love it: The Theatre Department offers a Maymester titled “Shakespeare in Performance” that combines a semester’s classroom study of Shakespeare and his works with a two-week study abroad to London and Stratford-on-Avon. The adventure begins with travel to London, England to bring theater to life. The course will include travel to Stratford-upon- Avon, and at least five-play performances in some of the most famous theaters in the world including the Royal Shakespeare Company Theater and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Along the way, see the sites in London and visit Shakespeare’s birthplace.

CalArts - Valencia, CA

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Why we love it: The Actors Showcase is an annual program of graduating actor performances for theater, film and television industry professionals. Developed through a course in their final semester, the showcase is a vital bridge for graduates entering the professional field. Presented in Los Angeles and New York.

Rutgers University - New Brunswick, NJ

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Why we love it: A faculty of outstanding master teachers and professional artists track each student’s progress. Acting, Voice, Speech, and Movement constitute the program’s integrated core, augmented by courses in Clown, Script Analyses, Performance Ensemble, Dialects and Acting for the Camera.

Ball State University - Muncie, IN

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Why we love it: Professors will assist in finding internships, professional work, and summer training opportunities all over the globe. Recent placements include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Drury Lane Theatre, Mind the Gap in the U.K., Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Williamstown Theatre Festival, among many others.

Boston University - Boston, MA

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Why we love it: Guaranteed casting in the School of Theatre’s 35+ Productions each season, twice a semester beginning in the sophomore year. These rehearsal and performance opportunities provide students the opportunity to apply the dynamic work of their classes in practice.

Ithaca College - Ithaca, NY

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Why we love it: Many students take advantage of Ithaca College’s London Center and spend the fall semester of their junior year studying British drama and culture. In the senior year, opportunities include workshops and masterclasses that help facilitate the transition to the profession.

NYU Tisch - New York, NY

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Why we love it: Tisch Drama has 10 professional training studios. Each studio teaches a unique approach to creative work—encouraging students to explore and develop a technique based on their individual needs and aspirations.

Milikin University - Decatur, IL

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Why we love it: Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre is an exciting concept in undergraduate education. In partnership with the Millikin Center for Entrepreneurship, the School of Theatre and Dance has created a laboratory environment where students can “play, experiment, and explore.” Through course work and practical application, students’ skills are put to the test in this student-run business venture. From selecting a season to directing, designing, and performing, from marketing and audience development to managing financial responsibilities, students engage in all aspects of running a small theatre company.

Fordham University - New York, NY

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Why we love it: The performance track is centered in Stanisklavski's late work with physical actions. The training also includes voice work with Linklater and Fitzmaurice techniques, and movement work in disciplines such as Alexander, Feldenkrais, and Butoh.

Bennington College - Bennington, VT

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Why we love it: Faculty include Dina Janis, a lifetime member of the famed Actors Studio, currently led by Ellen Burstyn, Al Pacino, and Harvey Keitel. As an actor, she trained directly with Kim Stanley, Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner.

Oberlin College - Oberlin, OH

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Why we love it: The Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater is an accessible and highly adaptable performance space that can accommodate up to 300 seats. This medium-sized theater is the third performance space for Oberlin’s dance, theater, and vocal studies programs. Faculty and students alike will be able to present student-produced, experimental, and small- and full-scale plays and operas.