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The Best Acting Schools in the U.S. 2017

Acting schools specialize in pre-professional training in the theater and drama arts, which may include arts administration, acting, design, technical theater, and other related subjects. Many acting schools offer programs resulting in a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Arts, Master of Fine Arts, or Master of Arts in playwriting, production design, directing, or acting. Admission into a college acting program typically requires an audition, and usually includes monologues and group workshops, but may also require singing, which is common for individuals pursuing a musical theater degree. Students who attend acting or drama school should expect to complete practical coursework rather than theoretical classes with the aim to train students as actors for stage or film work. Coursework commonly includes dramatic interpretation and techniques, theater history, linguistics, backstage production, acting and drama, stage management, script analysis, theatrical makeup, and performance workshops. The best acting schools will help students develop their technique, cultivate their talent, expand their thinking, and prepare them for successful careers, and are known for alumni who have gone on to become award-winning actors, an outstanding faculty, stellar reputation, and broad-based curriculum. On this page, we provide a list of the nation's best acting/drama schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    28 schools ranked

  • Famous for providing the highest caliber of education in the arts; Julliard attracts superior talent in students and educators, is committed to diversity and inclusion and emphasizes global citizenship.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 894
  • NYU recently announced designs for its new and largest educational facility. The new location will provide art students with new practice locations, rehearsal rooms and spaces in which to perform.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 50,027
  • Yale’s School of Drama has succeeded in applying and translating aesthetic sensibility into the language of the theatre. Their core values are: artistry, professionalism, collaboration, discovery, diversity and community.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,385
  • Located in the heart of one of the world’s cultural centers, the UCLA School of Art emphasizes the necessity of a profound interdependence between the creative arts and academic scholarship. Drawing from the richness of the surrounding culture, the School hosts a distinguished, world-famous faculty who effectively combine studio-based experience with critical studies and liberal arts. As part of a leading research university, students are guaranteed an exclusive and empowering education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,908
  • Founded in 1967, the Visual Arts Dept.is well-known for its unique combination of faculty. Educators include artists, art critics, theorists and scholars who spearhead five bachelors programs and two masters degree options.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 32,906
  • Due to the paucity of young actors trained in the techniques of classical theater; the program was founded in the 1980’s. Highly-acclaimed, it accepts only 7 students per year; 2% of its applicants.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
  • At DePaul University teaching comes first. Students are taught by esteemed faculty, not graduate students. DePaul raises artistic awareness in its student body and community by emphasizing knowledge and critical thinking skills.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 23,539
  • Educating students since 1970, Newsweek Magazine and The Daily Beast have ranked CalArts as the nation’s top college of the arts. Its six schools offer rigorous graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,448
  • Encouraging scholars to narrow their focus while broadening their scope of thinking is what makes BU unique. The elite research university emphasizes teamwork and individuality, simultaneously, furthering its sui generis approach.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 32,158
  • A world-renowned leader in the field, USC School of Dramatic Arts provides a full academic experience in a conservatory environment. Programs are of the highest caliber, supportive and close-knit.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 43,401
  • Enjoying international acclaim; the Drama School was founded by the Actors Studio and is the only program which it sanctions. Current Presidents are Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,843
  • From high school to the master’s degree level, UNCSA programs and five conservatories of a professional caliber; encourage total immersion in one’s chosen discipline; to eat, sleep and breathe the art form.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 970
  • The flagship public arts conservatory of Rutgers is the Mason Gross School of the Arts. As one of the “Big Ten” research universities, it developments filmmakers, musicians, theater artists, dancers and visual artists.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 49,428
  • With its focus on the transformative possibilities inherent to dramatic storytelling, A.C.T. seeks to enrich its community of artists by inspiring a collaborative spirit; developing critical thinking skills while supporting and encouraging creativity.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 46
  • The Visual Art Department enjoys an international, forceful reputation; due in part to its faculty as well as its successful alumni. The department emphasizes technical proficiency and the development of critical thinking skills.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 9,458
  • The School of Art combines a renowned studio program with facets of an interdisciplinary approach, resulting in a leading-edge education. Highly esteemed faculty introduce students to a methodology encompassing experimentation and boundary crossing.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,963
  • Audacious in its mission, the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI is an innovative center where art students can creatively engage in production, appreciation, personal development and critique.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 30,836
  • As a graduate professional school with deeply intellectual Ivy League roots, the School of the Arts offers students a faculty known for their Tony Awards, Academy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Nobel Prizes and Guggenheim Fellowships.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 28,086
  • The School of Art, Art History and Design is characterized by: interdisciplinary collaboration, rigorous classroom experiences, international opportunities, critical engagement and studio-based learning. Both undergraduate and graduate degrees are conferred.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 45,408
  • The American Repertory Theater and Harvard enjoy a mutually beneficial interdependent relationship which allows the University to satisfy a fundamental need to integrate collaborative and inventive artistic elements into its intellectual environment.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 29,654
  • US News ranked this Art Department, #1 in Printmaking and #15 for their Overall Fine Arts Program. Its sui generis is the premise that art is the nexus of all the humanities.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 42,716
  • The College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University embodies the vision that art and scholarship can affect change. Emphasis is on self-discovery in visual art and design; risk-taking and critical thought.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,789
  • The Department of Theatre Arts & Dance is committed to educating students in the areas of performing arts, social issues and how theatre and dance speak so powerfully to human emotions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 50,678
  • The graduate and professional programs at Weinberg College (Northwestern) are world-famous for the breadth and depth of their multidisciplinary and intellectual approach to education. Students enroll from over 30 countries.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 21,655
  • The Studio Arts program provides specialized study in a chosen field, a strong technical foundation and real-life experience with local artistic exhibitions. Focus areas include; painting, drawing, ceramics, mixed media & printmaking.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,928
  • The School of Drama offers undergraduate and graduate degrees; both comprised of high levels of artistic training; project-based learning; performance opportunities and skill development. Their award-winning faculty prepare students for successful, professional careers.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 10,344
  • Exceptional internships and trips to New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Toronto make the Art Department at Ithaca engaging in visual and intellectual dialogue. Through emphasizing synergy, students receive an encompassing education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 6,769
  • Emerson offers programs in: Writing, Literature & Publishing, Visual & Media Arts, Performing Arts and Comedic Arts. Their community approach is dedicated to developing sophistication, expertise and a sense of artistic responsibility.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 4,479

How to Choose an Acting School

You should know up front, you do not have to go to college or attend a university or private institute to become an actor. In fact, many famous actors never earned a degree, choosing instead to dive right into the industry. But, star-studded actors and actresses like Adam Sandler, Debra Messing, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep all graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher (Adam Sandler and Meryl Streep actually earned their Masters) in Theater, Drama, or Fine Arts.

Post-secondary programs in acting, theater, drama, fine arts, film, etc., can be found in almost every major public and private college in the US, as well as many well-known universities overseas. Most community colleges also offer programs in many aspects of acting, like voice and dance. Classes will help you hone your skills, as well as help you understand what happens behind the scenes, like business dealings and contracts. Besides coursework, college productions can also provide aspiring actors with a chance to be seen by producers and agents who may be looking for promising new talent.

Besides teaching the basics of acting, like stage production, theater history, voice, dance, music, and the like, an acting program represents time to grow and mature as a person and train alongside others who are passionate about the industry. You will gain insight into the industry and make industry contacts that might be difficult to unearth otherwise. Acting school helps students discover a love for ensemble work, keep vocally, mentally, and emotionally fit, and learn from mentoring relationships formed with professors who will teach you discipline and stamina. Attending school will also help you discover if you have the dedication and perseverance to survive in the highly-competitive field of acting. Some aspiring actors will train in professional acting schools while attending college, such as attending a Meisner school (an approach to acting developed by Sanford Meisner) while also attending USC or NYU. Theater schools and other full-time acting programs will give you a broad understanding, as well as an appreciation, of different acting techniques, while keeping your love of acting alive.

Acting schools are dedicated to providing students with the intellectual and artistic foundations needed for a career as a professional in the theater, film, or another allied discipline. Most universities have theater departments. Some have acting and theater departments embedded into a fine art program, others are dedicated to the performing arts and have sub-schools devoted to the field. The right acting school for you will give you a well-rounded education in movement, speech, acting technique, theater history, statecraft, and classes in business to learn to navigate the business side of show business. But, just as every actor or actress has a unique talent skill set, so does each acting program available at the collegiate level. That’s why it’s so vitally important to find one that encourages yet stretches your acting abilities.

SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT & LOCATION

Not everyone thrives in the same learning environment, and not every acting or theater school will work for every actor or actress. So, how do you choose a school, and what do you base that choice on? Methods? Location? Level of Intensity? Faculty? All of the above? Two of the most important characteristics of any school is a positive learning environment coupled with constructive criticism. Together, they will encourage growth. If you are always told you are a great actor you will never cultivate your real talent. Likewise, if you are always torn down you just may walk away from acting. You should look for a school that offers you the freedom to succeed and fail; and learn from both. All actors have bad and good days. When you have an off day, you want an encouraging environment to get you back on track. Do you like a classroom filled to the brim with aspiring actors who all share your passion for the field, or do you prefer a more intimate setting where you are among only a dozen or so people?

You also want to be sure that you can build a community of like-minded people on campus. If you’re already outgoing than you may feel like you can jump right in and be right at home in class or on the stage. But, if you’re a bit shy, then you’ll want to look for a support system of other classmates to welcome you wholeheartedly and show you the ropes, and help you feel more at home. Actors relate to one another, so it’s important to make sure you feel comfortable in the environment.

Find out too if the school has industry connections. All acting schools should help you build connections, because once you’ve sharpened your skills and graduated, it’s time to audition and book work. Meeting managers, casting directors, and agents provide the opportunity for your career to move forward. Will the school help you book work and introduce you to people in the industry? Ask your peers or recent graduates about their experiences on campus. Were they able to book work post-graduation? Did they feel they had the opportunity to network while in school?

Another thing to consider is location. Colleges in rural settings can be limiting when it comes to meeting and networking with people outside of the college community. Programs that are based in larger cities or urban areas allow students to be surrounded by theater, museums, and other cultural events, and going to a school in an area with a thriving theater environment gives you the chance to see and learn from other actors at a deeply discounted student price. But, large schools typically have larger classes and the sheer number of students can be overwhelming for some people. Larger universities also offer extensive student resources, like housing and athletics, whereas private acting schools typically do not. Smaller colleges usually offer fewer distractions than larger colleges, and often provide a more intimate setting where students get to know each other more easily. Smaller colleges and most private institutes also typically have a smaller student-to-professor ratio, which offers students more one-on-one time and personal attention. Even the most out-going actors don’t want to feel lost in the crowd and left out no matter where they choose to go to college.

So, ask yourself if you are willing to move away from family and friends to receive the best possible education? Do you want to live in a big city with big opportunities or smaller community? Near the beach or in the cold tundra? Are you willing to pay out-of-state tuition? Consider too, outside performance opportunities. Many acting schools have strong ties with theater groups in their area. These regional theaters give students a chance to perform professionally, off-campus. But, keep in mind that some schools restrict whether or not students can book off-campus work, so be sure to ask if a school you’re considering is open to you performing off-campus throughout the school year.

FIND A NICHE

Not all actors and actresses do all things. Some prefer and are best at local theater. Some actors only work Broadway and never audition for a movie or TV. Others only want to work in TV. If you want to get into sitcoms, then find a school that can help hone your craft so you can get a job on a sitcom. If it turns out you love Shakespeare, then lots of schools can help you enter that area of acting. It may take a semester or two or even longer to decide, but once you’ve chosen a niche, then go sit in on some classes, talk to instructors to find out how they teach and if it meets your style of learning or area of acting you want to pursue. Does the school offer classes in the area of acting you most want to pursue? What do other students say about the classes and instructors?

Finding a niche that meets your career goals and also expresses and articulates your acting style is imperative. In fact, if you get good enough at only one thing, it might be enough to sustain you for your entire career. Are you most comfortable with drama? Comedy? Of course, at this point in your education, you may want to try out each and every approach, technique, and method, discover which one works out best for you. More than likely you'll take tiny pieces from a number of different techniques, learn them all, discover what you like, and leave the rest. But, understand that not all schools teach all methods and techniques, so do your research early and weed out the ones that don’t meet your expectations and ambitions. Understand too, there is no one correct way to act, or only one correct technique to learn.

FACULTY & SCHOOL REPUTATION

Just like an athletic trainer at a gym, a good acting or drama teacher will introduce you to exercises that allow you to discover your talents and then help you express it in a way that’s uniquely you. A good acting teacher helps you mine your artistic talents and shape it into something you can use in your career. It’s true, some teachers have access to casting directors and agents, but all that matters is if they can show you how to express your own voice in unique ways. Look too at alumni, as an acting or drama’s school’s reputation is usually built on its working professionals. Research a school’s alums, where they work, or what kind of work they produce; Broadway, regional theaters, film, TV? Have alumni branched off into other aspects of acting, like directing or becoming a playwright? A great school will provide you with a solid foundation on which to build your own career, so finding out what graduates are doing today will help you determine if the school teaches what you want to learn. In addition, find out if the faculty are still evolving as artists. Find out too if the students who attend are as excited about learning to act as you, and encouraging you to move right in. If not, you may be in the wrong place for you.

A good acting teacher will nudge you, because as an actor you need to be pushed outside your comfort zone, and a good teacher will discover how to motivate and spur you on in ways you never thought possible. Likewise, a good teacher never tells you what you should be or what you should do, but helps you figure it out for yourself by mentoring and advising you along the way.

What You'll Learn - What to Expect from an Acting Program

If a student is enrolled in an acting, drama, or theater program in college, a university, or acting school, you can bet he or she is passionate about acting. So, you will be surrounded by peers who have the same infatuation with this field as you do. They will inspire you and after a time you will be able to gauge how and where you belong in the world of showbiz. College is where you get to ‘step foot’ into the field of acting, and while under the watchful eyes of your professors, rehearse, practice, experiment, repeat, only to get better and better. And, competition from fellow classmates is a good thing and vital to you becoming the best performer you can be. You will observe and absorb everything, and learn a lot about yourself. Theater school helps you prepare for most any role through the control and manipulation of your emotions, and you will spend nearly every waking moment in the theater or in class, which is equal parts exhaustion and excitement. The more you pour yourself into your performances, the more tired you will feel, but the better you will become.

You will also discover that most of your teachers are successful professionals in the field of voice, dance, acting, theater, and drama, and have worked in the field, sometimes for many years. Their main purpose is to provide you will the tools necessary to become outstanding actors who are comfortable in all media. Most programs cover acting methods, skills, and techniques. Classes typically include the study of improvisation, voice and speech, acting for film and TV, and stage combat. In addition to a wide range of acting classes, you will also study movement and voice for the stage, as well as playwriting, costuming theater history, and instruction in what is expected at an audition.

In addition to the experience you will gain in college, you may consider going to auditions and taking parts in local theater, in a theme park, dinner theater, or on a cruise ship (if school allows you the time away). Experience of most any kind is vital to becoming a successful actor, and you can never get enough. Acting workshops outside of school can also keep you in top form by providing an environment that will help stretch your creative muscles. Join a theater team and network with other professionals. It may take months or even years to get that big break, but it is possible with a lot of hard work, dedication, and patience.

All said, earning a degree in acting is a special experience during your collegiate years. It will provide a strong foundation in acting, a solid work ethic, and give you significant hands-on experience in a fun, yet challenging environment with talented, like-minded individuals who can offer invaluable collaboration and support as you grow as an artist.