As a college audition coach, I love expanding my students’ college lists to include some university’s they might not know about. Most students come in with a list full of popular or ‘top’ schools. As these schools become more competitive to get into, it is important to have a diverse list. There are so many acting programs across the country that are on the rise. With small class sizes and incredible faculty, these hidden gems offer individualized and competitive training. Here are the top 20 acting programs that might not be on your list, but definitely should be!

Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University's Acting Program

Located just 26 miles outside of Los Angeles, Azusa Pacific provides a multitude of opportunities to be taught by current working professionals. Seniors participate in a high-quality film with a professional director and an entire production team. Students also participate in an industry screening in Los Angeles to ensure connections and experience post-graduation.

Bennington College

Bennington College's Acting Program

Bennington College’s Acting Program offers student a grounding in every aspect of theatre. Students work closely with faculty to design their own course of study based on each individual’s interest. Each winter, there is a Field Work Term, in which students participate in internships with a variety of venues and theatre groups including The Public Theatre, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and more.

Brenau University

Brenau University's Acting Program

Brenau University has a unique, nationally recognized collaboration with the University of North Georgia called the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. This offers individualized training emphasizing the importance of collaboration. Furthermore, this partnership ensures professional educators and brings in a variety of guest artists from around the country. Its proximity to Atlanta allows for many professional opportunities while students are still studying.

DePaul University

DePaul University's Acting Program

DePaul University’s Acting Program prepares actors for stage and screen work. The first year is focus on basic training and skill building, while the final three years refines these skills. All first-year students complete three crew assignments and start auditioning for productions at the end of the year. The Graduate Showcase production is presented in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles for an array of industry professionals.

Emerson College

Emerson College's Acting Program

Located in the heart of Boston’s thriving theatre community, Emerson College offers an audition only BFA Acting program for Theatre and Performance majors after their first two years of training. Theatre and Performance majors take classes in the Actor Training Core. In their final two years, students receive individualized and intense training that expands on the foundational work. 

Loyola Marymount University 

Loyola Marymount University's Acting Program

Loyola Marymount University offers a BA in Theatre with an emphasis in performance. Their program has three overall areas of focus: professional preparation, theatre as a liberal art, and theatre for social change. Students receive credit for internships and performing in departmental productions. Furthermore, the Theatre Arts program offers a study abroad opportunity at the Moscow Art Theatre.

Nebraska Wesleyan University 

Nebraska Wesleyan University's Acting Program

Nebraska Wesleyan University allows students to audition for departmental productions starting their first year. With over 40 shows per year, students have ample performance opportunities. BFA students work in an average of six productions per year. Their faculty lead trips to New York every other year and students participate in workshops and interact with industry professionals.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University's Acting Program

Northwestern’s Theatre Program produces seven mainstage productions per year in addition to many student productions. Undergraduates work closely with MFA candidates in directing and design.  Northwestern students can study abroad at the British American Drama Academy in London. Furthermore, students can audition to participate in musical theatre and acting showcases in both New York and Chicago.

Pepperdine University 

Pepperdine University's Acting Program

Pepperdine University’s close proximity to Los Angeles allows for regular interactions with working professionals. They host a masterclass series that draws industry professionals from around the area. Their acting emphasis starts with foundational skills and then dives into deep technical training. The theater program offers a study abroad opportunity in Edinburgh, Scotland, and London.

Rutgers University

Rutgers University's Acting Program

Rutgers University’s Acting Program offers two full years in the Meisner Technique, as well as a year abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Students also have a professional development semester to begin the transition into the professional world. Industry professionals are brought in for classes and workshops. All acting students graduate with a demo reel.

Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist University's Acting Program

Southern Methodist University’s Acting Program offers specialized acting study within a liberal arts setting. Students begin auditioning for mainstage productions starting second semester of their first year and can audition for regional theatre productions during the second semester of sophomore year. All undergraduate theatre majors take the same foundational actor training classes during the first two years and move onto more advanced technique in their last two years.

SUNY New Paltz

SUNY New Paltz's Acting Program

SUNY New Paltz’s Theatre Program brings a number of working professionals to campus every semester to offer masterclasses for their students. Students can study abroad in London and Ireland where they take classes and participate in hands-on workshops with industry professionals. Students interested in musical theatre can take voice and dance classes.

University of California-Irvine

University of California-Irvine's Acting Program

The University of California-Irvine’s Drama Program consists of a comprehensive study of theatre including playwriting, theatre production, technical theatre, and more. Students can audition for the honors in acting program which provides more individualized and advanced training. Students in the honors program have the opportunity to work with MFA candidates.

University of California-San Diego

University of California-San Diego's Acting Program

The University of California- San Diego produces three mainstage productions a quarter in their Theatre District, shared with La Jolla Playhouse. One production a year is held specifically for undergraduate actors and students can also participate in graduate shows. Students can also produce their own studio project to showcase their own work.

University of Connecticut

University of Connecticut's Acting Program

The University of Connecticut’s BFA Acting majors regularly audition at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, an Equity theatre. The department also produces two or three student directed productions through their “D-Series.” They also offer a study abroad semester in London during the fall semester of junior year. Seniors participate in a showcase for NYC agents, casting directors, and other industry professionals.

University of Florida

University of Florida's Acting Program

The University of Florida’s Acting curriculum follows a conservatory-style approach combined with a liberal arts education. Students participate in a variety of mainstage and workshop productions. Every year, seniors perform in a senior showcase for an array of industry professionals.

University of Miami

University of Miami's Acting Program

The University of Miami’s Theatre Program works alongside professionals to produce a full season at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre. Students take classes in voice and dance, alongside their rigorous acting training, which includes on-camera classes. The University also brings in a variety of industry professionals every year to work with students on-campus.

University of Texas-Austin

University of Texas-Austin's Acting Program

The University of Texas-Austin’s Acting Program produces six to eight mainstage productions per year, in addition to over 20 student directed projects. BFA Acting Majors collaborate with the Department of Radio, Television, and Film, working on film projects. Upperclassmen can also participate in a Los Angeles residency, where they gain hands-on experience in the professional world.

Webster University

Webster University's Acting Program

Webster University’s Acting Program prepares actors for both stage and film work. Acting students work closely with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. First-year students do not perform in public productions; however, they present scene work for the Conservatory at the end of the year. Starting in their second year, students can audition for the Conservatory season.

Wright State University

Wright State University's Acting Program

Wright State University’s Acting Program allows students to audition for productions as early as first semester. Seniors can participate in the Honors Program and create a capstone project. All acting students take voice lessons and dance classes in addition to their four years of acting training. Seniors can choose to participate in the Senior Showcase in New York City which includes intensive workshops with industry professionals.


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