The following list of performing art schools rank among the best of the best in education. 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.
For people to appreciate performing arts, however, 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.” Many different careers can be pursued with a degree in performing arts, such as stage or film acting.
This list of best colleges for performing arts degrees are ranked according to:
- Instructor to student ratio
- Academic rigor
Most of these schools 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.
Related Resource: What is a Bachelor’s Degree?
20. King University
The Theatre at King in Bristol, Tennessee is one of the best performing arts colleges in the US. The university of music and performing arts at King includes many different subjects, such as acting, designing, directing, building, and writing. King University also offers several enriching programs for enthusiastic students. This includes a study abroad option for travel throughout the country or even the world. They also offer the opportunity to attend national theater conferences. The school offers a BA in Theatre and an MA or a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre. This historic university is the most prestigious acting schools in the Tri-Cities Tennessee area. With high-quality instructors, easy to contact advisors, quick access to financial aid, and intense academic rigor, King University is the best that East Tennessee has to offer.
The University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin has one of the best undergraduate theater programs. It is one of the top performing arts colleges in the U.S. Students can also major in five different divisions, including:
- Costume Design
- Lighting Design
- Scenic Design
- Theatre Technology
The faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are working professionals in the Performing Arts field. They have a great deal of experience to share with students. They are also listed among the top 4 research institutions in the United States. Students are sure to obtain a high-quality education at the University. Their website is also very informative and simple to navigate.
Founded in 1925, the University of North Carolina is located in Chapel Hill. This North Carolina school is the second oldest drama school in the United States. The school is also partnered with PlayMakers Repertory Company. Actors like Andy Griffith is a famous actor who was previously part of the group. UNC’s school for drama offers a number of undergraduate specialties in its top performing arts education. These specialties include acting or directing. With a simple, clean, and easy to navigate website, students will be sure to find the school helpful and informative.
UC Irvine in Irvine, California is a small college in southern California. It was converted from an old buffalo ranch in Orange County halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It has one of the best BFA acting programs in the US. Its top drama program packs a punch for eager students. Two major playhouses are located only a few miles from campus. These include the Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach. This best performing arts degree college in California only accepts eight students a year. It offers a BFA in Music Theatre and has numerous honors programs in a number of fields. These fields include acting, directing, and design. The school has graduated students such as Teal Wicks and Beth Malone, who went on to Broadway.
Located in New Jersey, Rutgers is the only school on the list of performing arts degree colleges that offers an exchange program year-round at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, England. This top performing arts degree college also offers five different types of degrees in their programs over three campus locations, including:
- Film Making
- Visual Arts
Rutgers-New Brunswick offers one of the best BFA acting programs in the US. Mike Colter and Sebastian Stan are notable alumni. They are also quite close in proximity to New York City. Students could make easy day trips to Broadway for extra study work or to watch a New York City ballet performance.
Chicago Illinois’s famed DePaul University has 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 BFA in acting degree programs 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
They also offer 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.
The famed Red Skelton Performing Arts Center is 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. It was erected 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 many 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.
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 schools like Juilliard, New York University, Boston University, and 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 theatre colleges 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 college in California is near many of the top cities for theatre in the state, including Hollywood.
University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is one of the great performing centers 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 school 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 school is great for students wishing to span a long educational career in theatre. Their top performing arts degree program is highly extensive.
Located in Gainesville, Florida, the Phillips Center is the major theatre center at the University of Florida. It offers a number of different programs for students interested in a career in theatre and performing 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 degree college in Florida also offers an MFA in Acting, Costume Design, Lighting Design, and 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.
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 dance, design, directing, dramatic writing, and stage management. Students can also minor in Theater Arts, Dance Minor, or TA Certificate Endorsement. The TA Secondary Education major is designed to prepare students for a career in teaching theatre. The theatre contains over 2,000 seats.
Emory College of Arts and Sciences is located in Atlanta, Georgia. It is on the list of best performing arts degree 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 music, theater, dance performances, art exhibitions, poetry readings, or film screenings for credit as well as earn various degrees in those subjects. The school also welcomes many guest artists year round and hosts over 300 performing arts events.
The Shea Center is the main performing arts school at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. It was built in 1965. It contains 922 seats, a customized sound system, computerized lighting systems, and a specialized seating arrangement designed strictly for more engaging 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.
The American Conservatory Theater is one of the best performing arts degree colleges in California. Its Tony award-winning theatre located in San Francisco, California is a historical site, 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, and Winona Ryder.
The Actors Studio at Pace University is one of the best NY colleges known for its creative dramatic arts degree curriculum. This is one of the top drama schools. It is a 3-year post graduate institution that offers master degrees in acting, directing and playwriting. The school has a long list of famous media forms on its application, such as 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and School of Rock, and 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 3 year program to act in, produce and direct plays for the public through various projects.
CalArts in Valencia, California is one of the best picks for students across the nation for a number of reasons. It is a theatre at the private California Institute of the Arts and was founded by Walt Disney in 1961 as 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.
Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has a great performing arts program. The school offers BFA in acting and a top musical theatre degree, design with a concentration of costume, lighting, scenic, video, or media, dramaturgy, and production technology and management. They also offer The John Wells Directing Program. Their graduate school also offers MFA degrees in:
- costume production
- dramatic writing
- production technology and management
This top ranking drama school is also the oldest performing arts school in the United States, founded in 1914.
As a highly prestigious school founded in 1968, The Juilliard School is very selective with little more than a 7% acceptance rate. It 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. They offer BFA or MFA acting programs as well as Playwriting. Note that students will have to send in auditions to be considered for a 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.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois has an extensive learning program and is another great choice. They offer 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. An Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama, MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, and MA in Sound Arts and Industries are also offered for graduate degrees. Northwestern offers a best undergraduate degree in Theatre and dance and a Certificate in Music Theatre.
Yale University School of Drama in New Haven, Connecticut is the top of the line for performing arts programs 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
It 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. It also has history and longevity, being founded in 1924. The first MFA in Drama at Yale was granted in 1931.