The Top 10 Musical Theatre Programs for 2018-19

Each year, OnStage Blog takes a deep look at the many theatre programs across the country. With thousands of prospective students and families researching what makes one program a better fit than another, we feel it's important to provide as many resources as possible. 

As we've mentioned before, OnStage Blog's rankings are based on a rating system that looks at a number of different factors that should be considered when looking into these schools. In case anyone has any questions about our ranking process, we've described it here

We originally were going to combine BFA and B.M degrees together on one list, like we did last year. However, it was rightly pointed out by one of our team members that while in some ways similar, these are two completely different degrees. 

What's the difference? Our columnist Gretchen Midgely said it best when she wrote, "I would guess that most musical theatre programs require training in music theory and ear training. Bachelor of Music programs, however, tend to require a much more intensive study of theory than BFA's and BA's. B.M Musical Theatre students take the same theory courses as students studying composition, instrumental performance, music history, and all other music concentrations. What this translates to is a very useful set of skills."

She continues, "B.M programs often require their students to take courses in music not relating to musical theatre, such as conducting, music history, piano, and music electives. Having a better understanding of music and a wider set of musical skills leads to more self-sufficient singing actors. Knowing how to conduct can help you better work through difficult music (JRB, Sondheim, and Guettel, anyone?). Piano skills allow you to accompany yourself (even if just with chords) and plunk out melodies."

So taking into consideration what the differences between these degrees and all the other factors we've been looking at to rank these programs, here are our picks for the top B.M Musical Theatre programs for 2018-19. NOTE: Some of these schools have both BFA and B.M degrees. B.M in Vocal Performance degrees are not listed here. 

(Editor's note: We originally listed Rider University on this list. However, it was later noted that their musical theatre performance degree was a BFA rather than their musical theatre direction program which is a B.M)

10. UNC Pembroke - Pembroke, NC

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Highlight: While a brand new program at UNC Pembroke, their B.M. in Musical Theatre is making their mark. The program requirements are demanding with 91 hours of music, theatre and stage courses. Courses in the program are offered by the departments of Music, Theatre and Physical Education (dance) and in collaboration with the Art Department for set design and scenic painting and the technical staff of the Givens Performing Arts Center.

9. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville - Edwardsville, IL


Highlight: SIUE Theater and Dance faculty work with graduating majors to find exciting and dynamic internship opportunities for graduating majors.  Recent graduates have worked with Dance STL, St. Louis Black Repertory Theater, American Dance Festival, Upstream Theatre, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, YoungLiars Theater, Backhausdance (LA), HotCity Theater and others.  

8. The University of Central Oklahoma - Edmond, OK


Highlights: The UCO College of Fine Arts and Design annually awards more than $100,000 in scholarships with more than 90 scholarship opportunities. In 2018, the University of Central Oklahoma was identified as one of the great value colleges for undergraduate music majors ranked as #22.

7. Arizona State University - Tempe, AZ


Highlights: The educational partnerships with Phoenix Theatre and Arizona Opera in provide students with opportunities for college credit. Regular guest artists and residencies through collaborations with Phoenix Theatre, Arizona Opera, ASU Gammage and numerous Broadway National Tours; recent guests include Brent Barrett, Philip Glass and Leslie Odam Jr.

6. The Catholic University of America - Washington D.C.


Highlight: Dance is receiving special emphasis in their program. Eight semesters of dance are required, but students are encouraged to enroll in additional classes on and off campus. Preparing students for the professional world is CUA's utmost goal. Teaching beginners to move and pushing them to proficiency, or challenging already advanced dancers to true artistic heights, the dance sequence is designed for students of every level. Making dance a priority within our already extensive program ensures more triple threats than ever are leaving with diplomas and are working in their field.

5. Belmont University - Nashville, TN

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Highlight: Every Fall, musical theater coordinator Nancy Allen and faculty members host the opportunity for students to spend Fall Break in New York. During their stay in the Big Apple, students see shows, attend a master class, meet the Belmont alumni network at a brunch and have a tour featuring information about the business side of the musical theater performer. In the Spring, the senior class takes their showcase to New York City to perform at the Laurie Beachman Theatre in the West Bank Cafe. This performance is an invitation-only event to introduce the newest graduates to influential industry personnel.

4. Manhattan School of Music - New York, NY


Highlight: Manhattan School of Music’s prestigious Musical Theatre Program is the only stand-alone conservatory program in New York City. Fantastic faculty roster includes Tony Winning actress Randy Graff. Ms. Graff has the distinction of creating the role of Fantine in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables for which she received a Helen Hayes Award nomination. Also on Broadway, she starred opposite Alfred Molina in Fiddler on the Roof, receiving a Drama League nomination, Laughter on the 23rd Floor with Nathan Lane, Moon Over Buffalo opposite Carol Burnett, and in Falsettos, High Society, and Grease.

3. Oklahoma City University - Oklahoma City, OK


Highlight: Starting on April 4, 1930, Oklahoma City University presented its first musical production – Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore. Since then OCU has become a musical theatre powerhouse. As OCU's talent pool and audiences grew over the next two decades, the university established the Oklahoma Opera and Music Theater Company. In 1951, it mounted the first of what has become 63 consecutive seasons of fully staged productions.

2. NYU Steinhardt - New York, NY


Highlight: NYU Steinhardt offers a dual degree that allows you to earn a bachelor of music in composition or performance and a master of arts in music education in only five years. You can take courses towards your graduate degree during your junior and senior years, then complete the MA in one additional year of study, becoming eligible for New York State initial certification as a teacher of music, grades K-12. 

1. Baldwin Wallace University - Berea, OH 


A top destination for any student wanting to study musical theatre. Over the years, BW has produced six regional premieres in partnership with Playhouse Square and received national attention for academic premieres of Broadway productions. Among its credits, BW produced the first-ever in repertory productions of La Boheme and Rent. Other recent academic premieres have included: Brooklyn: the Musical, [title of show], Passing Strange, Lizzie Borden, Murder Ballad and the new version of Saturday Night Fever. BW is a proud member of the National Alliance for Music Theatre.

BW produces an annual New York Showcase attended by the industry, resulting in 100 percent of BW students being signed by top agents for the past six years.


Full Disclosure: Our MT research team consisted of one B.M alum, one BM educator, two music directors and two admissions professionals. They're associated with the following schools - SUNY Purchase, Rider University, Penn State, University of Southern Maine, Syracuse University and Georgia College. To avoid conflict of interest, they did not adjudicate their associated programs.