For people to appreciate performing arts, the craft has to be raw and honest. As Zooey Deschanel put it, “If it doesn’t feel true, I don’t want to do it.”
Performing arts is not only a subject that engages students and faculty but the nation and the world. They enrich the environment we live in by displaying thought-provoking and mesmerizing visuals that anyone can appreciate.
Many different careers can be pursued with a degree in performing arts, such as stage, film, or drama.
The following list of performing art schools rank among the best of the best in education.
This list of best colleges for performing arts degrees are ranked according to:
Instructor to student ratio
Most of these performing arts colleges will also have online education options for flexibility and time-saving abilities. The students may have a full-time job or families to care for.
Read on to find out more about the top performing arts colleges. When you are ready to begin the college admissions process, this list can help guide you in the right direction.
New Haven, CT
Yale University School of Drama in New Haven, Connecticut is the top of the line for performing arts degrees for many reasons.
Despite the other schools being fantastic choices for students serious about drama, Yale is a cut above the rest due to its prestige as an Ivy League institution.
Notable alumni also include the likes of actors like Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, Paul Newman, Tony Shalhoub, and Meryl Streep, who is considered one of the finest actresses of this current generation.
Yale School of Drama offers graduate training in many performing arts fields, such as:
- design (which covers sets, costumes, lighting, projection, and sound)
- dramaturgy and dramatic criticism
- stage management
- technical design and production
- theater management
Yale is truly an amazing college as well as one of the best universities in the United States. Students will get the absolute best education at Yale as a result of its qualifications for the highest standard of education, as all Ivy League schools are structured to be in the Northeast United States.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois has an extensive learning program and is another great performing arts school. Northwestern offers teachings in performance, history, and theory to cover many bases of performing arts colleges options.
Various subjects are covered at Northwestern, such as:
- stage management
- music theatre
- children’s theatre
- devised theatre
- theatre history and criticism
- costume, set, and light design
Northwestern offers a broad variety of top performing arts majors, such as an MFA in directing, stage design, and writing for the screen and stage. Additionally, Northwestern offers:
- An interdisciplinary Ph.D. in theatre and drama
- An MS in leadership for creative enterprises
- An MA in sound arts and industries
Northwestern offers a one of the best bachelor’s in theatre and dance and a certificate in music theatre.
The Julliard School
New York, New York
As a highly prestigious school founded in 1968, The Juilliard School is very selective with little more than a 7% acceptance rate. Juilliard also has 275 Steinway pianos stored in the facility, which is the largest collection of any institute in the world.
The Library and Juilliard Manuscript Collection are massive as well, with thousands of music scores, musician autographs, and recordings for research purposes. Juilliard offers BFA or MFA acting and playwriting programs.
Note that students will have to send in auditions to be considered for a performing arts degree program. The Juilliard School accepts between 8 and 10 applicants into their acting program each year. They also offer performance opportunities throughout the first and second year of the student’s college career.
Students of this top performing arts college in NY are cast in plays based on training need rather than show demand.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has a top performing arts college. The school offers a BFA in acting and a top musical theatre degree, designed with a concentration of:
- Video, or media
- Production technology
They also offer The John Wells Directing Program. Their graduate school also offers MFA degrees in:
- Costume production
- Dramatic writing
- Production technology
This top ranking drama school is also the oldest performing arts school in the United States, founded in 1914.
CalArts in Valencia, California is one of the top performing arts colleges for students across the nation for a number of reasons.
Founded by Walt Disney in 1961, CalArts is a theatre at the private California Institute of the Arts and also the first school in the United States designed to specifically award educational degrees to students in visual and performing arts.
The school awards BA in Acting and a MA in acting, directing, and writing. They also have programs for costume and set design. It is rather selective with a 27.5% acceptance rate.
Notable alumni from this top performing arts degree college include greats such as Tim Burton and Henry Selick.
Pace University (Actors Studio Drama School)
New York City
The Actors Studio at Pace University is one of the top performing arts colleges known for its creative dramatic arts degree curriculum. It is a 3-year post graduate institution that offers master degrees in acting, directing and playwriting.
The school boasts a long list of famous media forms on its application, such as:
- 30 Rock
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- School of Rock
- Commercials for AT&T and Burger King
It is also the famed school on the show Inside the Actors Studio that airs on Bravo.
Opportunities are offered through the three year program to act, produce, and direct plays for the public through various projects.
American Conservatory Theater
San Francisco, CA
The American Conservatory Theater is one of the best performing arts colleges in California.
Its Tony award-winning theatre located in San Francisco, California is a historical site. The theatre was built in 1910 and incorporated into the community in 1975 and 1976. It was famed in 2007 for releasing the play Happy End, which was produced and mixed by LucasArts Studios.
This best performing arts school offers an MFA in theatre ranked in the top five in the nation.
Notable alumni include:
- Denzel Washington
- Annette Benning
- Danny Glover
- Nicolas Cage
- Winona Ryder
William Paterson University (The Shea Center for the Performing Arts)
Built in 1956, the Shea Center is the main performing arts school at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. The Shea Center contains:
- 922 seats
- A customized sound system
- Computerized lighting systems
- A specialized seating arrangement
The specialized seating arrangement was designed strictly for more engagement and performer/audience interaction.
The school offers honors track programs in music, performing, and literary arts. It’s also worth noting that the Shea Center is handicapped accessible.
This top performing arts college in New Jersey has also hosted many great performing legends, such as rock icon David Crosby.
Emory College of Arts and Sciences
Emory College of Arts and Sciences is located in Atlanta, Georgia. It is on the list of best performing arts colleges in the US. With top degrees in theater studies and dance, the elective courses are open to all students.
Named in 2003, the Swartz Center of Performing Arts offers several programs for interested students. It offers art experience for the whole community. Students can attend events like:
- Music, theater, dance performances
- Art exhibitions
- Poetry readings
- Film screenings
The school also welcomes many guest artists year round and hosts over 300 performing arts events.
Among the best performing arts colleges is the Velma V. Morrison Center. The Morrison Center can be found in Boise, Idaho. It is the main theatrical Center at Boise State University.
The center also offers a variety of top degrees in theatre, including a BA in theatre arts (TA) and theatre arts secondary education. Besides a performing arts major, the TA major covers a variety of different subjects such as:
- Dramatic writing
- Stage management
Students can also minor in theater arts, dance, or theatre arts. The TA secondary education major is designed to prepare students for a career in teaching theatre. The theatre contains over 2,000 seats.
University of Florida Performing Arts
Among the best performing arts colleges is from the University of Florida. Located in Gainesville, Florida, the Phillips Center is the major theatre center at the university. It offers a number of different programs for students interested in a career in theatre or fine arts.
Named after a retired Jacksonville-based surgeon in 2000, the Phillips Center has a proscenium hall that contains 1,700 seats as well as a 200-seat Black Box Theatre.
The University of Florida offers one of the best BFA in acting programs as well as:
- Musical Theatre
- General Theatre
- Costume Design
- Lighting Design
- Scene Design
This best performing arts university in Florida also offers MFAs in:
- Costume design
- Lighting design
- Scene design
As a result, the Phillips Center at the University of Florida has a great range of subjects for students to choose from if they have several different interests in theatre.
University of Maryland (Clarice Smith Performing Arts)
College Park, MD
University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is one of the best performing arts colleges for a number of reasons.
Affectionately called “The Clarice” by locals, the school is named after a former student from Washington DC. She obtained her BA and MFA from George Washington University. She is also a highly regarded painter with experience spanning 35 years and artwork displayed in prestigious galleries like the Gerald Peters and Kennedy Galleries, both in New York City.
The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center offers a wide variety of degrees, including:
- BA in dance or theatre
- MA in theatre and performance studies
- MFA in dance or design
- Ph.D. in theatre and performance studies
This drama school is great for students wishing to span a long educational career in theatre.
California State University, Fullerton (Clayes Performing Arts Center)
This performing arts center at California State University in Fullerton is located in the heart of California’s performance station. It is nestled close to over 100 performing theatres and theme parks such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags.
It is also ranked with best performing arts colleges like:
- New York University
- Boston University
- Northwestern University
California State University offers a BA in dance with a major in performance and choreography. It also offers a BA in theatre with majors like:
- design/technical production
- entertainment studies
- teacher education
Cal State Fullerton is one of the best drama schools in the U.S. According to California State University, a degree in theatre and dance prepares students for the skills needed for a dynamic career in theatre or dance, teaching theatre or dance, or to move on to graduate studies.
This top performing arts degree in California is near many of the top cities for theatre in the state, including Hollywood.
Vincennes University (Red Skelton Performing Arts Center)
Another one of the best performing arts colleges is the Red Skeleton Performing Arts Center, located at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana.
As the hometown of the famous comic actor Red Skelton, much work has been put into this center throughout the years. Founded in February of 2006, the theatre contains 850 seats, dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, and classrooms. The theatre’s foyer contains paintings, statues, and posters of Red Skelton.
Vincennes University offers performing arts degrees in music and theatre. These include an Associate of Science in music theatre and technical theatre and an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science in theatre and theater arts/acting. All associate degrees are transferable for a bachelor’s in a similar field.
Chicago Illinois’s famed DePaul University is among the best performing arts colleges and boasts a small student to teacher ratio. It has an average of 6 to 1.
DePaul offers intriguing courses like African Dance and American Funny: Stage Comedy From Groucho Marx to Tina Fey.
Notable instructors include F. Murray Abraham and Faye Dunaway, both of whom have taught master classes on campus.
The school puts on 40 productions a year and offers one of the best bachelor’s of fine arts in acting along with:
- Costume Design
- Costume Technology
- Lighting Design
- Scenic Design
- Sound Design
- Stage Management
- Theatre Technology
- Dramaturgy / Criticism
- Theater Arts
- Theatre Management
- Theatre Studies Minor
DePaul also offers top graduate programs in acting, directing, and arts leadership. Notable alumni from this top performing arts college in Chicago include Gillian Anderson from the X-Files and Tony Award-winning actor Joe Mantegna.
Frequently Asked Questions
Choosing the best major in performing arts depends on your specific interests and career goals. Options include Theater Arts, Dance, Music, or a broader Performing Arts major. Consider your passion and desired focus within the performing arts to select the major that aligns with your creative aspirations and future plans.
Performing arts colleges can be worth it for individuals passionate about pursuing a career in the arts. They offer specialized training, networking opportunities, and exposure to industry professionals. However, it’s essential to weigh factors like cost and individual goals when deciding if a performing arts college is the right fit.
A Bachelor of Performing Arts major is a degree program that focuses on various aspects of performance, including acting, dance, music, and theater production. It provides comprehensive training in the performing arts, allowing students to develop their skills and knowledge in their chosen discipline. Graduates may pursue careers in entertainment, stage productions, or related creative fields.
A major in theater involves a combination of practical and theoretical coursework, covering acting, production, and dramatic theory. While it can be challenging due to the need for creativity, dedication, and teamwork, it offers a rewarding and immersive experience for those passionate about the performing arts. Success in theater often comes from a blend of talent, hard work, and a genuine love for the craft.
Theater: Acting, stagecraft, and directing in plays and musicals.
Dance: Various dance forms, such as ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary.
Music: Instrumental or vocal performances, including classical, jazz, and popular genres.
Film: Acting, directing, and producing in the realm of movies and television.
Opera: Dramatic vocal and orchestral performances with elaborate staging.
Comedy: Stand-up comedy, improv, and comedic acting on stage or screen.
Each discipline within performing arts offers unique avenues for creative expression and skill development.
You can put your creative talents to work in the theatre, on stage, or as a professional actor of dancer. Because of the liberal arts focus, there are many different career paths you can follow as a performing arts major. Popular careers include directing, producing, playwriting, and theatre or set designing.
If you want to act, direct, dance, or design, a performing arts major can help. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for producers and directors should grow 7% through 2032. This is about 16,000 new jobs added to the industry each year for the next 10 years. Actors should expect a 3% growth and dancers and choreographers will see a 5% job growth. Now is a good time to major in performing arts.